England's former rugby star with dementia who can't remember his World Cup win

A growing number of former players are calling for more awareness and more action

For any sports player, anywhere on the planet, it is the pinnacle: lifting a World Cup.

Former rugby union player Steve Thompson is one of the few who can say he has done it, on England’s front row in 2003.

However, even when we watch footage back together, he still cannot remember a single second of the tournament.

During his 13-year career for club and country he was at the heart of the scrum - one of sport's most destructive, repetitive impacts.

At 43-years-old - he has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE - a degenerative brain disease linked to a history of head trauma - meaning he suffers from memory loss, confusion, mood swings and depression.

Steve Thompson took thousands of knocks in his playing days. Credit: PA

He told ITV News: “During my playing days I had 80 to 100,000 sub-concussions, that’s without the big concussions where you’re sort of laid out on the floor.

"The last few years, even the birth of my children, that’s starting to go.

"I’ve stood on the train platform and I was going to jump in front of the train.

"I used to think people who commit suicide were weak and then you’re there and you feel like you’re the most selfless person by thinking you should do it, because you just feel like you don’t want everyone around, to let them down and they would be better off without you.”

'It's like it never happened'

He has written an autobiography, ‘Unforgettable’, to raise awareness around the issue, which has required the recollections of his friends and former colleagues who shared his World Cup success.

One of those is Sir Clive Woodward, who believes the sport is just paying lip service to the problem.

He said: “You still see some funny incidents where you see bangs to the head and the player carries on. That can just not happen any more. The biggest thing to me is going forward.

"I would like to see a serious team put together headed up by the world’s leading experts on this. A serious budget to say we are going to get some conclusions about this that will help on an immediate basis as well."

'I'd like to see a serious team put together': Sir Clive says the issue must be confronted with a big budget

Steve is one of more than 400 former professional rugby union players who are taking legal action against the sport's governing bodies for allegedly failing to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.

The sport has already introduced some changes but Steve wants this to go even further, including fewer tackles in training and keeping those who have suspected concussions off the pitch for even longer.

The sport's global governing body, World Rugby, said: “We never stand still in our mission to further cement rugby as the most progressive sport on player welfare.

"This commitment has former players at its heart, but has also driven evidence-based moves to enhance player safety through science, technology, laws and research progression."

Steve Thompson with his family.

The Rugby Football Union said: “As a result of scientific knowledge improving, rugby has developed its approach to concussion surveillance, education, management and prevention across the whole game.

 "We have implemented coach, referee and player education and best practice protocols across the game, and rugby’s approach to head injury assessments and concussion protocols has been recognised and led to many other team sports adopting our guidance."

He might be a World Cup winner, but Steve hopes his biggest impact on the game is still to come - improving playing welfare so the next generation will be able to remember their greatest sporting moments.

  • If you have been affected by issues raised in this report, Samaritans provides round the clock support for people when they need it most. You can call them 24 hours a day on 116 123. They also have tips if you're concerned about someone you know, and advice if you're struggling yourself.

  • Alternatively, Mind also provides advice and support to help anyone experiencing a mental health problem. You can call them Monday to Friday between 9am and 6pm on 0300 123 3393. You can also text them on 86463.

  • For questions about how to cope with head injuries, you can visit Headway's website or call them on 0808 800 2244.