Widow of ex-Manchester United player who died from dementia demands heading ban

MSPs join Amanda Kopel (front, fourth left), whose husband Frank died having been diagnosed with dementia at the age of 59 Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The widow of an ex-Manchester United player who died from dementia is calling for a ban on heading footballs on what should have been his 75th birthday.

Frank Kopel died in 2014 aged 65, after a career which included playing for Dundee United, Blackburn Rovers, and Arbroath and Forfar Athletic.

His widow, Amanda Kopel, believes his diagnosis was due to brain trauma caused by repeated collisions with other players’ heads while attempting to head the ball during matches, and heading the ball thousands of times during decades of training.

The couple married in 1969 and lived together in Kirriemuir, Angus, but Mr Kopel was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and died on April 16 2014.

A wedding photograph of Amanda and Frank Kopel on their wedding day and a portrait of the late Frank Kopel, taken in 2012 Credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Mrs Kopel collaborated with lobby group Heading Out, founded by ex-journalist Mike Edwards, who gave up his career at STV to care for his mother when she was diagnosed with dementia, and who is calling for an end to heading the ball by 2030.

The organisation cited findings of an academic study which revealed that footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to receive a diagnosis of a neuropathological disease like dementia, and five times more likely if they were a defender.

Mother-of-one Mrs Kopel successfully campaigned for Frank’s Law, which was introduced in Scotland in 2019, extending free personal care to under-65s.

Amanda Kopel, at her home in Kirriemuir, Angus, where she lived with her late husband Frank, a professional footballer Credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Mrs Kopel said: “Frankie and I should be celebrating today and looking forward to the rest of our lives together, instead I’ve been grieving his loss and mourning him for 10 years.

“Football has to change because the game is a long, slow, certain killer while heading the ball is part of it.

“The game is called football not headball and the rules have to change.

“Nobody should head a ball – particularly children. Frankie loved the game but we never imagined for a moment it was so damaging.

“Fifa and the IFAB have a duty of care to protect the next generation of players, particularly with the Euros about to start.”

Mr Edwards added: “We learn from an early age not to handle the ball, surely we can learn not to head it either.

“Scotland has led the way by banning children from heading the ball in training and adult players from heading in the 24 hours before and after a game. I’d like to see the practice banned altogether after the 2030 World Cup, which I think is a reasonable deadline.

“Not heading the ball will save players’ lives.”