Former Great Britain star Bobbie Goulding is among a group of former international rugby league players who have revealed they have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and are planning legal proceedings against the Rugby Football League regarding negligence over their failure to protect them from the risks caused by concussion.
Richard Boardman of Rylands Legal, the firm who is helping launch the action, says he is aware of 50 players with an age range between their 20s and their 50s that are showing symptoms associated with neurological issues such as early-onset dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and Motor Neurone Disease.
Goulding is part of a test group of ten players, and is undisputedly the most high-profile player after representing his country on numerous occasions throughout his career. But now, at the age of 49, he has been given a diagnosis of early-onset dementia and probable CTE.
“For something like this to come out of the blue and hit me like a bus is hard to take,” he said.
“I didn’t think about dementia at all, I just thought it was the way life was. (When I played) I was 13 stone, 5ft 6in, playing against blokes who were 6ft 2in and 19 stone, and didn’t even bother about it. But it takes its toll in the end. I played within days of serious knockouts on at least three occasions.
"I remember playing on a Sunday for Leigh at Huddersfield towards the end of my career. I was in Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on the Sunday night after being seriously knocked out and played the following Saturday against Batley. I didn’t have one doctor check on me during that week."
Boardman - who is also leading a separate lawsuit with 175 former rugby union players - stressed that while the players are seeking justice for their own personal trauma, they also have a wider goal of wanting to make rugby league as safe as possible.
“The vast majority of the former players we represent love the game and don’t want to see it harmed in any way," he said.
"They just want to make it safer so current and future generations don’t end up like them. Younger players such as Stevie Ward, Rob Burrow and Sam Burgess have spoken publicly about their own brain damage, so these issues aren’t restricted to older generations.
"This is why we’re asking the RFL to make a number of immediate, relatively low-cost changes to save the sport, such as limiting contact in training and extending the return to play (following a concussion).”
Ex-St Helens and Warrington forward Jason Roach is also in the test group, and has received the same diagnosis as Goulding despite also being under the age of 50.
“I started forgetting things about 10 or 12 years ago before I was 40, even major events," he said. "One time I got into trouble with the police. I was arrested seven days after an incident in my car, but when the police knocked on my door, I had no recollection of it happening. They told me that I’d gone into the back of a car, threatened the other driver, and then driven off.
"The policeman said to me, ‘you’re either the best liar in the world, or you didn’t do it’. I pleaded guilty, but to this day I can’t remember a thing. I forget where I’ve parked my car and have to check I’ve locked the doors a hundred times to make sure. Sometimes I’ll be making coffee and realise I’ve put two spoons in the cup. Why would I do that? These aren’t major things, but they make me feel anxious about the future. I’ve got a 10-month-old daughter and need to look after her.”
Ex-Wales prop Michael Edwards and former Scotland forward Ryan MacDonald have also received the same diagnosis at the ages of 48 and 43 respectively, and are also among the players in question.