Dementia in Football: Sir Geoff Hurst supports ban on children heading footballs

Sir Geoff Hurst said he supports a ban on children heading footballs in the wake of sweeping dementia diagnoses and deaths among his 1966 World Cup-winning teammates.

Sir Bobby Charlton, his brother Jack, Ray Wilson, Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles have all been diagnosed with the disease, and Jack Charlton, Wilson, Peters and Stiles all died over the last two-and-a-half years.

Former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 aged 59 because of repeated trauma from heading footballs, described by a coroner as an “industrial injury”.

Findings contained in the FIELD study – which was funded jointly by the FA and Professional Footballers’ Association – published last year found footballers were at a significantly heightened risk of developing a range of neurodegenerative diseases compared to the general population.

  • Nobby Stiles: England World Cup-winner dies aged 78
  • Sir Bobby Charlton: Manchester United and England legend diagnosed with dementia
  • FA ‘unwavering’ in dementia fight after criticism from Nobby Stiles’ family

Sir Geoff, 78, said he believes regular heading in matches and training back then contributed to a large number of players from that era ultimately developing Alzheimer’s and said heading should be banned from training sessions.

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“The danger for me is the amount of times you head the ball in practice and not in a game,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“Going back, I wouldn’t do the practice. I would cut that out tomorrow. No practice on heading and we just play the game. No practice at all.”

He also told the Daily Mirror: “There seems to be a particular group of people who were suffering. I go back to my practice days at West Ham, we had a ball hanging from the ceiling, we would head it for 20 minutes.

“Then we’d play head tennis in the gym and, in the practice on the field, we’d be practising near post, far post headers, and you could head 20 or 30 balls in the space of half an hour.”

Sir Geoff said a ban on kids heading the ball “would be a very strong and sensible suggestion”.

He added: “I think stopping at that young age, when the brain has not matured, must be looked at. I don’t think it would destroy the enjoyment of kids’ football or grassroots football.”

Sir Geoff also said he would “absolutely” be willing to donate his brain to dementia research after his death.

His comments come as the FA said it holds a “clear and unwavering commitment” to battle dementia after the family of Stiles hit out at a failure to “address the scandal” of the illness in the game.

Stiles’ funeral and cremation took place in Manchester last week.

The FA maintains more collaboration is needed across football’s governing bodies to help better understand the issue.

Meanwhile, current England manager Gareth Southgate has stressed the importance of continuing research into the issue. Asked if heading could be banned in the future, he replied: “Who knows what the future might hold?

“I think it is important, with children’s football especially, we are careful when that [heading] is introduced and the neck muscles have to be strong enough.

“We don’t want any risks taken and there will be ongoing research I am sure – the frustration for everybody is that it isn’t quite clear at the moment so we have to keep investigating.

“I think in terms of what is happening research is continuing and I know that the initial study threw up certain observations and there is a desire to look at the groups who have played in the past and get a better understanding of what the initial studies threw up.”

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