WEST Bromwich Albion are dedicating a home game this season in honour of club legend Jeff Astle to help his family raise awareness of the key issues surrounding head injuries in football.
The club have been holding monthly meetings during the close season with Jeff’s widow Laraine and daughters Dawn and Claire, who launched the ‘Justice for Jeff’ campaign earlier this year.
Jeff, nicknamed ‘The King’ by supporters for his goalscoring exploits between 1964 and 1974, passed away in January 2002 from a degenerative brain disease.
One of the driving forces behind Justice for Jeff is making the game safer for current and future generations by highlighting the immediate and long-term risks associated with head injuries.
Albion have agreed to dedicate a Hawthorns fixture this season to 1968 FA Cup hero Jeff, when they will help the family promote potentially life-saving messages surrounding this important issue.
Also, at every home game this term, a photo of Jeff will be displayed on The Hawthorns’ big screens on nine minutes – Jeff wore the No.9 shirt – to kick-off the minute-long applause supporters have been staging since the Justice for Jeff campaign was launched in March.
Chairman Jeremy Peace said: “We have held several constructive meetings with Laraine, Dawn and Claire this summer to discuss ways in which we can help the family in their endeavours to make the game safer at all levels.
“They have been pleased with our proposals and we will continue working closely with them during the coming season.
“The family have gone to extraordinary lengths to highlight the risks associated with head injuries in football. Their efforts are a fitting tribute to Jeff, who will always be a West Bromwich Albion legend.”
Each photo of Jeff displayed on the big screens will feature the slogan ‘If in doubt, sit them out’, a phrase that has been widely circulated following the death of Ben Robinson, 14, who suffered concussion during a school rugby match in Northern Ireland in January 2011.
The message is designed to highlight the dangers of continuing to play sport with an undiagnosed head injury.
Ben’s family has been supportive of the Justice for Jeff campaign and Ben’s dad, Peter, has told Albion officials he is pleased his son’s memory will be associated with the club’s work in this area.
Jeff’s daughter Claire said: “We will never be able to thank the supporters enough for the incredible loyalty shown to dad last season. The tribute at the Stoke game was something he would have been so very, very proud of, as were we.
“The Justice for Jeff campaign is about making the game safer at all levels but also about acknowledging football’s past.”
Dawn added: “Our three main objectives of support for former players and their families, education regarding the disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and independent research into this field are incredibly important to us, as is the continued support of West Bromwich Albion Football Club and their fans.”
Laraine said: “We look forward to the game dedicated to Jeff and know everyone involved will make it a tremendous success.”
The Astle family have also formed close links with Dr Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital and a leading expert on brain injury.
The club will ensure all the new policies and guidelines regarding head injuries that were announced by the Premier League on August 5 – many of which were already in place – are implemented.
In addition, the Baggies’ director of performance, Dr Mark Gillett, will meet with Dr Stewart to discuss further practical measures that can be introduced to improve the safety of Albion players – from Academy up to first-team level.