Prem and EFL players limited to just 10 'high-force' headers a week

Premier League and EFL footballers will be limited to 10 headers a week from crosses and long balls during training amid concerns that players are suffering brain injuries

  • First time English football has introduced heading restrictions for professionals 
  • New guidance follows a long campaign from Sportsmail over concerns that repeated heading of the ball causes lethal  brain disease in footballers 
  • Studies have differentiated between ‘lower-force’ and ‘higher-force’ headers 
  • Now Premier League and EFL players will be assessed and headers limited  

Headers from long balls, crosses, corners or free kicks will be limited in training for Premier League and EFL players to just 10 per week, under new guidelines for the coming season.

Sportsmail has been calling for restrictions on heading at all levels amid concerns over long-term neurodegenerative problems, with primary school children already banned from practising completely. 

The new guidance follows research, which has established that former footballers are more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases than the general public and various studies into the impact of heading the ball.

Heading in training will be restricted for professional players for the first time under new rules 

Initial studies have found that most heading takes place in training and on many occasions the forces involved are low.

But where the ball is crossed for forwards or defenders to attack, or if an aerial pass is made over more than 35 metres, the forces are higher and these headers will now be limited.

‘It will be recommended that a maximum of 10 higher force headers are carried out in any training week,’ the Premier League said in a joint statement with the Football Association, EFL, Professional Footballers’ Association and League Managers’ Association.

A coroner found former footballer Jeff Astle had died in 2002 from ‘industrial disease’  ,inked to years of heading a football during a career as the West Bromwich Albion striker

STRONG LINK BETWEEN HEADING AND BRAIN DISEASE

Neuropathologist, Dr Willie Stewart, has established former players are 3.5 times more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases than the general public.

Dr Stewart is one of the leading experts on the link between football and dementia having studied the medical records of 7,676 men who played professionally between 1900 and 1976.

In addition, the scientist also conducted tests on the brain tissue of the celebrated West Bromwich Albion centre forward, Jeff Astle, in 2014, concluding the striker suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition traditionally associated with boxers. 

The University of Glasgow academic told the MPs earlier this year that while it will be difficult to demonstrate a direct causal link between heading a football and suffering dementia forty years later, he said, ‘on a balance of probabilities, I think we are there’.

MPs on the Digital, Culture Media and Sport select committee has been investigating the link between sport and brain disease.

It has heard from experts and campaigners, including Dawn Astle, the daughter of West Bromwich Albion forward, Jeff.

Jeff Astle died Astle aged 59 in 2002 from a degenerative brain disease due to heading the ball and Dawn has been an indefatigable campaigner.

His daughter told MPs she had taken up the campaign over football and dementia after her father had been badly let down.

‘Football doesn’t want to think that football can be a killer. But I know it can be, because it’s on my dad’s death certificate,’ she said.

‘I want to make sure players affected are looked after properly,’ she added. ‘And I want to make sure the game is safe for players now and in the future.

 

‘This recommendation is provided to protect player welfare and will be reviewed regularly as further research is undertaken to understand more regarding the impact of heading in football.’

Meanwhile, amateur players are being told to only head the ball 10 times a session with only one session a week where heading is practised. 

The guidance also recommends that clubs develop player profiles that consider gender, age, playing position, the number of headers per match and the nature of the headers.

And clubs are expected to work closely with players to ensure they have time to recover from a match before being asked to head the ball in training.

It is not uncommon for some players to head the ball between 10 and 20 times in a top flight game.

Meanwhile, amateur players are being told to only head the ball 10 times a session with only one session a week where heading is practised.

It comes after Manchester City and Liverpool led a landmark study into the risks of heading, using mouthguards which measured the trauma on players’ brains. After announcing the new restrictions on Wednesday, FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham said they ensured English football now had ‘the most comprehensive adult football guidelines anywhere.’

‘(They) represent a cautious approach while we learn more,’ he said. ‘We are committed to further medical research.’

Premier League chief Richard Masters added: ‘Our priority is to make the game as safe as possible for all players… this is a long-term piece of work. We will now build on these studies and we remain committed to further research to ensure we have the right approach in place to protect the welfare of all players.’

These recommendations apply across the English football pyramid and EFL boss Trevor Birch said: ‘Collectively we must do all we can to make sure heading is practised safely and these protocols will provide us with a foundation upon which we can develop the game’s collective work in this area.’

The players’ union, the PFA, were involved in the decision making and their new chief Mehta Molango said their ‘members’ health and wellbeing are paramount.’

‘We hope these initial steps and enhanced protections will make a vital difference to players’ long-term health.’

But Molango stressed this only represented ‘a first step’ and must be complemented by other measures, such as better support for retired players.

LMA CEO Richard Bevan added: ‘This guidance is just the beginning and we need, as a game, to continue to invest and develop good-quality research to further understand the risks and impact of heading within the game.’

Dawn Astle, Jeff’s daughter, has campaigned for limits on heading in training for footballers

MPs, doctors and sporting bodies have been increasingly concerned about the connection between sport and brain injury examining heading but also the impact of concussion

Former striker Chris Sutton is fighting for football to change its attitude to dementia

The guidance also identifies ways in which heading techniques may still be practised while reducing the forces involved.

According to the football authorities, early evidence suggests lower forces are produced when a ball is thrown to a player rather than kicked, and when a player heads the ball from a standing jump rather than running onto the ball. 

Mike Sutton became a professional footballer for his hometown club Norwich City, as well as Chester and Carlisle United before a knee injury ended his playing career at 28

Premier League winner and Sportsmail columnist, Chris Sutton, has been one of the most outspoken advocates for limited heading in training.

The former Blackburn Rovers, Celtic and Norwich City striker pulled no punches earlier this year when he met MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, who have been gathering evidence on the links between sport and brain injury.

Sutton’s professional footballer father, Mike, died on Boxing Day following a 10-year battle with dementia. 

And the player-turned-pundit has spearheaded Sportsmail’s campaign for research funding, temporary concussion substitutes and limited heading in training to protect players. 

‘The fact is the FA and PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] have not done anywhere near enough,’ Sutton said. ‘They have ignored, shunned, turned their backs on a massive issue.

‘Hundreds of players have died. My father among them. And we do not even know what has happened in the amateur game.’




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