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‘My Manchester United star dad was first player to die from heading the ball’


Red Devils centre-half Thomas Albert Parker was renowned for his headers and now his son believes his dad died from brain injuries from heading the ball and wants the FA to take action

Stuart Parker whose father, Thomas Albert Parker played for Manchester United
Stuart Parker whose father, Thomas Albert Parker played for Manchester United

A Manchester United player from 90 years ago may have been one of the first players to die of a brain injury caused by headers.

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Centre-half Thomas Albert Parker was renowned for his ability to head the old-fashioned heavy leather balls nearly half the length of the pitch.

He died in 1964 at 54, with “cerebral thrombosis” a factor.

His son Stuart spoke out after a damning report into dementia in football slammed FA chiefs and the players’ union over failure to act.

Thomas played for the Red Devils from 1930-32, before moving on to lower league clubs Bristol City and Carlisle United. Stuart, 74, said “I suspect he was one of the first affected by heading the ball.

“When he was playing they were heavy, like medicine balls.

“He complained of headaches, but no one had heard of brain injuries from heading.”

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Thomas Parker was a keen footballer

Now, nearly a century on, a report by the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee says “urgent action” is needed to cut brain injury risks.

It comes after a campaign led by Dawn Astle, whose West Bromwich Albion hero dad Jeff died at 59 of dementia caused by heading.

She believes thousands of ex-players have been affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain degeneration caused by repeated head trauma.

Now Stuart backs her calls for more support for victims.

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He said of his dad: “After his career, he was a joiner but still had headaches. We always thought it was because he was a hard worker. When he died he’d been in bed with flu.

“We heard a bang. He’d fallen.

“In hospital he was in a daze, dribbling from his mouth. The cause of death was cerebral thrombosis and broncho-pneumonia. Dad wasn’t… old when he died. What happened to him has affected me all my life.

Stuart Parker says his dad died from heading the ball


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“Now there are loads of ex-players who need help. With all the money in the game, more should be done.”

Last week football bodies stated amateur and professional players will be limited to 10 “higher force” headers a week in training.

Dawn, who runs The Jeff Astle Foundation, said: “Football must set up a trust fund to care for players suffering now. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council must accept dementia in football is an industrial disease.”

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