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Monday, 21 September, 1998, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Headers 'lead to brain damage'
A back player can make more than 2,000 headers a season
Nearly half of professional footballers suffer brain damage as a result of heading the ball, new research has found.

The study, published in the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, has found that soccer players suffer the same number of concussions as American footballers.

The study was done on Dutch players
Fifty-three professional Dutch footballers were monitored and the 45% of them were found to have some form of brain injury.

"We compared the professional soccer players with swimmers and athletes," said Dr Eric Matser, one of the research authors.

"Those soccer players showed memory and visual perception impairments, and these impairments were caused by the number of concussions sustained and the number of headers."

The average player made 800 headers in a season, although some of the back players were making more than 2,000.

Dr Matser said professional footballers should have annual neurological check-ups to protect them from getting chronic traumatic brain injury.

Football authorities

Dr Nick Tindall, the medical officer from the Football Association's School of Excellence, said he was still not convinced that a "definite causal link had been established between heading the football and brain damage."

Dr Nick Tindall
Dr Nick Tindall: More research needed
"I think it needs more work before we should stop players heading the ball in the game," he said.

The association is looking at proposals to carry out its own study on young players to determine the health impact of many aspects of the game.

The former Glasgow Rangers and England centre-back Terry Butcher said it was important that young players learnt to head the ball properly on the forehead and not on the top of the head. He also supported the introduction of a monitoring programme for professionals.

"It does make you a little bit worried when you hear the evidence," he said. "I think there is a lot more medicine coming into football, a lot more awareness of the body, and if it's like boxers where you have tests to see how you are doing then I'm probably all for that."

Compensation claim

The study could have implications for the former Celtic player Billy McPhail who believes he has developed the first stages of senile dementia as a result of heading the old fashioned, heavy, leather footballs.

He lost his legal case for disablement benefit earlier this year, but his solicitor Tom Murray is planning an appeal.

"The tribunal simply did not believe that there was any connection between heading a football and the minor head trauma caused by that, and the type of condition from which Billy now suffers, Mr Murray said.

"I would hope to be able to use this new evidence in addition to the evidence already submitted."

BBC News
Dr Nick Tindall: It's an interesting study
BBC News
Catherine Marston reports
BBC News
Dr Eric Matser and Terry Butcher discuss the findings
See also:

31 Mar 98 | UK
01 Aug 98 | Health
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