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  1. ITV Report

Retired footballer Bobby Hunt opens up about Alzheimer's battle

Video report by ITV News Anglia's Serena Sandhu

A former Colchester United and Ipswich Town player has spoken about his battle with Alzheimer's Disease after a recent study linked heading a football with memory loss.

Bobby Hunt, who's 74, played in the 1960s when footballs were harder and heavier than those used in the modern game.

Bobby was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year - and wonders if it might be related to the days when he was playing.

He says he welcomes new research by the University of Stirling, which found that heading causes significant change in the brain's function.

"I also had about six stitches put in. I think today's soccer they would immediately and I think quite rightly so, wouldn't have let you back on."In those days perhaps there should have been more caution."

– Bobby Hunt, Retired footballer
Bobby Hunt played in the 1960s - when footballs were much heavier. Credit: British Pathe

Bobby's wife Sylvia noticed a problem when he began to forget names.

"I think it started when he was driving. He forgot some of the familiar routes - not Colchester itself - but if we were going to Sudbury he forgot all the back routes.

"Sometimes if we were going to a familiar restaurant, he forgot totally where it was."

– Sylvia Hunt, Bobby's wife
Bobby's wife realised there was a problem when he began forgetting names. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The death of former England international Jeff Astle in 2002 at the age of 59 prompted the calls for more research around brain injury.

He had dementia, which a coroner said was caused by heading heavy footballs.

Bobby Hunt played in the same Colchester team as Duncan Forbes, who later went to Norwich, and is now in a care home after suffering from Alzheimer's for several years.

"In the era when Duncan, myself and Jeff Astle and people like that were playing in the 1960s, the ball really was solid... I used to see stars sometimes."

– Bobby Hunt, Retired footballer
Bobby used to play when he had head injuries. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Medical experts say it's important the current research is taken seriously.

"Concussion has been under recognised and under reported across the board - whether it be rugby or football or hockey or cricket.

"We need to pay special attention because we know that schoolchildren are especially vulnerable.

"If you're young, you take much longer to recover, if you're female you take much longer than if you're a male to recover, so we have to pay special attention to this."

– Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health Research, Queen Mary University of London
Experts say current research needs to be taken seriously. Credit: British Pathe

Bobby Hunt believes his Alzheimer's might be connected to constant heading - but with lighter footballs these days, he hopes there isn't an over-reaction.

"It's worrying, but I would hate to see them to change the rules too much. In football you can't head a game without heading the ball."

– Bobby Hunt, Retired footballer