Mandy Moore still winces as she recalls how it often was for her late husband, Kevin, after so many of his 623 matches as a professional footballer. “He had stitches and scars around his eyes,” she recalls. “There were times when he could not even remember parts of a match after taking a kick or an elbow in the head.”
His friend and former team-mate Iain Dowie says that they would stay behind to practise heading. “Maybe 100 balls a day,” says Dowie.
And then there were the shuddering match incidents. “I don’t know how many times Kev – God bless him – got concussed,” says Dowie. “But I remember an incident as the ball dropped in the box. Kev slipped and the lad was about to smash it in. Kev put his head between the ball and him. The lad kicked his head and [the ball] went for a corner.”
Moore was 39 when he retired in 1996 after a 20-year career. This was not an elderly player struck down with a devastating form of dementia, but a defender from the Premier League era who had been a Southampton team-mate of Alan Shearer and Matthew Le Tissier.
He is the first known Premier League player to have died of dementia and was only in his mid-40s when his family noticed changes.
He unexpectedly lost his job as Fulham’s safety officer and training ground manager. He became forgetful, unsteady on his feet and had minor car accidents. He started making rash decisions.
A diagnosis of Pick’s Disease – a rare form of dementia affecting the front of the brain – was made in 2007 and his decline would be cruelly rapid.
For his daughter, Sophie, a gap of 10 months between visits when she was living in Australia was startling. “I was left shocked,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t recognise him as my dad.”
Moore eventually needed full-time care and died in April 2013 on what was both his wedding anniversary and 55th birthday.
“My abiding memory was him scoring at Wembley in the Zenith Data Systems final in 1992,” says Le Tissier. “It was the only time I’ve seen a guy head the ball downwards into the top corner.”
Although former England striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 from brain disease that both a coroner and neuropathologist attributed to playing football, the link was not then being widely made.
There was a sad irony in that Moore had been sufficiently concerned while he was still playing to have discussed it with Dowie and a doctor. They raised the issue with Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Mandy Moore also wrote to Taylor following Kevin’s diagnosis and received a reply. There were no words of sympathy and, even though she says there had been no request to cover care costs, the letter stated that the organisation would be bankrupt within a year if it paid care home fees for members. Taylor estimated in the letter, written in 2008, that 1,000 of his members required such care and that the annual bill would be about £15 million.
The Moore family were taken aback by the letter’s tone and, while grateful for the wider help Kevin received from the PFA, felt a huge difference in how they were supported by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, where Moore was also a member.
Dementia caused by head trauma has since been identified as chronic traumatic encephalopathy and, while definitive diagnosis can be made only by examining the brain after death, Moore’s symptoms were consistent with the disease. “This is not about banning football or heading but getting research done so that players know where they stand and risks are mitigated,” says Mandy.
Dowie agrees. “I feel sure football did play a part – there is no doubt in my mind,” he says.