The widow and children of World Cup 1966 winner Nobby Stiles have donated his brain to science – to research crippling sports-related dementia.
Ex-Manchester United star Stiles, who won 28 English caps, died last October at the age of 78 after being struck by Alzheimer’s disease.
Stiles played a key role in neutralizing Portuguese star Eusebio in the ’66 semi-finals, before harassing West Germany in our dramatic 4-2 win.
Now his family has revealed that they donated his brain for a specialized autopsy by the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group (GBIRG).
She – along with Dr. Judith Gates, wife of dementia-stricken Middlesbrough defender Bill – are now urging other ex-players with dementia to enroll in brain donation.
Nobby’s widow Kay Stiles – sister of Leeds United legend Johnny Giles – said: ‘We had briefly discussed the donation of Nobby’s brain during his illness.
But it’s really hard to think about when you still see the person every day.
However, when Nobby passed away, I thought about how much he had suffered.
“If by donating his brain it can help stop a person suffering the way he did, then we should do it.”
GBIRG is located in the Laboratory Medicine building of Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow and is led by leading neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart.
Dr. Stewart examines the link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and impact-related dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Nobby’s sons John and Rob said they were “long convinced” that CTE killed their father – especially after talking to Dr. Stewart.
Retired midfielder John Stiles, 56, has played over 150 League appearances for teams including Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers.
John said, “For me it was crucial that we donated his brain to help the cause of former players, of which I am one, and current players, many of whom are suffering and will suffer the horrors of dementia.
However, the decision was my mother’s and I can proudly say she had the courage to do so.
An autopsy of the brain is the only way to definitively prove the scandal in football of CTE attacks.
“It’s a tough decision, but I ask all football families to consider that by getting definitive evidence it can really make a difference.”
While Rob, 52, said: ‘We knew if Dad was asked if he would donate his brain to help other players, the answer was clear – of course he would.
It was also important for us as a family to find out if Dad’s dementia was caused by the game he loved.
The results of the autopsy confirmed what we had suspected all along, and concluded that he was suffering from CTE related to TBI and head exposure due to his previous participation in football.
“The process didn’t slow down the funeral arrangement, but gave us an invaluable opportunity to find the answers and help find a solution.”
Rob added, “Our goal was to make sure Nobby’s suffering was not in vain.
When they met Dr. Stewart and the GBIRG team, their commitment to providing answers to families and making sports safer was evident in the openness and professionalism of the team.
“We trusted them to give us and the growing number of families the answers they needed.”
Last year, British sport was turned upside down when Sir Bobby Charlton became the fifth of England’s 1966 World Cup winners to be diagnosed with the condition.
In 2014, ex-Middlesbrough defender Bill Gates, now 76, was diagnosed with CTE, also caused by repeated head collisions.
75-year-old woman Judith has seen the ‘lights dim’ in her husband’s eyes, but it has started a fire in her family – to wake up the sport with ‘the fragility of the brain’.
She has launched her charity ‘Head For Change’ for ‘the future of the game’ and generations of new sports stars.
Judith, a mother of two, said GBIRG’s research into sports-related brain conditions like CTE is the best way to protect future stars.
Judith explained why their family chose brain donation when Bill dies, saying, “We can’t change the trajectory of Bill’s disease.
However, as his legacy, we can try to prevent future families from experiencing our grief.
‘Increasing knowledge about dementia and CTE is the only way. I can still remember the image of Bill as a soccer player in the 1970s.
Sitting next to my two proud sons, we were delighted to see him emerge from the locker room onto the field – a titan to our eyes.
Conversely, I am haunted today by his image. Physically fit, but his spark of life was nearly extinguished, replaced by bewilderment and confusion.
‘Our titan is gone. The game that gave him power is to destroy him, brain cell by brain cell. ‘
Now, the Stiles and Gates families are urging others affected by sports-related dementia to help find a solution and donate brains to science.
Judith added, “Scientific and clinical evidence increasingly indicates that exposure to repeated head injuries can cause this neurodegenerative damage.
‘But at the moment, only post-mortem examinations can provide definitive evidence …’
Scientists claim that the donation of Nobby Stiles brain has increased their knowledge of sports-related brain injury effects.
A recent study claims that former professional soccer players are five times more likely to develop dementia than the general population.
Dr. Stewart led the idea of brain autopsies among ex-players and was the pundit who insisted that the late Jeff Astle die of repeated head trauma.
Dr. Stewart said: ‘We have approved participant information, processes and pathways for individuals interested in registering their desire to donate their brains for diagnosis and research, as well as for families to receive advice and support in the pursuit of brain donation for research .
The Stiles family chose the brain donation route. The Gates family will follow in their footsteps. ‘
His research team is now inviting every other family considering brain donation to contribute to future prevention.