A BILLY McNEILL Fund will be set up to help former footballers affected by dementia.
Liz McNeill, the Celtic legend’s widow, spoke of her pride in the move to provide financial aid and therapeutic support to ex-players affected by the illness.
The innovation comes just months after a Glasgow study was published showing the first conclusive link between football and neurological disease.
McNeill died on April 22, last year at the age of 79, nine years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which his widow believes was linked to his constant heading of the ball during his playing days as a central defender.
In her first interview since the passing of the Hoops great, Liz, speaking to the Evening Times, said: “When Billy was diagnosed, we saw a doctor who told us he had a small cognitive impairment in the frontal lobe, which would be in keeping with heading the ball. That was his forte.
“The European footballers of his era had died with dementia and Motor Neurone Disease, big players and also from down south in their age group.
“When Billy was young, if someone had said to him might take dementia through this, whether he would have stopped playing football…..because that was his passion.”
Liz described the fund and charity event as a “lovely way” to highlight a disease that affects around 90,000 Scots and celebrate his legacy. She added: “Billy would have loved it and his parents, too.”
The Billy McNeill Fund will be launched on May 29 at a major charity event in Glasgow backed by major names in Scottish football, past and present, and music and TV personalities.
Celtic and Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, Neil Lennon, Ally McCoist, Walter Smith and Ian Durrant have all given their backing to the event, which will include a celebrity golf tournament at Balmore in Glasgow and a ball at Mar Hall in Bishopton.
Line of Duty actor and Celtic fan Martin Compston has also said he will attend if his filming schedule permits while a number of big-name music stars have been approached for the evening event which will be hosted by Jim White, Suzie McGuire and George Bowie.
The Glasgow University study, which was led by neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart, found former footballers of Billy’s generation had a five-fold risk of Alzheimer’s.
The charity Alzheimer Scotland, which runs a football memories project at the Scottish Football Museum, said it welcomed the new, dedicated fund.
Jim Pearson, Director of Policy and Research, said: “We welcome the establishment of this new Billy McNeill fund aimed at supporting footballers living with dementia and look forward to seeing families benefit from the support it offers.”
The Scottish Football Association is pushing ahead with a ban on children under 12 heading footballs while brain injury charity Headway said further research should focus on modern lightweight footballs.