England

Jeff Astle play an 'incredible honour', say family

Jeff Astle Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeff Astle was nicknamed "the King" by West Brom fans

The family of famed striker Jeff Astle have said it was an "incredible honour" to have a play written about him.

The England and West Bromwich Albion striker, from Derbyshire, was just 59 when he was killed by a brain injury linked to heading heavy footballs.

Writer Michael Howl said his play reflects all aspects of the footballer's life, but he hopes it will educate more people about dementia.

Money raised will go to a foundation set up in Mr Astle's honour.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Laraine Astle said her husband (right) was a lot of fun and popular with his teammates

Mr Astle's daughter Dawn said Mr Howl approached the family through the Jeff Astle Foundation, set up to raise awareness about brain injuries in sport, about his idea for a play.

"He was an avid fan of Dad so I know that he's put all his heart and soul into doing it," she said.

"We had to include the dementia but it was very difficult... it's the only bit of the play with sadness but it's uplifting again afterwards."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Laraine Astle said her husband a great personality and was loved by many

Mr Astle's widow Laraine, from Netherseal, said she wanted her husband's demise to be a small part of the story.

"We want people to be laughing, that was the real Jeff, the Jeff we knew, the fans knew," she said.

'The King'

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeff Astle celebrates his winning goal at the 1968 FA Cup final at Wembley
  • Jeff Astle was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in 1942
  • After developing his talents at the local recreation ground he was signed by Notts County in 1959
  • He moved on to West Bromwich Albion in 1964, where he scored 137 times in 292 appearances
  • There he was known as "The King" and scored the winner in the 1968 FA Cup final
  • He died in 2002, aged 59, from a brain condition normally linked to boxing.

Michael Howl said the play, titled The Jeff Astle Story - For The Love of The Game, was a "joy" to write.

He said: "Amongst all the lovely things that happened to Jeff and his family we have to also show the fact that he died from a brain disease... but we end the show on an optimistic note."

The coroner's report into Mr Astle's death forms the start of the play, which Mr Howl said was important as it would help get the "message out there" about the disease.

However, he and the family were keen that the footballer's fun loving personality should be explored through two actors over different periods.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeff Astle is still revered at the Hawthorns

Mike Newstead, who plays the older Jeff Astle, said his experience of the man was through Fantasy Football League with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, where he would sing at the end of each programme in fancy dress.

He said: "He struck me as a person [when] he turned up in ridiculous clothes that he didn't care and we sensed that, it's what made it funny.

"He seemed to be a guy without any ego at all."

The play is on at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, from 24 to 26 May.

A long-awaited study into the links between heading a football and brain damage began in January, according to the Football Association.

Dr Willie Stewart, who claimed Mr Astle died because of repeated head trauma, is leading the study.

The FA said it would be one of the "most comprehensive studies ever commissioned" into the long-term health of ex-players.

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