Scottish football to ban heading on days before and after matches

The potential later-life risks for footballers of repeated headers have already lead to certain restrictions on young players. ITV News' Louise Scott reports

Scottish football clubs have been told players should not head the ball in the days immediately before and after games, in a landmark move aimed at protecting players' long-term health.

The move is being backed by new guidelines from the Scottish Football Association, responding to research into how concussion and heading during training impact brain.

The guidance recommends that training exercises involving repeated heading should be limited to once per week.

Clubs are being asked to plan and monitor heading activity to ensure it is reduced.

The heading limits are being enforced following years of campaigns by former footballers and their families.

Scottish football clubs have been told to limit heading, as Scotland reporter Louise Scott explains

Celtic legend Billy McNeill died in 2019, nine years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, which his widow told the Glasgow Times she believes was linked to "his forte" of heading footballs.

Meanwhile former Manchester United player Gordon McQueen, 70, is suffering from vascular dementia - a condition his family believe was brought on by heading the ball.

The SFA introduced guidelines limiting heading in children’s and youth football in 2020 following research from the University of Glasgow which indicated footballers faced increased risk of neurodegenerative disease.

The latest guidelines are being issued to all adult clubs, including at professional level, following further studies conducted by the SFA and Hampden Sports Clinic.

What are the heading rules in England?

Last year the English FA recommended that heading practice is limited to ten headers per session and only one session a week where heading training is included.

Earlier this year, the FA began to trial removing deliberate heading in football at under-12 level and below in England from the start of the 2022/23 season.

On the introduction of the new rules in Scotland, SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said: “The historic University of Glasgow study (FIELD), which found an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in retired professional footballers, compared to a matched population control group, has been a catalyst for a radical rethink of football guidance, starting in the youth game with the introduction of the heading guidelines children between 6-17 in 2020.

“The Scottish FA said at the time that this research should shape the thinking in the adult game not just domestically but across the world.

"I am grateful to everyone in the professional game – clubs, coaches and managers, and players – for contributing to the latest research which has culminated in these new guidelines.

“It is our intention that these guidelines will be embraced and implemented with immediate effect. The publishing of today’s guidelines represents our ongoing commitment to player welfare.”

Wayne Rooney heads a football. Credit: Mike Egerton / PA Wire

The latest study has used data and insights from across the men’s and women’s adult games, with 50 clubs involved in the process.

In a follow-up survey, 70 per cent of managers and coaches and 64 per cent of players supported further guidelines being introduced.

Dr John MacLean, Scottish FA chief medical consultant said: “While the research continues to develop, what we already know about heading and its effects on the brain suggests that there is measurable memory impairment lasting 24-48 hours following a series of headers, and that brain-related proteins can be detected in blood samples for a short time after heading. Brain scan changes have also been reported in footballers that may be linked to heading.

“Therefore, the goal is to reduce any potential cumulative effect of heading by reducing the overall exposure to heading in training.”

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