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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 17:18 GMT
The James Beattie column
James Beattie


As a footballer, you never think that what you do for a living might kill you.

Those thoughts would never have entered Jeff Astle's head when he started playing, and they certainly never entered mine.


Heading a ball is an intrinsic, exciting part of the game, and I for one certainly wouldn't want to see it banned

I never saw Jeff play in the flesh, although I've seen the goals he scored for West Brom and England.

Heading a football is a centre-forward's stock-in-trade, it's how we score many of our goals.

The coroner's verdict that Jeff died as a result of heading a ball will be a nasty shock to many people.

It could have serious implications for football, although I'm sure technological advances mean we don't face the sort of problems that past players did.

When you look at the old grainy, black-and-white images you realise how tough those guys had it.

James Beattie wins a header against Manchester City
Heading is an integral part of the game

Pitches today are like carpets compared to the mud-heaps they played on, boots are lighter and modern fabrics mean our kit is light and doesn't soak up the rain.

It's not hard to see why the game is faster today!

Most importantly, modern plastic-coated footballs don't soak up water and gain in weight like the old ones did.

I'm sure players brought up on modern footballs won't sustain the same sort of brain injuries that poor Jeff did.

Heading a ball is an intrinsic, exciting part of the game, and I for one certainly wouldn't want to see it banned.

My dad Mick is a good example of what you can do if you put your mind to it.

Unlike my brother Stuart and me, he never really had the chance to stay on at school and take exams, even though he is pretty clever and we get our brains from him.

Heading the ball is nothing to be afraid of
Heading the ball is nothing to be afraid of

Stuart is currently taking a course in psychology and counselling, and I had to choose between becoming a professional footballer or going to medical school.

After being forced to retire from his job as a lorry driver, he decided to do an accountancy course a couple of years ago.

He now does all my books for me.

Then just over a year ago, he decided to do a course in web-production.

For a bloke in his mid-50s, my dad is pretty forward-thinking and he's not afraid of computers as some people his age are.

He's done such a good job in building my website that he now gets approached to do sites for all sorts of people.

Portmsouth's Jimmy Dickinson heads the ball
Equipment was vastly different in the past

He was a trade union official when he was working as a lorry driver, which gave him a lot of experience of negotiating.

He was pretty useful in helping to negotiate some of the terms and conditions on my early contracts when I first came into the game.

Help!

On an away trip earlier this season, I lost the memory card for my PlayStation 2.

My PlayStation is a godsend on long away trips.

If by some slim chance, somebody might have found it, they can contact me through Southampton FC.

Southampton striker James Beattie writes for BBC Sport Online


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