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A heads up: footballers need to be safe

OPINION: Despite concerns that heading balls can lead to degenerative disease, it appears clubs would rather buy expensive new players than fund more research

01 April, 2021 — By Richard Osley

IF football was just being invented now and the man or woman who had come up with the idea for the game explained what the rules were going to be, you might be forgiven for querying the headers bit.

So, let’s get this straight, you want us to bash our heads against a ball, sometimes being kicked as hard as possible, several times over the next 90 minutes. You said our heads, right? The bit where our brains are?

The former Blackburn striker Chris Sutton this week told a parliamentary committee that an immediate change should be made to training rules where players only head the ball up to 20 times per session.

It was the latest demand for reform and follows concerns that too much nogginball can lead to degenerative disease.

Dawn Astle, the daughter of former England striker Jeff, has warned that the sport’s authorities are proving snail-like in their response when research is clearly needed.

We have players who feel they have to practice more than 20 headers in training if they are to improve – and would risk losing their livelihoods if they refused to head the ball in competitive matches.

We have fans who would have no time for any player who looked like they were scared of getting their head to it.

We have clubs who would rather buy new players with their millions than fund research.

And we have authorities who probably can’t see a solution, as most would think the sport would be impossible to play on the ground only.

Think of poor Stoke City – their whole reason for being would be gone if headers were totally banned.

The FA have offered £250,000 for a field study. Not enough to pay some players’ weekly wage.

No wonder, then, that Dawn Astle, whose father was only 59 when he died, told the committee: “I think if the sport is left to its own devices as it is, then it will just do what it wants to do.”

HARRY Kane continues to conduct himself well when it comes to his Tottenham future.

There was a bit of a wishy-washy answer during the England camp meet-up but even though he could get paid more somewhere else, you hardly hear him agitate and moan.

People say he is waiting to see if Spurs win the league cup. Surely he has greater ambitions than that!

Tottenham may already have cup final merchandise in the club shop, but, deep down, everybody knows the big players aren’t in this game for the Caribou Cup. You’d hope the England captain has higher expectations.

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