Sunday Footballers at Risk of Brain Damage; Heading the Ball Can Lead to Health Problems

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Byline: FIONA MACRAE

HEADING a football can cause lasting brain damage, scientists have found.

Even amateur players can suffer poor concentration and have sight deficiencies caused by their heads being repeatedly struck by the ball.

The problems were much worse than those suffered by players of non-contact sports such as swimming or badminton.

Brain scans showed that the root of the problem lay in the part of the brain that would feel the effects of heading the ball.

All those taking part in the study were young amateur players, suggesting it is not only professional players who are at risk of injury from repeated blows to the head while on the pitch.

The research suggests modernday footballs may be as capable of doing damage as old- fashioned leather balls, which could quickly become heavy and waterlogged.

The findings, by psychologists at Dundee University, will reignite the debate over whether headers are bad for players' health.

Four years ago, a coroner ruled that former West Bromwich Albion and England player Jeff Astle died at only 59 from brain injuries caused by repeatedly heading footballs during his 20-year career.

A medical expert told the inquest that Astle died from a degenerative brain disease caused by the constant heading of heavy and often wet leather footballs.

Injuries similar to those experienced by some boxers had restricted the blood supply to his brain, contributing to the dementia of his final years.

But while some studies have supported the theory that heading the ball harms the brain, others have concluded it has no effect.

In Scotland, former Celtic star Billy McPhail lost a legal battle to claim benefits for dementia he believed was brought on by the head injuries he suffered as a player. …