A former Wales international footballer who developed dementia had died after heading heavy leather balls during his career, an inquest heard on Thursday.
Alan Jarvis, 76, who played for Everton, Hull City and Mansfield Town during his career before retiring from the game at the age of 30, died at a nursing home at Mold, North Wales, last December. A coroner at Ruthin recorded a conclusion of death due to an industrial disease.
Coroner John Gittins said Jarvis had pneumonia as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. He said: “The situation is by no means unequivocal. It must be very clear I am not saying playing professional football always causes dementia.”
But, on the balance of probabilities, in the case of Jarvis his previous occupation had been “a factor” in his decline. Gittins said there had been other recorded cases of a similar nature including that of footballer Jeff Astle. “There may well be more in the future as science catches up,” Gittins remarked.
Jarvis’s widow Dilys, 73, said in a statement read out at the inquest that Jarvis would head the ball “constantly”. She said: “That constant heading couldn’t have done him any good.”
Jarvis was a midfielder and played for Wales against England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad, earning other caps against Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The inquest heard how while playing for Mansfield Jarvis had been knocked unconscious on the pitch after a ball struck his face. He spent two weeks as an inpatient with a detached retina.
After football Jarvis became a quantity surveyor. Mrs Jarvis said her late husband’s behaviour had started to change in 2006. Eventually he had difficulties at work and lost his job.
There was a rapid decline in Jarvis’s condition and he went into full-time care in 2012. “The Alzheimer’s disease killed Alan but I think the head injuries and heading the heavy balls during his playing career contributed greatly to his death,” his widow said.
Jarvis’s brain had been removed and sent to consultant neuropathologist Dr William Stewart in Glasgow for detailed examination. Gittins said Dr Stewart found Alzheimer’s disease was five times more likely for former footballers than other people.
After the inquest Jarvis’s daughter Sarah said: “I think as a family we are really pleased. It’s confirmed what we have always thought. My dad was such a nice guy. It’s such a horrible disease.”
She urged the FA to support their former players. She also said: “My son plays under-12s football and I don’t think he should be heading a football at that age. They need to address that quite quickly.”