Sports

Heading football repeatedly was factor in death of former Cardiff player Keith Pontin, inquest told

Repeated blows to the head through heading a football was a factor in the death of a former professional player, an inquest has heard.

Keith Pontin died on August 2, 2020 at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant. An inquest into his death held at Pontypridd coroner’s court heard how the cause of death was first given as a result of an Alzheimer’s dementia, but further investigations subsequently took place into the impact of his repeated contact of his head with a football during his time as a professional footballer.

The 64-year-old had played for Cardiff City between 1976 and 1983 and won two caps for Wales. He had also played for Merthyr Tydfil and Barry Town and retired in 1991, going on to work within administrative roles outside of the game.

A post-mortem examination was carried out and a doctor identified the need for a neuropathological examination. The cause of death was given as chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head.

As painful as these proceedings are for those who have lost a loved one the lessons that can be learned from inquests can go a long way to saving others’ lives.

The press has a legal right to attend inquests and has a responsibility to report on them as part of their duty to uphold the principle of open justice.

It’s a journalist’s duty to make sure the public understands the reasons why someone has died and to make sure their deaths are not kept secret. An inquest report can also clear up any rumours or suspicion surrounding a person’s death.

But, most importantly of all, an inquest report can draw attention to circumstances which may stop further deaths from happening.

Should journalists shy away from attending inquests then an entire arm of the judicial system is not held to account.

Inquests can often prompt a wider discussion on serious issues, the most recent of these being mental health and suicide.

Editors actively ask and encourage reporters to speak to the family and friends of a person who is the subject of an inquest. Their contributions help us create a clearer picture of the person who died and also provides the opportunity to pay tribute to their loved one.

Often families do not wish to speak to the press and of course that decision has to be respected. However, as has been seen by many powerful media campaigns, the input of a person’s family and friends can make all the difference in helping to save others.

Without the attendance of the press at inquests questions will remain unanswered and lives will be lost.

Evidence given by Mr Pontin’s wife, Janet, heard how he was a loving father, and had in 2015 been diagnosed with dementia. Get all of our latest updates sent straight to your inbox with our free newsletters here.

Paul Burrows, who played with and against Mr Pontin, and David Cole, who was a supporter of Barry Town, both gave evidence during the hearing, noting how they had recalled him repeatedly heading the ball in his position as central defender, with his style described as an “old fashioned competitive centre half who dominated the ball in the air.” He had been involved in contact situations with other players, and refereeing practise was to allow more contact to occur then compared with the present day. Training would also involve repeated contact of his head with the ball.



Keith Pontin in action for Cardiff City

Coroner David Regan giving his conclusion, said: “I’m entirely satisfied on the balance of probability that the cause of death is chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The evidence that has been provided to me is that neuropathological condition evidenced by an examination of Keith’s brain only occurs in instances of repeated head injury.

“I have evidence from those who saw Keith playing that he suffered repeated head contact with the ball and also suffered head injuries during his play. I have no evidence that he suffered head trauma at any other stage in his life.

He added: “It seems to me on the balance of probabilities having found Keith had repeated head contact with the ball, I’m driven to the conclusion it more than minimally, negligibly or trivially contributed to his death. I’m entirely satisfied that the cause of his chronic traumatic encephalopathy occurred as a result of his professional footballing career.

“None of that identifies breach of duty in any way which is not a matter for the coroner’s court. The cause of death is an unnatural one. I return a narrative conclusion, which reads that Keith Pontin died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by repetitive head injury suffered as a professional footballer.”

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