The SFA’s impending ban on under-12s heading the ball in training is European football’s first step in reacting to the research into brain disease and death toll of former footballers from dementia. The most comprehensive study into the subject, conducted at Glasgow University, found footballers more than three times more likely to die from degenerative brain disease than the rest of the population.
The problem for the game’s administrators is that it will take decades for the consequences of what is happening now in the game to be measurable. Footballs are lighter than they were 40 years ago. This may reduce the incidence of brain disease, but we will not know anytime soon.
The decision to exclude under-12s is arbitrary; there is no evidence that children under-12 are any more vulnerable than older children. Conversely, we know they cannot fire the ball into the air with the same force. It therefore seems unlikely this decision will have any impact on the health of football players, more it is an acceptance that, faced with scientific evidence, football needs to do something.
The game will change before this matter is finished. Balls may become lighter or rules on heading could become complicated. Research suggests that the genetic makeup of some people make them more prone to suffer degenerative brain disease following head trauma than others. We could soon be able to find out which players have a genetic profile that makes them vulnerable from heading the ball.
There is plenty for the administrators, clubs and players’ unions to do in this area. We have lost too many heroes to look the other way.