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 Monday, November 11, 2002 14:22 EST

Forward died of degenerative brain disease in January

[Associated Press]

BURTON, England -- A coroner determined that a former England World Cup forward died from a degenerative brain disease caused by the heading of a heavy leather soccer ball.

Jeff Astle, who scored in the final of The Football Association Cup in 1968 and missed an easy chance in a World Cup game against Brazil two years later, died in January at age 59.

Dr. Derek Robson, a consultant neurological pathologist, told the inquest there was evidence of brain injury consistent with "repeated minor trauma".

"I found that there was considerable evidence of trauma to the brain similar to that of a boxer," Robson told coroner Andrew Haigh. "It is quite probable that it was heading a heavy football that caused it. I found that most damage to the brain was at the front of the head.

"It is unlikely that he would have developed the condition so young if he had not headed a football repeatedly. "From the evidence, the persistent heading the ball could be a factor in the loss of Mr. Astle's faculties and his behavior."

Astle scored many of his 174 goals on headers, and was regarded as one of the best at the long-range header when soccer balls were made of leather and tended to soak up rain. In the mid-70s, ball coverings became synthetic, a material that repelled water and was much lighter.

The Astle family have always maintained that his death was caused by repeatedly striking a football with his head. The coroner recorded a verdict of "death by industrial disease" -- which meant that his pro career had effectively caused his death.

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