As English Football Introduces Training Restrictions Will Heading Soon Be Banned Entirely?
11:59 GMT 29.07.2021 (Updated: 15:15 GMT 28.05.2023)
In 2002 former England footballer Jeff Astle passed away aged 59, and became the first British player to have been confirmed to have died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Recent research has confirmed a link between heading footballs and dementia.
After the Football Association issued new guidelines restricting professional players in England to no more than 10 "higher force headers" a week in training there are fears that heading the ball might one day be outlawed altogether.
Alan Brazil, a former Manchester United and Scotland international, said on his TalkSport radio show on Thursday, 29 July he was concerned about the future of the game.
Brazil warned: "I don’t want heading banned and then I don’t want tackling banned and then I don’t want shooting with your right foot banned. We’ve got to be careful here."
Former Tottenham Hotspur player Jamie O’Hara said limiting heading to 10 a week - effectively two a day - would make it difficult for centre halves and centre forwards for whom it was an essential skill they needed to perfect.
O’Hara told TalkSport: "You have to head the ball. Being a centre half you have to learn how to time your jump, how to meet the ball properly. If you take that out of the game and tell them they can only do that twice a day, how will young lads learn?"
A study published in 2019 found professional footballers were more likely to suffer from neurodegenerative brain disease and earlier this year it was reported that England’s World Cup winning striker Bobby Charlton was suffering from dementia.
A joint statement from the Football Association, Premier League, English Football League, Professional Footballers' Association and League Managers Association on Wednesday, 28 July, said: "The preliminary studies identified the varying forces involved in heading a football, which were provided to a cross-football working group to help shape the guidance.”
"Based on those early findings, which showed the majority of headers involve low forces, the initial focus of the guidance will be on headers that involve higher forces,” it added.
The FA and the Premier League are recommending clubs restrict the number of “high force headers”, which are defined as “typically headers following a long pass (more than 35 metres) or from crosses, corners and free-kicks.”
Children under 11 are no longer taught to head footballs during training in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the FA has also urged coaches of older children to limit heading.
Earlier this year one of Britain’s top neuropathologists told a committee of MPs more needs to be done to reduce the risk to elite level footballers and other sportsmen of concussion and brain trauma leading to dementia.
Professor Willie Stewart
, a consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow, told the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee: “Footballs still weigh between 14 and 16 ounces. They haven’t changed. Modern balls are made of different materials and don’t absorb water like they used to but the physics of it is to do with the speed of the ball rather than its mass. If you increase the weight of the ball it doesn’t increase the impact that much. You can almost argue that the problem is greater in the modern game than it was.”
Football is not the only sport which is changing as a result of scientific research.
In 2012 a class action lawsuit was filed by more than 4,500 former NFL players, claiming compensation for serious medical conditions linked to head traumas they suffered while playing the game.
The NFL eventually settled for US$1 billion and changed the rules of the sport to ban certain tackles, like the blindside block.