Ex-Leeds star Bobbie Goulding in group of former internationals to sue over brain damage

FORMER Leeds, St Helens and Great Britain scrum-half Bobbie Goulding is one of ten former professional rugby league players who are set to sue the Rugby Football League over brain damage - an issue described as a “ticking timebomb” for the sport.

By Dave Craven
Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 10:13 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 5:25 pm

Along with ex-Halifax, Dewsbury and Scotland prop Ryan MacDonald, former Warrington winger Jason Roach - who briefly played for Castleford Tigers at the start of Super League - and ex-Wales international Michal Edwards, he is part of a test group action for negligence against the governing body over their failure to protect them from the risks caused by concussions and sub-concussions.

But Richard Boardman, of Rylands Legal, says he is representing 50 former players who are aged from their 20s to 50s and all of whom are showing symptoms associated with neurological complications.

This is alongside the 175 former rugby union players Mr Boardman represents in a separate lawsuit, including England World Cup winner Steve Thompson.

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The legal team say there is a ‘ticking timebomb’ of potentially hundreds of former rugby league players, who as they reach their 40s and 50s, are developing various neurological issues, such as early onset dementia, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), Epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease and Motor Neurone Disease.

The former players allege that given the significant risk of serious or permanent brain damage caused by concussions and sub-concussions, the RFL owed them, as individual professional players, a duty to take reasonable care for their safety by establishing and implementing rules in respect of the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of actual or suspected concussive and sub-concussive injuries.

Goulding, 49, was diagnosed with early onset dementia / probable CTE this month.

He won the Super League and Challenge Cup double when captaining St Helens in 1996 having earlier played alongside the likes of Ellery Hanley and Garry Schofield in a two-year sting with Leeds and also earned 17 caps for Great Britain.

1 Sep 1991: Bobby Goulding (second left) of Leeds gets away from the Widnes defence during a Stones Bitter Championship match at Naughton Park in Widnes, England. \ Mandatory Credit: Chris Cole/Allsport

The former France coach, who also played for Huddersfield Giants and Wakefield Trinity in a decorated career, has had well-documented issues with alcohol and drug addiction.

But Goulding told the Daily Mail: “For something like this to come out of the blue and hit me like a bus is hard to take.

“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. Especially if they’re angry!”

He added: “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, [in 2002.]

“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. ‘Bob, are you ready to play?’ he said. ‘Yeah I’ll play.’

“If you watched the video, you’d be shocked.

“There was another game that stands out just after I’d signed for Widnes [in 1992].

“We were playing at Hull KR live on Sky and I was knocked out.

“We still were living in Leeds at the time, so I didn’t get the team bus home.

“My wife drove and she had to pull over on the motorway as all my bodily functions just went right through me.

“She had to pull over, and there was sh*t and pi*s everywhere. It was horrendous. I had no control at all.”

Boardman maintains that the former players are not just seeking financial compensation but also want to make the game safer and see players getting tested and diagnosed to get urgent clinical support.

“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).”

In response, an RFL statement read: “The Rugby Football League has recently been contacted by solicitors representing a number of former players.

"The RFL takes player safety and welfare extremely seriously, and has been saddened to hear about some of the former players’ difficulties.

"Rugby League is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, player welfare is always of paramount importance.

"As a result of scientific knowledge, the sport of Rugby League continues to improve and develop its approach to concussion, head injury assessment, education, management and prevention across the whole game.

"We will continue to use medical evidence and research to reinforce and enhance our approach.”