ENGLAND’s victory in the 1966 World Cup is a moment so ingrained in the nation’s consciousness that it seems destined never to be forgotten.
But for many of the heroes of that glorious day at Wembley Stadium it has now faded into a hazy mist, hard to recollect.
Nearly half of manager Sir Alf Ramsey’s illustrious 11 have succumbed to dementia, with Sir Bobby Charlton the latest to be diagnosed.
This has reignited the long-running debate within the game about the link between heading the ball and brain disease, with England World Cup hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst calling for a ban on children using their heads to strike a football.
He has even offered to donate his own brain for dementia research after a year that has been “unbelievably brutal” for his 1966 team-mates.
In the last 12 months 78-year-old Geoff has not only seen Sir Bobby diagnosed with dementia but also the deaths of team-mates Nobby Stiles and Bobby’s brother Jack, who both had the disease.
The cruel reality of what this meant for the men involved is revealed in an intimate new documentary about Jack, who died in July.
When he was recently shown his gold World Cup winner’s medal from 1966, he showed only surprise, saying: “Good grief, it’s me.”
Towering defender Jack, 6ft 1½in, was famous for his ability in the air, often scoring goals with his head. But his family refuse to blame the beautiful game for his demise.
His widow Pat says: “It’s like boxers getting hit in the head, nobody can actually prove it.
“He’s enjoyed his football, would you take that away from him? I don’t think so.”
In the film, Finding Jack Charlton, the star’s son John predicted it would not be the dementia which killed the England legend — and he was right. It was cancer which ended Jack’s life at the age of 85.
The family were keen to show that while brain disease had diminished the once gregarious man, he was still living an active life to the end.
In the documentary he is seen meeting fans at an event for his fishing charity, having fun with his grandchildren and going for a drink.
The film, which will be released on DVD and streaming sites on Monday, was made by ITV football reporter Gabriel Clarke, who spent several days with Jack at his home on the outskirts of Newcastle in the year prior to his death.
During that time medical experts recommended using music and archive footage as “trigger points” to help Jack to remember the past.
If someone said the name Geoff Hurst he would go blank, but if he saw a picture of Sir Geoff he would recall his team-mate.
He enjoyed his football, would you take that away from him? I don’t think so.
Pat did not tell Jack, her husband of six decades, that he had the condition because she didn’t want him to worry about it getting worse.
She says: “I just wanted him to think he had a bad memory.”
Gabriel believes brain damage may have been worse in the past, as the balls were heavier and players often played on, despite being concussed.
And he tells The Sun: “My personal feeling is that there has to be more research, because five of the ten outfield players of the ’66 team have or had dementia.”
As well as the Charlton brothers, holding midfielder Stiles, goal-scoring hero Martin Peters and left-back Ray Wilson also suffered from the disease.
Yet in the population at large, only one in 14 people aged over 65 develops the condition.
The other tragedy that Gabriel’s film highlights is the fall-out between the Charlton brothers.
They might have been on the same side at Wembley against West Germany, but off the field the sibling rivalry was toxic.
Jack admitted to resenting looking after his little brother, who was two years younger than him.
And in one old interview Bobby told how his fiery sibling had punched him hard for questioning his decision-making.
Bobby, 83, recalled: “I said, ‘You were stupid, giving that goal away’, and he punched me in the mouth straight off the couch.”
The shy, softly spoken Bobby could not have been more different from the charismatic Jack, whose bellowing voice rang out along the corridors.
In one interview Jack said of his brother: “I could have done more things without him than I could have done with him. I liked the sea, the countryside. Bobby didn’t.”
Publicly those differences were glossed over. Jack chose Bobby as his best man at his wedding and presented him with the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Personality Of The Year ceremony in 2008.
But in recent years the brothers stopped meeting altogether.
I just wanted him to think he had a bad memory.
Jack’s son John reveals: “I haven’t seen uncle Bobby for a long, long time. It’s a shame.”
Gabriel, 56, had asked if Bobby would be in the film but was told he couldn’t, due to his dementia.
The documentary focuses on the brothers’ post-player managerial careers, in which Jack proved superior to Bobby, whose time as a soccer boss was over in three years.
Jack’s coaching prowess took him to Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and finally the Republic of Ireland.
While some pundits initially questioned the decision to put an Englishman in charge of the Irish national team in 1986, they soon changed their minds when he started winning games.
Not only did Big Jack take the Republic to their first European Championship and two World Cup finals, his side also beat England 1-0 at Euro ’88.
He was venerated in Ireland, becoming only the eighth person to be awarded honorary citizenship.
Previously unseen footage shows Jack singing Irish songs, meeting the Pope at Italia ’90 and visiting Northern Ireland to try to smooth relations during the Troubles.
These memories, though on film, are lost to him.
While Jack looked through letters from Irish fans in the film, Pat said: “They think a lot of you in Ireland, don’t they?” and he replied: “I’ve no idea.”
The first signs of dementia stretched back to the World Cup in the United States in 1994.
Jack struggled to remember some of the players’ names and went for a brain scan, although the disease was not detected at that time.
After Jack resigned as Ireland manager in 1996, when his side failed to qualify for the Euros, he suffered more health problems.
In 2009 he fell during a holiday in Spain and three years later had a hip replacement following a collapse at home.
The documentary shows him struggling to walk during a day out with the Jack Charlton Disabled Anglers Association in the summer of 2019.
Despite being unsteady on his feet, he says in a jolly voice: “I’m falling down.”
Players’ risk rates soar
By Dr Willie Stewart
By Dr WILLIE STEWART
WE have shown that professional footballers are at high risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases – a five times higher rate with Alzheimer’s, four times higher with motor neurone disease and double with Parkinson’s.
Other research we have conducted on the brains of former footballers with dementia often reveals a pathology that we recognise from boxers, rugby players and American Footballers whose only common denominator is exposure to brain injury and brain impacts.
- Dr Stewart, of Glasgow University, is a researcher into the dementia/football link.
The film comes after a new study in the journal Science And Medicine In Football revealed heading a football just 20 times could affect the brain’s working memory by as much as 20 per cent.
As for Jack, dementia did not rob him of that mischievous twinkle that fans came to love. It is just that as he said: “I could not remember a lot of the memories.”
But now those moments will be stored forever on film.
- Finding Jack Charlton is available on DVD and download from November 23.
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