Peter Cormack, Dementia and Protecting Footballers

Some sobering news about a former footballing hero of mine today, Peter Cormack. Peter and his family have disclosed the news of his dementia diagnosis and symptoms of it he has been experiencing for some years.

Peter was an entertaining and swashbuckling attacking midfield for my team, Hibs, moving to Nottingham Forest where I was able to watch him many times as a youngster. I loved to watch him play and so did my dad who had a very high regard for our fellow Edinburgh native. As a boy I liked to try to emulate his prance-like run as Peter ran on the balls of his feet.

e1a7a3d444848ede5217f683c3823873(image: Hibernian.co.uk)

Perhaps Peter’s high watermark as a player came when performing for Liverpool in what became a trophy-laden career, as well as gaining nice full Scottish caps. As a player even as a skinny youngster he could certainly ‘dig’, pass the ball and had excellent control and vision. He was also versatile enough to leave his midfield berth and take over in goal for Hibs in an emergency as well as playing up front or in wide positions as well as his normal midfield slot. His great talent was spotted at an early age by then Hibs manager Jock Stein among others, when in 1964 in a prestige friendly game against Spanish giants, Real Madrid, Peter, just seventeen years-old scored against the legendary club.

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(Image: Shoot Magazine)

Peter, though not a big man by any means was so very talented in the air – a great header of the ball due to his agility, ability to leap and his superb timing. It brings up the subject of another former footballer, the late Jeff Astle – also an exceptional header of the ball – who passed away due to a degenerative brain disease in 2002 caused by repeated traumas through heading the heavy leather footballs of the day. This is in light of a recent dementia study that has resulted in the Scottish Football Association considering a ban on Scottish children heading the ball

On a wider note, I have a growing feeling that professional footballers, perhaps due to considerations of their their ‘wealth’ (or assumed wealth) are being somewhat sacrificed for the needs of the game. In Peter and Jeff’s day footballers were perhaps considered differently with much more modest rewards available from the game. In the modern era, it seems to me that players are increasingly vulnerable to addictions such as those of gambling, alcohol and recreational drugs. Stories of depression, anxiety and even suicidality in players due to pressures of the industry and attendant lifestyle are becoming more common and are almost certainly under-diagnosed and reported due to stigma and ignorance. It’s almost as though the players cannot complain about the issues or problems they are experiencing in the public’s view due to arguably, a minority being paid fortunes to play the game many would love to.

I do feel the football industry and individual clubs need to focus more on the health and well-being of football players – no matter how much or little they earn. Money is not a protective factor for health or mental health in these circumstances. Tales of excess and ruined lives litter the professional game and those stories are certainly not relegated to the modern era solely. Players it appears are increasingly more indulged and overprotected in everyday matters of running heir lives and careers. Their personal health and well-being however seems to be a lesser consideration. In some ways, attitudes in the game have not evolved significantly from past days with certain subjects still being subject to stigmatisation.

Good luck and bless you Peter Cormack. You gave me so many happy memories which I will always cherish. Let’s all wish for the better protection generally of the professional football players of today.

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