Joe Kinnear's family condemn 'cruel' lack of support for ex-players with brain injuries

The Kinnear family is convinced Joe’s early age dementia was brought on by repeatedly heading the ball as a player. Credit: PA

A little over a fortnight ago, Joe Kinnear’s family were honoured guests at a celebration of his life and career in football, hosted by Tottenham Hotspur, the club where he spent most of his playing days.

His daughter Russ Doffman said it was very moving and an occasion they will never forget. “It was very well done, it was lovely", she told me. "There was a lot of love in the room, and we were overwhelmed."

That uplifting day, she says, was in contrast to the lack of support the wider game offered her father when he really needed it. First diagnosed with dementia aged just 66, Kinnear died last month, 11 years later.

When his health deteriorated to such an extent that he needed full-time help, Kinnear was moved into a care home. His family struggled to meet the costs – he had not earned the many millions that today’s superstars do.

Firstly, they sold the family home. “Each month you get the invoice and you're just thinking, ‘how are we going to sustain this? We don't know when the end is going to be, because he was quite young", she said.

“We just had to sort of scramble around with pensions, and just get all the income we could, which again didn't cover it all.”

Joe Kinnear, pictured in 1967 while a Tottenham Hotspur defender. Credit: PA

The Kinnear family is convinced Joe’s early age dementia was brought on by repeatedly heading the ball as a player. A defender when heavy leather balls were the norm, Kinnear revealed to his family that heading punishments were standard drills.

“He had so many drills of heading that heavy leather ball dangling from a string”, Russ remembers her Mum telling her. “And when it was raining, it was even heavier", she said. "If they didn't do it properly, they'd have to go back and do it again. So, it's a constant pounding like boxers or rugby players.”

The Kinnear family are joining a lawsuit against football authorities for failing to take reasonable action to protect players like Joe from repeated injuries caused by blows to the head. They are now among a group representing dozens of former players, with Kinnear among the best known.

Having played nearly 200 times for Spurs and earned 26 caps for the Republic of Ireland, Kinnear went on to manage a host of clubs including Wimbledon, Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United, where he became Director of Football until 2014 – around the time of his diagnosis.

For a hugely wealthy sport built on the foundations of players like her father, Russ finds the lack of support difficult to understand: “It’s cruel, really cruel. It’s a multi-million pounds industry and the likes of Joe and his teammates are just left by the wayside with no help, no offer of anything. It’s like you’ve served your purpose and off you go. I think it’s awful. They’re just forgotten, and it’s cruel.”

“I think they have to look after their own”, Russ continues, “For someone from Joe's era and all his teammates, they are struggling, and you are going through hell and to make it so difficult to get help financially… If you had the financial burden taken away from you, it would just help so much.”

Towards the end of her father’s life, Russ applied for help from the Football Brain Health Fund. The £1 million fund set up by the Professional Footballers Association and the Premier League is specifically designed to assist former players and their families impacted by dementia and neurodegenerative conditions.

“You are really on your own struggling to pay these care fees. No one's helping you, so there are sleepless nights. It causes a lot of anxiety when you're already going through hell anyway. It was so stressful looking for help.”

It was a cry for help that she did not find easy. Russ was not comfortable asking for support but felt she had no choice: "You want to focus on your loved one without worrying about care fees."

She says she found the application process difficult and intrusive, but the Kinnear family was offered £9,000 for the year to supplement the cost of Joe’s care.

Joe Kinnear, pictured in 1967 while a Tottenham Hotspur defender. Credit: PA

“We did get a little token something, which didn’t even touch the sides, so I thought what’s the point? It’s hard enough to ask [for help] and we’re not the kind of people who like to ask, but it wasn’t worth talking about, it didn’t help at all.”

Worse though, she says, was to come.

The second of the four agreed instalments was due to land in the Kinnear’s bank account on April 9. Joe died two days earlier and the payment was never made, Russ claims. The Kinnears had no warning that would happen - nothing. Just a cancelled transfer.

Russ says she didn’t have the energy to ask why. “You’re so tired and drained from asking and fighting", she says. "It’s just not worth doing anything about it. It’s such a pittance it’s laughable, but it could have gone to his funeral costs.

“The way it was done, well, I wasn’t surprised to be honest, but it’s insulting and hurtful, because you think, ‘is that what you think of us?’”.

While the PFA and Premier League would not be drawn into specific details about any case, ITV News understands that a further payment to the Kinnear family is scheduled.

The PFA says its support team is currently working with 200 families who have all been made aware of the fund. Of the 70 applications made so far, 96 per cent have received financial support, accounting for £800,000.

Among other benefits, grants are used to pay for care costs, nursing, home adaptions, technology, equipment, and occupational therapy.

The PFA believes it’s made the application process as simple as possible, but it does include a degree of means-testing, so assistance is “directed to those most in need.”

Reflecting on the past few years Russ says that while her father’s death has left a void in their lives, she has no regrets: “We’ve done the best for him. He still had that sparkle when he was in the care home; they loved him.

“Mum and I are just relieved he’s at peace now, because he did go through a horrible time.”

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