A DAMNING report into the ‘long-term failure’ to reduce brain injuries in sport must result in overdue change.

That is the call from the family of Oxford United legend John Shuker, who died aged 77 in December 2019 – three years after being told he had vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Relatives had suspected his diagnoses were linked to his sporting career, which included a club-record 478 Football League appearances for the U's.

Read also: Oxford United legends turn out for John Shuker's funeral

It is almost two decades since a coroner found the dementia suffered by former England striker Jeff Astle was ‘entirely consistent with heading a ball’.

But just last week, the Football Association (FA) and Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) were accused of not ‘fighting hard enough, or publicly enough, to address the issue’ in the report by Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee.

For Lynn Shuker, that came as no surprise.

The wife of the late U’s star said: “It’s true that the FA and PFA buried their heads in the sand.

“I think they’re more worried about the financial implications.

“The PFA were very good to us near the end of John’s life, but that doesn’t take away what happened in the past.”

She added: “I don’t want other people to go through this.

“Dementia for anyone is awful, but especially for it to be caused by something he loved.”

Astle, who was born five days after Shuker, died aged just 59 in 2002 from what was described as an ‘industrial injury’.

His daughter Dawn has since raised awareness of the link between football and neurodegenerative diseases, while a 2019 Glasgow University study found ex-players were three and a half times more likely to die from the conditions.

England World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton was revealed to have dementia last year, becoming the latest member of the 1966 squad to receive the same diagnosis.

It saw the issue return to the public eye, but Shuker’s daughter Hannah knows it is just the tip of the iceberg.

She said: “The report is a strongly-worded document, which we need.

“But Dawn has been campaigning since 2002 and nothing changed then.

Read also: John Shuker's family in plea for footballers to be protected

“I watched the Euros and saw players knocked out and carry on, so I’m reluctant to say the report is brilliant as there hasn’t been change yet.

“If you didn’t have the (diagnoses of) well-known players, I think it would have continued to be brushed over.”

Oxford Mail:

John Shuker is applauded on to the pitch as he breaks Oxford United's record for Football League appearances in December 1974

The report recommended a UK-wide minimum concussion protocol across all sports by next July and more collaboration with the Health and Safety Executive to make up for an absence of ‘employee responsibility’.

Hannah Shuker said: “My dad and Jeff Astle were employees who were failed.

“We can’t look at that generation of footballers and not see the common issue.

“If they (authorities) had acted sooner, we’d have been more aware and could have prepared.”

The report found a lack of awareness around concussion in grassroots sport, but the family know change must come from the top.

“Until it’s taken seriously, it won’t happen at grassroots level,” Hannah Shuker said.

“There needs to be a greater emphasis on what’s happening inside players’ brains.

“There should be regular scans every six months.

“You can’t change how the game is played, but we need to safeguard the players.”

A PFA statement released last week read: “We are working on a comprehensive strategy to better address the needs of our former members and their families living with a neurodegenerative condition.

“In the last 12 months, the PFA has started a consultation process with family members of former players and other interested parties to inform the PFA’s work in this area, both on and off the field.”

The union added: “We will continue to fund research and work hard to identify and strengthen protections that can make a difference to players’ long-term health.

“The health and wellbeing of our members are paramount, and we will continue working with football’s stakeholders to take forward the recommendations within the report.”

An FA spokesperson said it ‘welcomed’ the report and will ‘work through the recommendations with relevant stakeholders’.

A statement added: “We are collaborating closely with our independently-chaired Research Taskforce to expand our own research studies in this area.

“Most recently, alongside the PFA, we have issued a call for research for new independent evidence-based research into the increased risk of death from neurodegenerative disorders in former professional footballers, focusing primarily on what causes the increased risk.

“The FIELD study, which was commissioned by The FA and the PFA, is ongoing and work on this research project will continue into next year, and we are also supporting ongoing independent research studies which are currently looking into the impact of head injuries in football.

“Since the publication of the initial findings of the FIELD study in 2019, we have made changes to the way the game is played in England, including issuing updated guidance on heading for all age groups between Under six and Under 18.

“We are also currently supporting the trial of concussion substitutes across the Emirates FA Cup, Barclays FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship.”