Footballers' union pushes for ban on children heading
England's Professional Footballers' Association has called on the game's authorities to consider a ban on heading for children under 10, in a move that could have implications for the game across Europe
It follows guidelines in the United States that prevent young children from heading the ball; a new study by the University of Stirling that indicated memory impairment after heading the ball; and what experts have called the "frightening" anecdotal evidence of former players suffering with serious brain conditions.
The Scottish Youth Football Association has promised to "urgently" review its guidelines and, asked whether football generally should follow, PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said: "I think that has to be a serious consideration. It is not a knee-jerk reaction. It would be a considered reaction bearing in mind evidence that has been coming through from different sports and to a limited extent in football.
"There have been rule changes for youngsters about pitches they play on, about the numbers in the game, about whether or not girls should be involved with boys and up to what age. It is very much in line with that.
"We don't want to put off the next generation but we need to be very mindful."
The Stirling study reported a reduction in memory performance of 41-67pc in the 24 hours after players headed a football 20 times that was delivered with the power of a corner kick. Memory function did return to normal 24 hours later but, with many former players being diagnosed with brain conditions in later life, the call for urgent and more detailed research has grown ever louder.
Dr Willie Stewart collaborated on the research and, even after previously diagnosing chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the late England striker Jeff Astle, was amazed at the results.
"It stunned me that just a single session of practice - nothing untoward, nothing out of the ordinary - could produce that immediate change," he said.
"It was such a trivial insult [blow]. I did not expect to see any real changes to the brain. My jaw hit the table when I looked at the results."
In response to the Stirling research, the English Football Association said: "The FA is committed to researching and examining areas of head injuries in football. We are assessing research projects in this area."