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 England caps, died aged 78 last October after being stricken with Alzheimer’s.
Stiles played a key role in neutralising Portugal star Eusebio in the ’66 semi-final, before harassing West Germany in our dramatic 4-2 final win.
Now his family have revealed they donated his brain for a specialist autopsy by the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group (GBIRG).
They – along with Dr Judith Gates, wife of dementia-stricken Middlesbrough defender Bill – are now urging other ex-players with dementia to sign up for brain donation.
Nobby’s widow Kay Stiles – sister to Leeds United legend Johnny Giles – said: ‘We had briefly spoken about the donation of Nobby’s brain during his illness.
‘But it is a very hard thing to think about when you’re still seeing the person every day.
‘However, when Nobby passed away I thought of how much he had suffered.
‘If by donating his brain it could help stop one person suffering as he did, then we must do it.’
GBIRG is based in the Laboratory Medicine building at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow and led by leading neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart.
Dr Stewart’s team are investigating the link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and impact-related dementia chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Nobby’s sons John and Rob said they were ‘convinced for a long time’ that CTE killed their father – particularly after talking with Dr Stewart.
Retired midfielder John Stiles, 56, made over 150 League appearances for teams including Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers.
John said: ‘To me it was crucial 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.
‘The decision, however, was my mother’s and I’m proud to say she had the courage to do so.
‘A brain autopsy is the only way to definitively prove the scandal in football of heading induced CTE.
‘It is a hard decision to make, but I ask all football families to consider the fact that by getting definitive proof it can make a real difference.’
While Rob, 52, said: ‘We knew if dad was asked whether he would donate his brain to help other players, the answer was obvious – of course he would.
‘It was also important to us as a family to find out whether dad’s dementia was caused by the game he loved.
‘The results of the autopsy confirmed what we suspected all along, concluding that he suffered CTE associated with TBI and head impact exposure, due to his prior participation in football.
‘The process did not delay funeral arrangement but gave us an invaluable opportunity to gain the answers and help find a solution.’
Rob added: ‘Our aim was to ensure that Nobby’s suffering was not in vain.
‘Upon meeting Dr Stewart and the team at GBIRG, their commitment to provide families with answers and make sport a safer place was evident in the team’s openness and professionalism.
‘We trusted them to provide us and the ever-growing number of families with the answers they need.’
Last year British sport was rocked 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 impacts.
Day-by-day wife Judith, 75, has seen the ‘lights dim’ in her husband’s eyes but it’s lit a fire within her family – to wake sports up to ‘the fragility of the brain’.
She has launched her ‘Head For Change’ charity for ‘the future of the game’ and generations of new sports stars.
Mother-of-two Judith said GBIRG’s research into sports-related brain conditions like CTE are the best way to protect future stars.
Explaining why their family opted for brain donation for when Bill dies, Judith said: ‘We can’t change the trajectory of Bill’s disease.
‘However, as his legacy, we can try to prevent future families from experiencing our sadness.
‘Increasing knowledge of dementia and CTE is the only way. I can still conjure up in my mind the image of Bill as a footballer in the 1970s.
‘Sitting alongside my two proud sons, we delighted to see him emerging from the dressing room onto the field – a titan in our eyes.
‘Conversely I am haunted by his image today. Physically fit but his life spark almost extinguished, replaced by bewilderment and confusion.
‘Our titan is no more. The game that strengthened him is destroying 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 a brain to science.
Judith added: ‘Scientific and clinical evidence is increasingly indicating that exposure to repetitive head injuries, can cause this neurodegenerative damage.
‘However, currently only postmortem examinations can offer definitive proof..’
Scientists claim the donation of Nobby Stiles brain has helped advance their knowledge of sports-related brain injury effects.
A recent study claims ex-professional footballers are five times more likely to suffer from dementia than the general population.
Dr Stewart has led the idea of brain autopsies among ex players and was the expert who insisted the late Jeff Astle died from repeated head trauma.
Dr Stewart said: ‘We have approved participant information, processes and pathways for individuals interested in registering their wish to donate their brain for diagnosis and research, and also for families to gain advice and support with pursuing research brain donation.
‘The Stiles family opted for the route of brain donation. The Gates family will follow in their footsteps.’
His research team are now inviting any other family considering brain donation to to help contribute to future prevention.