The first adult football match with heading restrictions will take place later this month with researchers to discover whether the game can function without it in a bid to reduce the risk of dementia for players.
The pilot match, which will be played by former professionals, will take place at Spennymoor Town’s Brewery Field on Sunday September 26. The first half will see heading only allowed in the box, and the second half will have no heading allowed.
iconic former footballers from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s will be invited to attend the game or play if they are able to.
The fixture will be the first of its kind and follows research by Dr Willie Stewart and his University of Glasgow team, who found what they described as the ‘missing link’ between repetitive heading and neurodegenerative disease.
The study discovered that defenders, who head the ball the most, have a five-fold risk of developing dementia compared to the general public. Goalkeepers, who hardly ever head the ball, have no increased risk.
The research also found that the longer a player’s career lasted — in other words, the more headers they made the greater the risk of neurodegenerative disease. These findings prompted Dr Stewart to ask football’s authorities to consider whether heading was necessary.
Dr Judith Gates, chair and co-founder of Head for Change, stressed that her charity are not calling for an outright ban on heading. That is a decision for football’s authorities such as world governing body FIFA to make after conducting their own trials, she says.
‘Much conversation in footballing circles has centred on making the game safer,’ Dr Gates told Sportsmail. ‘The Premier League and other governing bodies have introduced guidance which limits high-force headers in training. Players, coaches, clubs and fans are asking, “What does this mean for the beautiful game?”
‘At all levels of the game, players and coaches have asked to experiment. In response to these queries, Head for Change agreed that the charity game at Spennymoor Town would illustrate some of these issues.
‘What happens to the game when heading is only allowed in the box? What happens when the ball cannot be headed? We hope that this experiment will further the discussion and that both players and supporters will have many ideas to share as a result of being involved.’