A former rugby league player who is suffering with early-onset dementia is among a group of sporting veterans who are suing the Rugby Football League for negligence.

Mickii Edwards, who owns and runs Tipsy Cows in Great Harwood, fears the day when he no longer recognises those closest to him, following his devastating diagnosis earlier this month.

As a player, Mr Edwards was fearless, playing for Oldham, Leigh, Swinton and St Helens in a professional career spanning more than a decade throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

The 48-year-old was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain condition which is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head) earlier this month, and tragically, he already says his playing days are a blur, relying on scrapbooks and old videos to jog his memory.

Mr Edwards is part of a group of 10 former players, which also includes Jason Roach and Bobbie Goulding, who are launching legal action against the Rugby Football League (RFL) for negligence, claiming the governing body failed to protect them from the risks of concussion.

And while he acknowledges greater structure, science and regulation have been applied in recent years, he says this is in stark contrast to his own playing days.

Lancashire Telegraph: Mickii Edwards has organised many fundraisers in Great Harwood over the years including Santa Dashes

He said: "You were treated like a piece of meat.

“It was like the Wild West when you went on those fields sometimes. People would be swinging their arms like windmills.

“I remember playing my first game and half the lads were eight times bigger than me and they all wanted to knock my head off.

“And I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to have to put up with now for so many years’.

"There were no regulations in place. But I was a tough b*****, I gave what I got.

“The worst thing about it is you come to enjoy it – you enjoy the pain, you enjoy being out there, you enjoy the blood – it was part and parcel.”

The players allege in a letter being sent to the RFL that, given the significant risk of serious or permanent brain damage caused by concussions, the governing body “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”.

The group is represented by Richard Boardman of Rylands Law, the firm which has also launched an action on behalf of ex-rugby union players against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Mr Edwards says the problems with his short-term memory have become “horrendous” adding: “I put my keys down and I won’t find them for an hour, and they’ll be in the microwave or something, or the fridge, and I think, ‘Why would I put them in the fridge?'”

Alongside his partner, Mr Edwards runs Tipsy Cows in Great Harwood, but his memory has become so poor he has had to hand over all administrative duties.

He now hopes his diagnosis will enable him to receive targeted treatment and support but is understandably anxious about what the future might hold.

He said: "Being diagnosed with dementia at 48 is hard to swallow really. Because it is not what it is now – it’s 10, 15 years down the line.

Lancashire Telegraph: Mickii at his fitness suite in Oswaldtwistle back in 2017Mickii at his fitness suite in Oswaldtwistle back in 2017

“I might be sat in a care home basically not even knowing who my girlfriend is.

“It’s hard because I want to share (retirement) with her and now I might be robbed of it all.

"I’m already robbed of most of the memories from when I played rugby – it’s hard to remember most of it, which is hard, because it means a lot to me, just to tell people what I’ve done, the places I’ve been.

“Relaying back to some of the games I did play in, I’ve got to look into my scrapbooks now and videos to give myself a reminder.”

Former Scotland, Swinton and Warrington full-back Jason Roach, 50, has also been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. He started to notice unusual symptoms in his late 30s and early 40s.

Like Mr Edwards, Mr Roach hopes the action can raise awareness for those who may be suffering similar symptoms but not be diagnosed.

Their lawyer, Richard Boardman, is working with a group of more than 50 players in total, and said: “The vast majority of the former players we represent love the game and don’t want to see it harmed in any way. They just want to make it safer so current and future generations don’t end up like them.

“Younger players such as Stevie Ward and Sam Burgess have recently 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).”

The RFL said in a statement: “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.”