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Ken McNaught and the failings of the Professional Footballers’ Association

Ken McNaught is the latest in a string of failures by the PFA - and was left high and dry after being diagnosed with a heart issue.

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Another day, another story of someone with a fair few years behind them being failed by an organisation set up to help them. As stories leak about the failure of the Professional Footballers’ Association to support players after retirement (and in general), TalkSport spoke to Ken McNaught, formerly of Aston Villa and Everton about his experiences with the closest thing that British footballers have to a trade union.

Ken McNaught, a former Villan, made nearly 400 appearances at centre-half during his time in football. In 2015, McNaught, a stalwart of the game, was told that he’d require an operation. He was diagnosed with a severe heart issue, and would need invasive surgery to replace an aortic root and a heart valve. It was in 2016 that McNaught would go under the knife.

The PFA fought with McNaught, then 60, over the bill for this procedure. According to Ken, the PFA refused to assist with the costs of the surgery - £37,500 - and barely managed to pay for Ken’s initial MRI scan.

Due to the nature of the issue, McNaught likely couldn’t afford the time spent waiting for the surgery to become available on the National Health Service. With every minute passing, McNaught likely stepped closer to a fatal heart incident or possible embolism.

Of course, this is only one side of the story. There is a big picture here - but with McNaught’s life seemingly at risk, the PFA failed to step up to the plate and deliver ease of mind to a former footballer. Even when McNaught called the organisation to discuss the psychological fallout of his diagnosis (and the failure of the PFA) the PFA doubled down and left McNaught on the end of the phone in tears. Waiting to find out the date of his operation had left McNaught in severe stress. Of course, the PFA simply had to listen - and according to McNaught, they couldn’t really do that.

The PFA is currently under fire for a string of incidents and unfortunately, will be likely used as a holistic example of the failings of the trade union system - rather than being helped up as an example of a union gone wrong. There is now a loud cry for total reformation and review of the PFA. Damn right. McNaught is still a fairly high-profile figure - which begs the question - how many people has this organisation failed? How many people haven’t been given the platform to stand up and damn the PFA? An organisation that once spent nearly £2 million on a picture. An organisation that chucks millions at its boss.

‘Big hard bastard’ is a fair enough synecdoche that most deploy when referring to footballers who plyed their trade before 2002. Surely enough, you might think of that when you picture Paul McGrath, Peter McParland, Frank Barson and Ken McNaught among others. However, there’s only so-long that reputation can carry you. While that doesn’t fade, bodies do. Minds do. Joints do. You might have been tough in your playing days, but age will always take its toll, no matter how much you can afford to pay. McNaught has spoken before about the importance of a ‘Former Players Fund’ because it is far too easy for the game, and fans, to forget about people like Ken. People who paid their dues, worked hard, and didn’t reap the rewards. At the very least, there should be an independent union that fights hard for prospective, current and former players. It’s about damn time the PFA became that.