Dementia death of former Wales international footballer, 64, probed

Death of former Wales international Keith Pontin, 64, who died five years after he was diagnosed with dementia, may be linked to heading the ball during his career, inquest hears

  • Keith Pontin, 64, from Pontyclun, played for Cardiff City between 1976 and 1983
  • He was diagnosed with dementia in 2015, at the age of 59, after mental decline
  • His family believe his condition was linked to years of heading the football

A former international footballer who died with dementia may have developed the condition through heading the ball, an inquest suggested today.

Keith Pontin, 64, from Pontyclun, played for Cardiff City between 1976 and 1983, and won two caps for Wales.

He was diagnosed with dementia in 2015, at the age of 59, following concern about his mental decline.

His family later said they believed his condition was linked to years of heading the ball and multiple concussions.

Pontypridd Coroner’s Court heard Mr Pontin died at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital on August 2 last year.

Graeme Hughes, senior coroner for South Wales Central, opened and adjourned an inquest into Mr Pontin’s death.

Devoted couple Janet Pontin and Keith Pontin in a picture posted in tribute to the footballer

Defender Keith Pontin, 64, played for Cardiff City between 1976 and 1983 and for Wales

‘I am content to hold an inquest touching on the death of the late Keith Pontin,’ Mr Hughes said.

‘I do so because of the evidence I have received from my officers and from preliminary post-mortem investigations.

‘There is reason to suspect that Mr Pontin’s death may have been unnatural in that his death may have been caused or contributed to by his work in that during his earlier life, he was a professional footballer.

‘There is some evidence within the medical investigations that have been undertaken so far which would suggest a causal or contributory link between his career in football and the development of his Alzheimer’s disease and his cause of death as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

‘This is not the final inquest, I haven’t heard all the evidence. The investigation will continue.’

Mr Hughes said a full inquest into Mr Pontin’s death would not take place until May 3 2022, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Pontin’s inquest heard there may be a link between his dementia and his footballing career

England icon Sir Bobby Charlton has been a recent football legend diagnosed with dementia

He told Mr Pontin’s wife Janet Pontin: ‘That is far further in the future than I would wish or desire but unfortunately the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been significant.’

The coroner said he would hold the inquest earlier than that date if the opportunity arose.

‘I shall adjourn this hearing until May 3 2022,’ Mr Hughes told Mrs Pontin.

‘I would like to pass my own condolences to you and to Keith’s family and friends.’

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a progressive brain condition believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head and episodes of concussion.

The symptoms affect the functioning of the brain and eventually lead to dementia, the NHS website states.

In an interview with BBC Wales in 2018, Mr Pontin’s wife said he was constantly heading the ball during his career.

She said her husband, who has two grown-up daughters, sustained a ‘number of concussions’ while playing football.

Mrs Pontin described him as a ‘great husband, a great dad, a great laugh’. 

Links between dementia and heading footballs have strengthened in recent years.

England boss Gareth Southgate is currently taking part in a study looking at the potential links between it and the game. 

Southgate, 50, has volunteered to be part of the HEADING study at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which is backed by the Football Association and funded by the Drake Foundation.

The potential link between increased risk of neurodegenerative disorder and a career in the game has been highlighted again in recent months following confirmation of England World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton’s dementia diagnosis, along with the death of his brother Jack and their 1966 team-mate Nobby Stiles, who had both been suffering with dementia when they died.

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