Football must ‘seriously consider role of heading’, says PFA chief Gordon Taylor

The role of heading in football should be “seriously considered” amid concerns of a link to an increased risk of dementia, according to players’ union boss Gordon Taylor.

The PA news agency understands a legal action involving the families of 40 ex-players who are suffering from dementia is being worked on by the same law firm behind a similar action involving rugby players.

Former England striker Gary Lineker is among those who have called for a complete ban on heading in training at all levels of the game, and Taylor, who has been criticised for a perceived failure to act to tackle the issue of dementia in the game, says it is an area which needs to be looked at.

Gary Lineker has called for a ban on heading in training at all levels of football
Gary Lineker has called for a ban on heading in training at all levels of football

“We’ve got areas of research. We are looking at the number of players who are getting dementia and trying to establish a causal link,” Taylor told Sky Sports News.

“That’s why it’s so important that we look at the treatment of concussion and the number of times in training players are heading the ball and to seriously consider the role of heading in the game.

“I don’t know any footballer who regrets his career, but we also have a duty of care and I think it is incumbent on the authorities that we don’t put off any youngster coming into the game because of worries about the future.”

Taylor will leave the PFA after 40 years as chief executive in the spring, with a new independent advisory panel confirmed on Monday which will choose his successor.

Dementia in football is back in the spotlight after Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton both died with the disease earlier this year, with Sir Bobby Charlton’s dementia diagnosis also being confirmed soon afterwards.

Sir Bobby Charlton is a high-profile dementia sufferer
Sir Bobby Charlton is a high-profile dementia sufferer

The news regarding Sir Bobby Charlton meant five members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team had been diagnosed – the Charlton brothers, Stiles, along with Ray Wilson and Martin Peters who died in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

The FIELD study published last year found footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.

Further studies are ongoing in the sport to try to establish a link between concussion and sub-concussive impacts from heading footballs and dementia.

In 2002, an inquest recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease in the case of former England striker Jeff Astle caused by repeated heading of the ball.

Dr Willie Stewart, who led the FIELD study, carried out a new examination on Astle’s brain in 2014 which concluded that the 59-year-old had died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition normally linked to boxers.