Football looks at head hazard

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The Independent Online
TO ANYONE who has ever allowed a wet and heavy leather football to hit them on the head the answer should be patently obvious. But not content with mere common sense and intuition, the Professional Footballers Association revealed yesterday it has launched its own study to decide whether heading a ball causes long-term damage.

Studies in America and Scandinavia have suggested heading a ball over a long period, such as a professional career of 10 or more years, can result in senile dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Many of football's most famous names, including Bob Paisley and Danny Blanchflower, may have suffered as a result of heading the ball too much.

The studies have concentrated largely on footballers who played up to 30 years ago with a heavy leather ball that got water-logged in the rain. Treated leather balls that do not absorb water and are thus lighter are now used.

The association said its own research was being conducted with younger players who were being monitored from the start of their playing careers for the next 10 or 15 years.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive, said: "For the last year or so we have been made aware of this problem and it's one of the projects we are undertaking with the FA medical committee. Now that we have the funds, we have made preparations for our own research. We are taking youngsters coming into the game and monitoring them throughout their careers."

Mr Taylor said he was convinced the dangers of heading a ball - especially a modern one - were minimal. But his opinion is not universally shared. A spokesman for the Alzheimer's Disease Society said a recent study by the American Academy of Neurology of players from the Netherlands suggested up to 50 per cent suffered some sort of brain damage.

"It has long been suspected that repetitive blows to the head of the kind footballers sustained through heading the old-style balls could cause brain damage and possibly dementia," he said. "The [new] results are extremely interesting as they demonstrate that even with the newer lightweight balls, players may be at risk."

Sary Afshar, consultant neuro-surgeon with the Royal London Hospital, said: "Particularly in Britain where it is wet and muddy and the ball is hurtling towards you and hits your skull and the brain inside, the brain must suffer a harmful effect."