Is heading a football dangerous?

Is repeatedly heading a football a “potentially dangerous thing to do”?

Geoff Twentyman’s film for Inside Out West is on BBC One in the West region at 19:30 GMT tonight and is then available on the BBC iPlayer for 28 days.

Ex-professional footballer Geoff Twentyman has made a film for the BBC considering the potential damage of heading footballs.

He has headed footballs countless times during his career, and his film explores his growing concerns about the practice.

He muses that as a lad he would head balls over and over again, to perfect the art and that during his football career he must have headed the ball tens of thousands of times.

He examines the now widely held belief that this was a potentially dangerous thing to do.

Geoff Twentyman played professionally for more than a decade.

His  father was also a pro in the 1950s, playing for Liverpool and during his final years he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.  This led Twentyman to wonder if the condition was in any way linked to his father’s playing career.

In 2013, Kevin Moore, a former team-mate at Bristol Rovers, died from Pick’s Disease ( a type of dementia) aged just 55. Twnetyman recalls that Kevin was the most powerful headers of a ball I’ve ever seen.  His widow Mandy also believes that  there is probably a link.

“Because of Kev’s position in the team his main function was to head a ball. He’d been doing that from a child until his late 30s I would think.

He would practice jumping from a corner cross over and over again.”

Chris Garland who played a significant role in the history of Bristol City was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1998 and over recent times has also developed Alzheimer’s.

He talks in his autobiography about his doctors linking his condition to his career as a footballer.

Last year, the decision was taken in the US to ban heading for children aged 10 and under after a class action was brought against the football authorities by a group of parents.

Neuroscientist Dr Michael Grey, from the University of Birmingham said “If it was my children I would not have them heading the ball at low ages….. I think from the point of safety for children it does make sense until we have definitive answers that we should take precautions such as that.”

Dr Grey believes the FA could be doing more and concludes that “What is clear is we need more research across the board and one thing is certain, there’s no shortage of money in football to fund it.”

He describes how the brain “wobbles” inside the skull and how the issue is critical for children who are still developing nervous systems and neuroprotection.

The Football Association  in the UK is prioritising ex-pros over children where neurological illness is concerned.

Dave Reddin, the FA’s head of performance services, said: “If we want to de-risk the game we could de-risk it in all sorts of ways.

“So what we’re doing on research is first of all taking the bigger question around the incidence of long-term brain injury in ex-professional footballers compared to the normal population,” he said.

“Beyond that I think there are some other questions that probably do deserve attention and one of those may be children and whether there needs to be any further research or rule adaptation as a result.”

 

 

 

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