FOOTBALL: Brain damage threat to players

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Footballers, like boxers, could be at risk from brain damage, according to new medical evidence. A link has been established between the cumulative effect of heading a ball and Alzheimer's disease.

Damage to brain tissue is far more common in professional footballers than other people, Dr Jon Spear says in the latest edition of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Clashes of heads, obviously, would also be a contributing factor. Repeated injuries can lead to pathological changes in the brain similar to those in Alzheimer's - a recognised hazard for boxers.

"A football weighs about 400 grams [almost a pound] and can travel at up to 80 miles an hour," Dr Spear said. "This creates a significant force on impact with the head."

Dr Spear began his study into head injuries related to football following the death of Danny Blanchflower, the former Spurs and Northern Ireland captain, from Alzheimer's at the age of 67 in l993.

Professor Elaine Murphy, the editor of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, said: "Former players who were heading the ball when it was made of leather and much heavier than today, especially when wet, may be at greater risk than today's footballers."