Former professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die after developing neurodegenerative disease including dementia, a landmark Glasgow study found.

There was a five-fold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and a four-fold increase in motor neurone disease while the risk of Parkinson's Disease doubled.

The University of Glasgow study found former Scottish footballers were less likely to die of other common diseases such as heart disease and lung cancer but had a higher risk of dying with dementia after the age of 70.

Rangers legend Fernando Ricksen died last month after a lengthy battle with MND.

Celtic's Lisbon Lions hero Billy McNeill, who revealed he had dementia in 2017, passed away in April.

A week later Stevie Chalmers, who also developed dementia, also passed away.

Dundee United legend Frank Kopel was another notable footballer diagnosed with dementia, meanwhile Scotland hero Ally MacLeod suffered from Alzheimer’s.  

Dr Willie Stewart, who led the study, called for better management of head injuries during matches and said all contact sports needed to take steps to reduce the risks.

READ MORE: 'Visiting Glasgow elderly care centres opened my eyes to dementia'

The study, funded by the Football Association (FA) and Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), compared the deaths of 7,676 former Scottish professional footballers born between 1900 and 1976 against 23,000 matched individuals from the general population.

Dr Stewart said: "This is the largest study to date looking in this deatail at the incidence of neurodegenerative disease in any sport, not just professional footballers.

"A strength of our study design is that we could look in detail at rates of different neurodegenerative disease subtypes.

"This analysis revealed that risk ranged from a 5-fold increase in Alzheimer's disease, through an approximately 4-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a 2-fold Parkinson's disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls."

There was no evidence that the heavier, older footballs used in the past increased the risk of brain injury.

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said: “As someone who played senior football for almost 20 years I profoundly understand the importance of this research and, equally, how football responds to it.

“The game has changed immeasurably during the timeline examined by the researchers and we need to understand what exactly causes the increased rates of dementia: whether through concussion or concussion management, heading of the football, style of play, design and composition of footballs, or other factors. None the less, we must be cognisant of the findings and look where possible to reduce any risk.

“While the research is based purely on the professional game and will be discussed at the Professional Game Board, through the Non-professional Game Board we will also consider any implications for the grassroots game, notwithstanding the report states that its observations cannot be applied directly to the recreational game.

“We are also fortunate to have world-class procedures in Scotland that have been adopted across Europe but in light of these findings we must remain responsive.”

Alzheimer Scotland praised the reasearch team for delivering the first 'conclusive evidence' of a link between professional football and dementia.

Greg Clarke, FA Chairman, said: "We welcome its findings and thank Dr Stewart for diligently leading this important research."

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the PFA, added: "It is now incumbent on football globally to come together to address this issue in a comprehensive and united manner. 

"Research must continue to answer more specific questions about what needs to be done to identify and reduce risk factors."