Don't Head the Ball

by   |   20/11/2019  56 Comments  [Jump to last]

Those old enough to remember Jeff Astle, how do you feel now that yet another newspaper story is out about the effects of heading the ball?

Doctor studying dementia and football link urges clubs to introduce regular cognitive testing for players and to ban kids heading

Personally, and I grew up in the 80s and 90s (when we had decent footballs and not the ones Jeff Astle and Co used as kids), I was always sceptical about this stuff. I always thought it was driven from America where they are litigation crazy, and thought back to how the likes of Dixie Dean coped. The stories are getting more and more compelling and I find it impossible to dismiss them now.

What about you guys?

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Reader Comments (56)

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Steve Ferns
1 Posted 20/11/2019 at 14:23:33
Thanks for giving this it's own thread. I'd be genuinely interested to know the views of ToffeeWeb, particularly the older generation who used to head footballs that resembled concrete when wet.
Jamie Crowley
2 Posted 20/11/2019 at 14:34:37
Here in America, heading is not allowed for kids U12 and under.

I hate it in one respect - the kids are learning bad footballing habits at a very young age. With my 10 year old, I see situations where a kid lifts his foot up, very high and dangerously, to kick a ball he really should be heading.

I like it in one respect, in that the impact of heading a ball fizzed in on a young kid's head, can indeed cause injury. I've actually seen kids get concussions from heading.

It's all down to money. The USA Soccer Federation doesn't want a massive lawsuit against them for injuries sustained in the course of playing soccer.

The NFL has also seen the possible massive economic impact of head injuries and lawsuits, and has changed the game drastically to prevent head injuries.

It's all a bit of a mess. But the one thing I'm sure of, it's all down to the money.

John Pierce
3 Posted 20/11/2019 at 14:50:31
Heading is essential, and a glorious part of the game. Personally I think they're the goals enjoy the most.

Lawton, Mountfield, Sharp, Speed, Cahill & Ferguson all superb headers and actually ‘jumped their height‘.

Like all parts of the sport it needs proper coaching and I believe it often gets neglected. Jamie, you assert correctly that it leads to unintended consequences, players raising their feet or levering opponents out of the way to avoid using their head.

It's bit chicken-and-egg I guess. Has heading gone out of the game? Coaching in the last 20 years has emphasized small-sided games and less on physical traits like height and power. As a result who heads a ball well nowadays?

There are few forwards that can use their head as precisely as some target men used to, whilst holding off a challenge. Oddly, I watched Kieffer Moore of Wales do exactly that yesterday. Gave them a lot more structure. Defenders too are less inclined to head the ball away and want to bring it down.

My ignorance perhaps is showing but, in the last decade or so, are there huge numbers of cases from the '80s & '90s or perhaps are the players not showing the effects yet?

Either way, if you want to keep heading in the game, it has to be coached properly. Would I be surprised if it faded from the game? Not at all.

Steve Ferns
4 Posted 20/11/2019 at 14:54:47
John, you might want to watch this documentary starring Alan Shearer. It was very interesting. Link

As above, I was sceptical. I don't know anyone with a brain injury from football, either personally, or through Everton. So, I always dismissed it. But articles are gathering traction and documentaries like this make you think.

I'm now undecided.

Peter Fearon
5 Posted 20/11/2019 at 15:10:00
No-one knew the impact of concussions in American Football until a pathologist started putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

I believe there is probably a bigger problem among association football players from a lifetime of heading the ball than we imagine. That being said, it is far more dangerous for the ball to hit a player on the head unexpectedly than to head the ball in the proper manner using the neck muscles.

The answer may be to design a protective headband, especially for children and youth players who are more susceptible to injury.

Ray Robinson
6 Posted 20/11/2019 at 15:16:05
In the era of the "lacey", which I remember well, I was a goalkeeper which, although it brought other risks, didn't involve heading. However, in later outfield years, I developed a skill for heading the ball and was often picked as centre-half or centre-forward.

I can confirm that, even with lighter, laceless mitre balls, catching a ball wrongly – particularly as centre-back repelling 60-yard punts from the goalkeeper's hands that came down with ice on them (no playing out from the back in our leagues!), would severely rattle the brainbox.

So yes, I would guess there could be something in these reports. Heaven knows where restricting heading would leave our game. What would Everton have been like without Latchford's and Cahill's headed goals?

Bill Gall
7 Posted 20/11/2019 at 15:20:03
When a discussion of this type of injury comes up there is usually an investigative study taken. It would be interesting to see the amount of players out of 100 who head a ball get concussion and those who don't.

I am from the old school in the late 50s to early 60s that used the old leather ball with the lace and have headed this ball in the rain and on the leather lace and I ended up needing stitches over my eye.

The modern ball that is light, not sure what material it is made from, must be great to head, as I was not to exited but frightened to be dropped and still headed that old leather ball after getting my stitches out.

No one likes to see anyone either young or old, getting an injury that stops them from continuing playing, but whatever you call it, football or soccer, this is a contact sport and there are plenty of other type's of injuries that can end a career or just the recreational side of the sport'.

Heading is an integral part of the game and any change in the rules will simply kill it off. People who train to be defenders and strikers work hard to improve their heading abilities to make them a better player. Every contact sport has its elements of risk and to stop younger players from not allowing them to play certain aspects of that sport that the may have to learn when they get older, is harming their chances of improvement.

I understand the decision in the U.S.A. and I suppose it is all about money, but heading is an integral part of the game and you don't just go up to head a ball you learn to direct it, and some players learn it quicker than others to make them more useful in either goal area.

Eddie Dunn
8 Posted 20/11/2019 at 15:32:22
I fear that with more investigation links to brain problems are bound to become more widespread. I am not sure if doctors have, in the past tried to ask dementia patients if they headed lots of balls in their youth.
From a purely personal perspective, I was born in 1960 and did regularly play with casies although plastic balls were used in the street. Often very light ones that would burst on a rosebush but also the orange Wembley Trophy which was a bit heavier.
I do recall soaking wet lacies in the rain and how your head would spin after a hard header.
Crazy to think about that blancmange of a brain getting shaken about.
A friend had a haemorrage after banging his head on an "A" Frame in a loft. They found that his brain was supported by rather weak ligaments enabling it to "rattle" inside the shell of his skull, (he was only 40). He was told it was due to regular beatings or binge drinking (he had both). As we get older the brain shrinks and there is more space for the brain to rattle in. I play ourdoor all summer and notice that if I take a few headers that in the pub afterwards, I feel a bit dizzy. I now avoid heading unless absolutely necessary.
I think we will be hearing more on this as evidence is exposed.
Mark Guglielmo
9 Posted 20/11/2019 at 16:13:16
It's hard to even imagine football without heading tbh.

Then again, as a Yank, I know very well the dangers posed by constant head strikes, especially over the long-term. And American football players wear helmets designed to protect them from this very thing!

Steve Ferns
10 Posted 20/11/2019 at 16:31:59
Mark, I read that there is more head injuries in American Football than Rugby, which are two comparative sports, for the simple reason of the headgear. In Rugby you have no protective padding and are exposed so you are more cautious and protective of your head, whereas in American Football you are more likely to take a risk as you feel safer with a helmet on. Also, I would expect the helmet restricts your vision and awareness. I've never really played much Rugby, and certainly never played American Football so I can only repeat what I have read in the past, and I may be mistaken.
Dennis Stevens
11 Posted 20/11/2019 at 16:43:56
I suspect that the number of ex-footballers who suffer dementia, possibly from a relatively young age, is quite high. However, I doubt that anybody has ever historically logged the details & so the evidence will probably be mainly anecdotal.

This makes for interesting reading:

Heightened dementia risk for ex-professional Scottish footballers

Kevin Prytherch
12 Posted 20/11/2019 at 16:57:17
I’ve been watching football for 4 years with one of my sons from U9 through to U12 at the moment, and I’d be surprised if anyone has ever headed the ball more than 5 times in a game. It’s not a massive part of the game at under 12 level in grassroots football.

It might be more apparent at a higher level, especially at clubs where kids are aspiring to become footballers and look to improve every area, but at the basic kids level I honestly don’t see that much heading.

I suspect the link has been made at professional and semi professional level where much more training will be in place to improve heading.

Jay Harris
13 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:00:10
When we were kids (around 9 or 10 years old) we used to practice heading against the wall to see how many times we could do it. We started with caseys and then a couple of years later onto the plastic inflated balls (If anyone remembers them) when they came out and the record was around 1000.

John Bailey was amongst our number and to the best of my knowledge none of us suffered brain damage (no comments please).

If we think of the millions that have played football over the years I can't think of many who have suffered serious damage to their brains from heading a ball.

I am more concerned about the physical contact (head to head) which results in a concussion although I guess these days in the Prem balls can travel upwards of 30mph so that may be a current concern.

Jay Harris
14 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:04:49
They are protective unless you get smashed over the head with one although the Steelers quarter back didnt seem bothered by it.
Kieran Kinsella
15 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:23:20
Jamie Crowley

Here in Kansas they have that age restriction but I went to a referees conference in Alabama. The head coach there was a Geordie and he was big on teaching heading to five year olds as he felt it’s too late to learn at 12. They had a big league down there and evidently heading is allowed.

There was a study on the news here lately about brain injuries from heading. They believe a number of mostly college age girls have brain damage from heading.

Personally, if proven — and I don’t pretend to know the science — I’d ban heading. But, I guess there will be players happy to carry on heading despite the risks just as we have boxers content to fight in an inherently dangerous sport.

Jamie Crowley
16 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:27:48
Eddie -

I play ou(t)door all summer and notice that if I take a few headers that in the pub afterwards, I feel a bit dizzy.

I stopped playing about 2 years ago. But I, too, had issues after heading a ball. I'd be dizzy, and frankly, it hurt a bit.

Which is why I wonder if it isn't better to have the kids not head the ball at such a young age. I don't like it from a footballing perspective. But considering the fact that about. 01% will play college soccer here, never mind professionally?

They have their entire lives ahead of them. Parents have them play a sport to learn the greater lessons of work ethic, effort, team play, manners, etc. Not get brain damage.

Still, every time my kid goes to head the ball, and then backs off and wheels his leg up to get a foot on it, it drives me mad.

I'm between two minds, but would side with caution in the end. It's a game on a grass field and you kick a ball. Memory loss, dementia, and brain damage trump learning how to head a ball, for me.

Jamie Crowley
17 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:30:50
Kieran -

Someone with more knowledge needs to post, but if that coach in Alabama is having 5 year olds head a ball, his team / league can't possibly be under the US Soccer umbrella - they have to be independent.

If his league were under US Soccer, he'd be fired in an instant, and if he weren't, his DOF (Director of Football) would be on the hook for a massive lawsuit.

Massive. He's not an intelligent man doing that. His exposure and risk are through the roof.

Mark Guglielmo
18 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:33:37
Steve @10 it's very hard to compare the 2 for me; I know there are rugby devotees here who will defend and support the sport to their dying breaths, but American football players wear pads, helmets, etc. BECAUSE of the sport. The speed and ferocity don't necessarily translate to rugby IMO (not saying rugby is slow and/or tame, btw). There was a television series not that long ago that focused on the science/physics behind the sport, and they revealed that even simply for head-to-head tackles, it was the equivalent of 2 cars hitting each other at 25mph. It's also why there's a zero tolerance policy regarding leading with your head when tackling.

Jay @14 that was honestly one of the most bizarre, terrible things I've seen happen on a football field. I was very glad to read the NFL office came down on him with an indefinite suspension. That same Steelers QB threw 4 interceptions this past weekend

Jamie Crowley
19 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:37:14
Mark -

It was assault with a deadly weapon. He should be banned from playing ever again in my opinion.

If he hits him with the crown of the helmet, he's dead. And we, here in America, would be having an entirely different discussion about that violent, disgusting event.

Steve Ferns
20 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:42:33
Mark, I'll let someone who actually likes rugby respond to that one. I don't think any of them will agree that rugby is slow or tame compared to American Football. Our view is you lot wear the pads, not because you need them, but because you're a load of softies!
Mark Guglielmo
21 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:49:03
Jamie, could very well be (a lifetime ban)!

Steve, lol! I specifically said I don't think it's slow or tame! But no one will convince me that their athletes are "tougher" or whatever than American football ones. We're talking world class athletes here. I've had this tussle before, and the common rugby-supporter argument typically boils down to "they're real men" and American football players need pads because they're not.

Utter bollocks.

Paul Hewitt
22 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:53:25
They will stop punching in boxing next.
Mike Gaynes
23 Posted 20/11/2019 at 17:59:05
Steve, it's important to note that the burgeoning awareness of head/brain trauma in American sports is not driven by litigation -- it's driven by the stunning explosion of evidence of brain damage like CTE in deceased athletes in multiple contact sports.

We've all grown up here with expressions like "punch-drunk" in boxing and "having your bell rung" in football, but for a century nobody gave it much thought because there were no scientific studies -- studies that can begin only when the athlete has died, and only when his family is willing to donate the brain for studies. That research has now shown CTE rates approaching 100% in NFL players and professional boxers, and hockey players are under study now.

I know how to head a ball -- in my semipro days I was considered dominant in the air -- and I've been knocked dizzy more times than I can count while heading. No matter how well you're coached, you can't always head the ball "properly" because if you're running or being jostled or it's a high ball that's being blown around, you can't always prepare yourself properly. And we know now from new science that young brains are more fragile. So I heartily endorse the ban on young players heading, and it doesn't bother me a bit that it causes more high kicks -- that's a habit that can be easily addressed at the proper time.

And I sure as hell don't think we should wait until footballers die and have their brains examined before we act on what we already know. Keeping young players healthy is far more important than delaying their heading lessons by a few years.

Stan Schofield
24 Posted 20/11/2019 at 19:05:39
The risk from heading is the chance of a head injury happening. In order to form any solid conclusions on whether heading should be avoided or banned, you'd need to have some idea of how big those risks are. Then you can decide whether the risk is worth taking.

Whether a risk is worth taking depends on who you are. It might well be concluded that children should avoid heading because the risk to them is deemed unacceptable. In contrast, professional footballers may see it as an occupational hazard inherent to their game, and deem the risk acceptable.

Talking about particular individuals like Jeff Astle is largely anecdotal, and not really enough to begin forming any conclusions. It usually takes a lot of work to get a feel for high large risks are. But there's nothing to stop a cautionary approach that distinguishes different groups, like children versus professionals as above, to protect certain groups like children.

A trouble with that is, it can be controlled only in certain environments such as a school, whereas in reality kids will continue to head footballs precisely because it's part of the game (they see their heroes do it) and enjoyable. When I was a kid, I spent hours practicing heading (which might explain a lot!), and couldn't resist heading when playing volleyball in school.

I suppose one approach might be to ensure that kids use lighter footballs, which may decrease the risk of any injury sufficiently. Then the regulation weight can be used when they get older.

Paul Birmingham
25 Posted 20/11/2019 at 19:24:55
For me, heading is part and parcel of the game, always has and will be.

I watched the Alan Shearer documentary, and for me the facts are compelling about the link to players from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, whom had played and gave their all for tough career compared to modern times, the last 30 years.

I'd say, using the boxing analogy, that the more you head a ball the cumulative effect on the brain outer membrane, being damaged is increased and the more you head a ball at velocity and from height, the increased pressure exerted on the brain's outer membrane.

I'm no doctor, but I see over time that medical evidence will prove the relative long term and potentially fatal damage heading a ball can do.

I also believe that more technology and ball design will improve and reduce but not stop the same effect.

For me, it would kill the game if heading stopped but I see the day soon when the FA will follow the rules in the USA, and heading is banned until age 14.

But let's see what the government says and if such legislation would be passed.

John Pierce
26 Posted 20/11/2019 at 19:56:16
Steve 4. I watched the documentary. It hints at a nexus, but doesn't say definitively a causal relationship.

My gut says if there's a link but surely there's so many other factors across a 20-year career?

Using soft training balls to refine techniques is an absolute.

How stereotypical though the players interviewed were prideful and stoic. Did you think they were trying to protect the game?

My original post chimed quite nicely with the programme. Perhaps football will through fashion and coaching move so far away from heading that it naturally fades from the game.

John Pierce
27 Posted 20/11/2019 at 20:10:44
Jamie, I believe there's no differences in the toughness of NFL versus Rugby. I believe the power and force is there in both.

Where I think the line is: rugby is played with technique and controlled collisions, tackling is an art. Without a helmet players know the limits of their mortality!

Perhaps NFL is less controlled, violence in the purest sporting sense, they hit players, including with the head which whilst exhilarating when you are pitch side, really is boned-headed!

Tackling is a misnomer, and it's more a question of brute strength less technical skills.

To round on the point, hitting people with head & using a helmet seems to take away the body's and mind's abilities to tell you where the line is.

However, I think in today's game the players know the risks and still are happy to play for the money and the glory.

Andy Crooks
28 Posted 20/11/2019 at 20:14:19
I remember taking a corner on a wet day with a casey. The ball was so heavy that it did not reach the 18-yard box. To head one of those was like heading a medicine ball. I can recall missing a chance from six yards because the ball did not reach the goal line. To head one was life-threatening.

My favourite comment about missing a headed chance came from Ally McCoist. He, in all seriousness, put down his failure to score as the ball "coming off the CORNER of his head". It explains so much about "A Question of Sport".

Mark Guglielmo
29 Posted 20/11/2019 at 20:59:42
FWIW John @27 that's a very good way of looking at the two sports (Rugby & American Throwtball). Different styles and intents, for sure.
Jamie Crowley
30 Posted 20/11/2019 at 21:01:58
Mike -

Steve, it's important to note that the burgeoning awareness of head/brain trauma in American sports is not driven by litigation

I don't believe that to be a statement of fact.

The studies have come out, and the NFL, and US Soccer, are fearful of massive class action lawsuits for compensation of medical costs due to injuries sustained while playing their sport. It takes one successful fling of poo on the wall for something to stick. And when it does, the war chests will be dumped out in force.

US Soccer, and the NFL, are protecting their nest eggs. There's no question in my mind. It's a specific action who's aim is to protect their wealth.

It's the actions of these two entities in particular, changing their game and the rules in the fear of losing possibly billions, that have brought awareness to the issue.

No one read the medical reports - except the lawyers with US Soccer and the NFL. They then marched into the powers that be and said, "we might have a very big problem here."

That's my take, Mike.

But I'm 50 and overly cynical.

Mike Gaynes
31 Posted 20/11/2019 at 21:19:36
Jamie, I don't disagree about the NFL and MLS, and I think we're just talking semantics here. The discovery and awareness of the problem wasn't driven by lawsuits, but the obstructionism by the leagues was most definitely driven by the threat of lawsuits. So we're on the same page, just different paragraphs.

The awareness has been, tragically, driven by terrible deaths and suicides. Hall of Famer Mike Webster dying as a wreck at age 50 was the first earthquake. The aftershocks were the suicides of Andre Waters, Dave Duerson (whom I once spent a wonderful afternoon with), and Junior Seau. And when it started happening to 20-year-olds, suddenly the science kicked everybody in the gut.

Jay Harris
32 Posted 20/11/2019 at 21:27:52

I watched an interview with Rudolph after the game and it was as if he had been hit with a feather.

I take back the English view that American footballers are all pansies.

Jay Harris
33 Posted 20/11/2019 at 21:35:00

I don't know if all this is just coming to light because of recent increased studies or whether the games have become so much faster and more intense but it seems to me that this type of injury was not prevalent years ago.

Jamie Crowley
34 Posted 20/11/2019 at 21:37:34
Mike -

Semantics - definitely. It's chicken and egg - which came first? The studies or the lawsuit threat?

The studies, obviously. I'd just argue the awareness of the issue really started when the respective organizations changed their rules and way of doing things, to protect their wallets. Awareness came to the fore. Prior to that, very few knew, and very few cared.

Thankfully, now they do. I'd argue they do more because they care about their wallets than they do the players, but that's my cynicism.

John Keating
35 Posted 20/11/2019 at 21:41:53
I am sure there will be a massive difference in studies based on players of Astles generation and today.

Many of us were born and brought up with the leather casey which knocked you out on a wet muddy pitch if, and it was a big if, someone could actually cross it

Astle would be of that generation and probably the damage done before the '68 Final people are talking about.

I understand the concern for our youngsters but even now if you watch the little ones play there's little if any crossing so little if any heading.

Kids are only playing a more "normal" game as they get a bit older and again how many headers in a game? Remember they're not playing 45 minutes each way until they're in their teens now.

Yes, let's be aware but let's not go overboard here. We are already doing everything we can to make it a non-contact sport; let's not take away a skill we are already downgrading by the tippy tap on-the-ground stuff we all play.

Kieran Kinsella
36 Posted 20/11/2019 at 22:11:20
The game would change with no heading but the game has changed over the past two centuries and survives.

In all seriousness, it would put Luddites like Fat Sam out of business. No-one likes the long ball anyway. I could live with it.

Don Alexander
37 Posted 20/11/2019 at 22:42:41
I think the brain injury scenario isn't as relevant to today's players as used to be the case with the casey-generation. They sent you reeling when wet, and I know that from experience because as a lad I was a good header of the ball. That said, when I was 10, I had a headmaster who, before WW2, had played for England Amateurs. He disallowed heading and gave free kicks whenever the ball went above our shoulder height. We won the inter-schools cup.

Talking of caseys reminds me of an old Nat Lofthouse story. When he was asked as the England centre-forward which of his two wingers was the better, Stan Mortenson or Tom Finney, he said they were both brilliant, always centred the ball right onto his head but, when Finney did it, the lace was always on the other side of his head!

David Pearl
38 Posted 20/11/2019 at 22:51:59
I hated heading the ball. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and it was like a rock. In fact, l remember refusing. It was bad enough having to kick the thing.

The ball today, wow. I mean it improved in the 80s but as l got older the things l could do with the ball was impossible with the earlier versions. I miss the type of free kicks that could be taken or shots by the likes or Eder. Nowadays Rashford and Co strike it dead on and let the ball do the work. It ain't right, l tell yer.

Stan Schofield
39 Posted 20/11/2019 at 23:07:23
David, once caseys had disappeared in the mid to late 60s, I think pretty much all footballs became water resistant with their regulation size and weight fairly constant.
Bill Gall
40 Posted 21/11/2019 at 01:16:27

Take heading out of the game and you will not need any tall players in defense or at centre-forward as no-one will be allowed to head the ball off the goal line or score a goal with a header.

The reason the Fat Sam managers are hired is because of the financial gains a club receives by being in the Premier League, especially for the lower clubs who do not have the finances of the bigger clubs. They need this type of manager (as Everton did) for survival.

Allardyce had such a bad reputation – you wonder why he was named England's manager... never mind Everton's!!

David Pearl
41 Posted 21/11/2019 at 01:44:02
Stan, l must've been playing with second-hand balls then. Our school in St Helens got the old caseys from Huyton.
Danny Broderick
42 Posted 21/11/2019 at 02:25:03
Kids under 12 barely head the ball anyway, no need to impose a ban on heading on kids.

Without reading the links, I would suggest that any brain trauma linked to heading the ball might be more to do with professionals actually heading the ball thousands of times as professionals, rather than heading the ball now and again when they were kids. It might be better to reduce heading in professional training, I would suggest.

Kids get run over by cars up and down the country every day of the week but we don't ban cars.

Mark Guglielmo
43 Posted 21/11/2019 at 03:13:38
Danny, "Kids get run over by cars up and down the country every day of the week but we don’t ban cars." I'm trying to determine if this is a (bad) joke or not. Can you tell me so I don't assume? Gracias.
John Keating
44 Posted 21/11/2019 at 08:38:33
I doubt nowadays it even applies to professionals.

I seem to remember the Shearer programme and the barrage of modern-day tests they gave him and there were no adverse results.

Since Shearer I doubt there has been another professional more "old-fashioned" than him who has headed the ball more.

Terrible thing to say but hopefully this is something that will only be experienced by those of the casey generation and not by those starting to play footy in the '70s onwards.

Stan Schofield
45 Posted 21/11/2019 at 08:57:57
David @41: Yes, I think you might have been a bit unlucky. From what I remember, lace-up caseys were still around, but particularly after the 66 World Cup, new caseys that just had a valve for inflation and a water-resistant coating became the norm. We thought the new caseys were great, plus the plastic Wembley Trophy balls you could get, because they didn't get heavier when wet and of course there was no danger of heading laces!

Mark @43: I might be wrong, but I interpreted Danny's comment as saying that we need to act in a sensible way, not stopping something simply because it carries risk, but assessing the level of that risk before making any decisions. Otherwise, decisions can become knee-jerk and disproportionate to any real benefit, which happens in many situations and is something we would wish to avoid.

In the UK, there has been an 'elf and safety gone mad' culture where decisions by some authorities have falsely used health and safety as excuses to avoid doing something that is perfectly sensible and relatively low risk. The UK Health & Safety Executive has been trying to counter this trend with sensible approaches that look at actual risks, to try and rid of 'health and safety myths' that are perpetuated by the media. The UK HSE website,, has a section on this, called Mythbusters, which gives interesting examples of the problem.

Ray Roche
46 Posted 21/11/2019 at 09:13:58
Stan, like you I remember the valve type ball being the norm and Mitre being the ball of choice from the mid-sixties. I can remember heading the old wet casies straight from a goal kick and not catching it correctly, the ball landing on the top of my head and, for a second, blacking out and being left dizzy for a few moments.

And none of this multi-ball crap where any ball can be thrown on to keep the game going, we had the “match ball” and that was used all the game.
Remember the orange “Frido” plastic balls as well, just heavy enough to be used for a kick about.

Stan Schofield
47 Posted 21/11/2019 at 09:31:25
Ray, yes I remember those Mitre and Frido balls. I think all those balls had 'regulation size 5' written on them, and they were regulation weight.
Danny Broderick
48 Posted 21/11/2019 at 12:33:48
You summed it up perfectly Stan.

I don’t know what’s so hard to follow Mark. Kids barely head the ball under 12. So no need for change. Common sense.

Stan Schofield
49 Posted 21/11/2019 at 13:14:22
Regarding the old laced caseys that got heavier when wet (no matter how much you dubbined them), not only was heading hazardous, but kicking the things could be painful. When I started playing footie at about age 7, I had an old fashioned pair of boots with a hard toe-cap and nailed-in studs. The hard toe-cap was useful for toeing the ball, because kicking it any other way could be painful. When I got more modern boots a few years later (shoe style ones with rubber studs), and played with the new water-resistant valve-inflated caseys, it was luxury. Kicking and heading suddenly became pleasures, and I could practice ball skills and try to be like Colin Harvey.
Mark Guglielmo
50 Posted 21/11/2019 at 13:56:50
Danny @48 the way Stan interpreted your comment makes more sense, but the argument itself is still a false equivalency.

Heading the ball is A, potential risk to children is C.
Driving cars is B, potential risk to children is D.
Said another way, just because A = C doesn't mean that B = D.

A study on one is not the same study on two. No one's making that argument, it's a false equivalency.

So sticking with just the topic of heading the ball, it could very well be true that because young players don't currently head the ball, the risk is lessened for them at this moment in time. But we can't say for sure, so why wait until it's too late? If there is enough empirical evidence medically that those same kids, now 22, are showing the effects of long-term medical problems, then surely you'd want to "head (ha) those potential problems off at the pass," no?

I don't know if said long-term effects have been studied yet in football. I do know they have in the aforementioned sports, American football and boxing. Therefore it would seem there could be many similarities in football that follow suit. The same younger players can't box. There are very strict rules in place around tackling in youth American football. It's not a huge leap to believe youth soccer could follow suit.

Just because you can't see the effects at 12 doesn't mean they won't be there at 22. The U.S. found out the hard way what it means to ignore the "smoke" until it was too late and the "fire" was well and good burning. It's the difference between proactive, and reactive. IMO protecting the long-term future health of players should never be cast aside to preserve a piece of a sport "because it's always been that way."

Food for thought.

Stan Schofield
51 Posted 21/11/2019 at 15:24:29
Mark, everything you've said there seems sensible. But it's worth adding a few caveats.

What you've suggested is a cautionary approach to safety. But a cautionary approach needs to be applied sensibly, what the UK HSE would call 'proportionately'. This means it should account for actual assessed risks rather than simply perceived risks.

Danny has pointed out that up to the age of 12 there is very little heading being done. That in itself is relevant, because it automatically reduces risk. If there is then substantial heading after the age of 12 (and that's an IF), then there are sensible ways forward rather than banning heading, the latter being an extreme. For example, reduced weight balls could be used for kids, which reduces risks from potential heading injury. In other words, with a bit of thought there is always more than one way to skin a cat.

The road traffic accident analogy raised by Danny is, in my opinion, a valid one, because it illustrates the principle of not banning something simply because youngsters are at risk. There is always a balance to be struck between risks and benefits. The trick is to strike a good balance. That could of course comprise banning heading altogether, but in reality there are usually sensible, less extreme, ways forward.

Mark Guglielmo
52 Posted 21/11/2019 at 16:01:28
Stan, well-stated.

This part is fair:
"What you've suggested is a cautionary approach to safety. But a cautionary approach needs to be applied sensibly, what the UK HSE would call 'proportionately'. This means it should account for actual assessed risks rather than simply perceived risks."

I simply base my thoughts only on my own experiences which have already been applied to U.S. sports.

This is very pragmatic and I can see this side:
"Danny has pointed out that up to the age of 12 there is very little heading being done. That in itself is relevant, because it automatically reduces risk. If there is then substantial heading after the age of 12 (and that's an IF), then there are sensible ways forward rather than banning heading, the latter being an extreme. For example, reduced weight balls could be used for kids, which reduces risks from potential heading injury. In other words, with a bit of thought there is always more than one way to skin a cat."

But this?
"The road traffic accident analogy raised by Danny is, in my opinion, a valid one, because it illustrates the principle of not banning something simply because youngsters are at risk. There is always a balance to be struck between risks and benefits."

Still doesn't work, perhaps only for me. It's still a false equivalency. Perhaps a much better way of voicing this opinion would be around the effects of tackling in football. Yes, the horrible extreme end of the spectrum is Son > Gomes. But does that warrant banning tackling? No way Jose. Just leave the cars out of it, lol. Alcohol is completely banned for children because it puts them at risk, but that argument would be equally foolish.

I do see what you guys are saying though. Boxing isn't banned for young people. Instead they can't spar until after the age of 10, and then only with protective headgear, so that seems like the balance you've been speaking of. Cheers for the solid debate.

Stan Schofield
53 Posted 21/11/2019 at 16:31:35
Mark, I was working in Texas a few years back, and before I left the UK a mate asked me if I was worried about dangers from guns, especially in a supposedly 'red neck' State like Texas. I said I hadn't thought about it, but let's see if I should be worried.

I looked up on the internet that about 30,000 folks die each year because of guns in the US. I then looked up that about 40,000 die in road traffic events.

I said to my mate, it looks like the risk of getting killed by a gun is no more than the risk of being killed on the roads, and since I'm not worried about the latter, it seems to me there's no reason to be worried about the former. Looking at the comparative figures for Texas didn't change this conclusion.

The point I'm making is that it's not a bad idea to compare one type of risk with another, if only to get a sense of perspective, which is part of this 'proportionality' thing.

James Flynn
54 Posted 21/11/2019 at 19:56:12
Interesting read.

Mike Gaynes summed it up well and accurately.

Specific to reference of banning heading for kids in America, that originated from one source; Soccer Mom.

Moms across America watching idiot "coaches" teach headers by whipping in crosses at 8-year-old skulls set off the alarm bells that led to the banning. Rightly. Should also lead to the banning of the dumb asses doing that to children. If only.

That Geordie coach Kieran mentions above, should have been dismissed the minute after, "felt it's too late to learn at 12" came out of his mouth. Dumb.

Heading is a skill, yes. But not so complicated that it can't be learned, starting at puberty, when the muscular frame begins to fill out. Which is what we're aiming for now in youth soccer.

As far as the helmet discussion. The helmet is there to protect against facial/skull lacerations. It does this well. You will always see more rugby players go off for treatment of a bleeding head wound then you'll ever see for a gridiron player at any level. In addition, the helmet basically eliminated from the sport, broken noses/teeth and the "cauliflower ear" 50-60 years ago.

The football helmet does zero for preventing concussions. Not today, not ever. Every one for sale, from Pee Wee to the NFL, contains a warning label inside stating that specifically.

Ralph Basnett
55 Posted 22/11/2019 at 06:30:47
Is this not just the same as asking an F1 driver not to speed or a boxer not to punch too hard?

The so called athletes are in this sport for fame, trophies and money in whatever order you out them so heading a ball is part of the risk that they are handsomely rewarded for so get on with it!!!!!

Derek Thomas
56 Posted 22/11/2019 at 08:15:04
I coach 7yrs olds, who play 4 a side on a small pitch. Its all about enjoying themselves running round chasing a ball...any goals are a bonus and no winners or losers are 'officially' recorded (yeah right...the kids know if they don't win, but thats another discussion) So there's no room for a centre to head...not that it would ever occur to them At that age, if it does come near their head - they duck.

As the kids get bigger the numbers per team increase along with the pitch size. By 8 or 9 keepers and corners are introduced...but most lack the strength to get a ball to head height from a distance.

When our season restarts in Feb / March I will ask about heading and where it features in the grand scheme of guess would be - when teams reach 11 a side on a full sized pitch, usually age 11/ 12

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