Legendary former Notts County striker Les Bradd is helping researchers looking into sports-related injuries including head injuries, cognitive impairment, foot and ankle injuries and osteoarthritis in the largest UK study of its kind, led from Nottingham.
Les, County’s all-time leading goal-scorer who netted 137 goals for the club in his nine-year career at Meadow Lane, is one of more than 40 retired professional footballers nationally who have contributed to the FOCUS study.
The study is undertaken by the National National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and the University of Nottingham and is co-funded by Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis, the Football Association and the Professional Footballers Association.
Professional footballers are at high risk of injuries through playing the game, according to previous research studies published by the BMJ. During the past 25 years, the three most common injury areas in professional football have been to players’ thighs, the foot/ankle area and the knee.
Les, who retired from professional football in the 1980s after 430 appearances for County, a total of 200 career goals and as a player at other professional clubs including Stockport County, Wigan Athletic and Bristol Rovers and is a favourite from the Jimmy Sirrel era at Notts County, said:
“While the game has changed since my days as a professional player – balls are lighter in weight and players tend to head them less these days – playing-related injuries are still very much a concern. I’m pleased to be involved in this research as a way of continuing to contribute to football.”
Les, who is now Notts County’s Ambassador, added: “Nottingham is my home and both our players and club have been heavily involved in the community and this is very important to me. So much work has been done by Notts County to help people suffering with Alzheimer’s and other conditions including those recovering from cancer, through the Notts County Foundation.
“Nottingham is a fantastic city, it has contributed so much for my life and professional career and I want to continue to give something back in any way I can.”
Professor Weiya Zhang, Chief Investigator for the study and Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, commented:
“Football is a game that inspires millions of people, but on a personal level professional footballers often suffer from diseases due to sports-related injuries after their careers on the pitch are over.
“These can include repetitive foot and ankle injuries which places them at risk of subsequent chronic pain and osteoarthritis. Foot and ankle Osteoarthritis and Cognitive impairment in retired UK Soccer players (FOCUS) is the biggest study of its kind involving living ex-professional footballers and general population comparison group in the UK. The research project is also investigating the implications of repeated heading of the ball, head injuries and concussion which may be related to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.”
Retired professional footballers who have taken part in the study have been completing questionnaires on their playing careers, along with undergoing X-rays of their feet and ankles at Nottingham City Hospital, part of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Professor David Walsh, Professor of Rheumatology at the University of Nottingham, Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist at Nottingham University Hospitals and Sherwood Forests Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has been supervising the X-ray imaging as part of the research.
He said: “FOCUS builds upon the long track record of successful research into sports medicine by our doctors and scientists at Nottingham University Hospitals and the University of Nottingham.
“When it concludes, the FOCUS study will help answer important questions about the health of former professional players. We will find out whether foot and ankle pain or osteoarthritis is more common in former professional footballers than in other people of similar age, and how much they have the cognitive or motor impairments that we associate with dementia or Parkinson’s disease.”
The FOCUS study has looked at the experiences of former players based in and around Nottingham, who have played for leading local clubs. Research is also being conducted among former professional footballers at locations including Imperial College in London, Manchester, Leeds and Southampton.