PFA calls for ‘immediate steps’ to reduce heading in training

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Gordon Taylor said 'immediate steps' needed to be taken, © PA Archive/PA Images
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By Andy Sims, PA

The Professional Footballers’ Association has called for an “urgent intervention” to reduce heading in training amid growing concerns surrounding football and dementia.

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor says the sport “cannot carry on as it is” as research into the link between heading the ball and the neurodegenerative disease continues.

The issue has been brought back into focus following the death last month of Nobby Stiles, who had been living with dementia for many years, and the news that his Manchester United and England team-mate Sir Bobby Charlton has also been diagnosed with it.

Both the Football Association and the PFA have this week been accused of not doing enough to support ex-players or acting to protect players by introducing greater restrictions on heading in training.

But the players’ union on Friday evening issued a bold statement in which it called for immediate action.

PFA chairman Ben Purkiss said: “Science has been developing quickly in this area, and we need to make an urgent intervention based on the evidence that is available now.

“A reduction of heading in training is a practical and straightforward step. We will be engaging with members, former members and their families to work on this area within the scope of the PFA’s new advisory group, where decisions will be made on the basis of expert advice.”

The PFA says it is calling on the support of clubs, leagues and the FA to create a coordinated strategy to measure, monitor and adapt training.

Taylor added: “The PFA and PFA Charity will continue our commitment, alongside the FA, to fund research in this area.

“However, in the short-term, football cannot carry on as it is. There is a big issue here, and based on the increasing evidence available, it is clear we need to take immediate steps to monitor and reduce heading within training.”

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Lawyers have confirmed that an action has begun on behalf of former players suffering with the neurodegenerative disease, who plan to seek compensation from organisations understood to include the FA.

Former England and Manchester United team-mates Sir Bobby Charlton (second from right) and the late Nobby Stiles (third from right) have been affected by dementia (PA Photos)

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said that although the FIELD study, which the FA and PFA co-funded, established an increased risk for players of dying from neurodegenerative disease, he says it is “not entirely clear cut” what causes that increased risk.

Premier League managers, some renowned headers of the ball in their playing days, had their say on Friday.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce said: “I look back on my career, every day when I was young we headed the ball hour after hour.

“So there is a genuine concern when you do see great players from the era just before me, why shouldn’t it affect my era?”

Steve Bruce heads the ball clear during his playing career (John Giles/PA)

West Ham manager David Moyes, like Bruce a former defender, added: “I was a centre-half and headed a lot of balls when I was younger so I could come into a category.”

Moyes and Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl suggested specialist lighter balls to practice heading in training.

Moyes said: “I am amazed that the likes of Adidas or Nike haven’t come up with a training ball, a heading training ball or something.

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“We don’t want a balloon, but something that is the same sort of weight that we can use for heading practice.

David Moyes does not want heading to be lost from the game (Adam Davy/NMC Pool/PA)

“I don’t think we want to take heading out of the game if we can help it.”

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Hasenhuttl, who was a centre-forward for Austria, added: “I can only speak from my experience, and I definitely took a lot of headers in my playing career.

“For sure, especially for young kids, we must pay attention and not do too much on this part.

“Even now you can see the ones that come out of the academy have a lack of quality with heading because they don’t do it, so we must find a solution, maybe with different balls that are not so hard.”

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