Former Ipswich Town players speak out against link between heading the ball and dementia
Two former Ipswich Town FC players say the dangers of heading in football have been blown out of proportion and that it would ruin the sport if any changes to the game were made.
The family of FA cup winning West Bromwich forward Jeff Astle have recently spoken out about the issue and launched the Jeff Astle Foundation to raise awareness of brain injuries in football.
Mr Astle died aged 59 in 2002 from early on-set dementia. A coroner concluded he died as a result of an “industrial disease” due to heading heavy footballs.
Town player Ian Collard, who moved to Ipswich in 1969, played alongside Astle at West Brom in the club’s 1968 FA cup winning side.
He said although he sympathises with the family’s position, he doesn’t believe heading causes long-term health problems.
He said: “If you think of all the football associations in the world and the number of footballers who died through heading of the ball the percentage would be very low.
“How many people die because of heading the ball, apart from Jeff Astle I have heard of few others.
“If you are talking about broken legs and other injuries that is a different story.
“There are people who are involved in football and there are spectators who take a different approach.
“Kids who play don’t care but the mums who are watching do.
“It is up to the men and women playing to decide if it is for them.
“If this is to do with seeking compensation for people that’s fine with me, if it is about changing the game then I don’t agree.
“Jeff’s game was based around heading the ball. He knew exactly what he was doing, he knew when to do it and when not to do it.
“He was a professional with a skill, a specific skill. “If anyone could do it properly it was him.
“If you took a player like Jeff and said you can’t head the ball what would he have to say?
“Guys who hang their game around their heading ability - are you going to take that away from them, take away their livelihood?”
Some say the problem was withe the heavy leather balls they played with in the past, but town striker Ray Crawford disagrees,
“I loved to head the balls,” he said. “I was never fearful of the ball because I came from a boxing family and I was used to getting smacked in the head.
“When I played those balls were really heavy. I have never had any problems. I don’t think it was anything to do with the footballs we played with.
“I think it’s just in your life. Some people die at 50 and some people are about at 80.
“If you take heading away from football it would be ridiculous.
“It’s always been part of the game. I think it’s more dangerous with any elbows in the face than heading a ball.”
A recent study conducted by the University College London (UCL) Queen Square Brain Bank examined the brains of 14 former football players with dementia after their deaths.
The study showed there was evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a potential cause of dementia caused by repeated blows to the head, in some of the samples.
Dr Helen Ling, senior researcher at the UCL Institute of Neurology added: “However, it is important to note that we only studied a small number of retired footballers with dementia and that we still do not know how common dementia is among footballers.”
Mr Collard said he didn’t think dementia could be positively linked to heading footballs as it is impossible to tell whether a person would have developed the condition if they had not played football.
He said: “I just don’t think the amount is significant enough to give you Alzheimer’s because Alzheimer’s is a disease.
“I’m not saying you couldn’t have an accident if the ball hits you in a certain way.
“I finished the game with arthritis and made a compensation claim but it was denied because they said anyone could get arthritis - it’s the same argument.
“My own personal feelings on the subject when I hear about things like this is that are too many people interfering with football.
“They are trying to make it a non-contact sport. If they try to make it non-heading as well where are we going?
“It has been going well enough for 100 years, I think they should leave it alone.
“It’s not the most popular sport in the world for nothing.”