THE widow of Billy McNeill has spoken of her pride that former footballers affected by dementia will be helped by the first fund of its kind, dedicated to the Celtic legend.

The Billy McNeill Fund will provide financial aid and therapeutic supports to former players and comes months after a Glasgow study was published showing the first conclusive link between football and neurological disease.

In her first interview since his death last year, Liz McNeill said the fund was a fitting way to honour the former Lisbon Lion’s sporting legacy and “help others in the same situation.”

McNeill died on April 22, 2019, at the age of 79, nine years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which his widow believes was linked to “his forte” of heading footballs during his playing days.

The Billy McNeill Fund will be launched on May 29 at a major charity event, backed by major names in Scottish football, past and present and music and TV personalities.

Glasgow Times:

Celtic and Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, Neil Lennon, Ally McCoist, Walter Smith and Ian Durrant have all given their backing to the event, which will include a celebrity golf tournament and charity ball at Mar Hall in Bishopton.

Line of Duty actor and Celtic fan Martin Compston has also said he will attend if his filming schedule permits while a number of big name music stars have been approached for the evening event which will be hosted by Jim White, Suzie McGuire and George Bowie.

Read more: Glasgow researchers praised for 'conclusive' evidence of football dementia risk

The Glasgow University study, which was led by neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart, found former footballers of Billy’s generation had a five-fold risk of Alzheimer’s.

Liz McNeill said: “When Billy was diagnosed, we saw a doctor who told us he had a small cognitive impairment in the frontal lobe, which would be in keeping with heading the ball. That was his forte.

“The European footballers of his era had died with dementia and Motor Neurone Disease, big players and also from down south in their age group.

“When Billy was young, if someone had said to him might take dementia through this, whether he was would have stopped playing football.....because that was his passion.”

Glasgow Times:

Mrs McNeill described the new fund and charity event as a “lovely way” to highlight a disease that affects around 90,000 Scots and celebrate his legacy, adding: “Billy would have loved it and his parents too.”

The McNeill family were approached by Dougie McCluskey, who set up the charity, Battle Against Dementia, after losing his own father to the disease and which is overseeing the fund.

Glasgow Times:

Martyn McNeill, Billy’s son, said: “When Dougie McCluskey contacted us with a view to using my father’s name for a fund, I spoke to the family and with all the research coming out linking dementia to football we felt it was fitting after what my dad’s been through.

“There is a generation of footballers with dementia, there is a higher rate and it has now been statistically proven and they need help.”

“If we can raise money to help others in the same situation, that would be a great thing.”

Glasgow Times:

The charity Alzheimer Scotland, which runs a football memories project at the Scottish Football Museum, said it welcomed the new, dedicated fund.

Jim Pearson, Director of Policy and Research, said: “We welcome the establishment of this new Billy McNeill fund aimed at supporting footballers living with dementia and look forward to seeing families benefit from the support it offers.”

Read more: Scottish FA could ban under-12s heading footballs 'in weeks'

In light of the Glasgow research, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) has suggested that the Premier League should create an industry-wide fund to support former players with dementia and their families.

The PFA already provides some assistance through a benevolent fund while no such funding is available in Scotland.

Glasgow Times:

The Scottish Football Association is pushing ahead with a ban on children under 12 heading footballs while brain injury charity Headway said further research should focus on modern lightweight footballs.

Martyn McNeill said: “Anything which helps safeguard players should be considered.”

For advice and support on dementia call Alzheimer Scotland’s 24-Hour Dementia Helpline on 0808 808 3000.

For tickets to the charity golf day click here 

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