To Head Or Not To Head?

Posted: November 19, 2015 in Football, Opinion, USA
Tags: ,


Long before I was ten I was playing football. I played in the street. I played in the school playground. I played on any grass we could find. I played for the junior school team on pitches. Sometimes the pitches were grass. Sometimes the pitches were shale. Most of the time the pitches were mud. Thick mud which stuck to your boots and took ages to clean off. Then, in winter, the mud froze. We still played, even though it was now like playing on concrete. We didn’t wear gloves or tights even though it was freezing cold weather.

We didn’t get tired. Well, maybe a little after a six hour game in the street with no half time.

Then there was the ball. Ah, that wonderful ball with it’s wonderful memories. Affectionately known as a “casey” due to it being a thick orange rubber balloon inside a stitched leather “case”, which after inflation, was sealed by way of laces tied together.

‘Dangerous when wet’ was a term that could easily have been applied to the casey.
It absorbed every drop of water and took on the consistency of a cannonball.

If your team had a particularly strong goalkeeper, he may have been able to kick this ball a whole ten to fifteen yards, providing he put all his strength into it.

Heading the ball was not an option that often came about when the ball was wet, due to the fact that nobody could get it off the ground when trying to cross it, as it was too heavy. On the odd occasion some herculean player managed to get in a decent cross at head height, nobody shied away from the task. Everybody dived in head-first in an attempt to either clear the ball or score a goal depending on which team you were representing. The only thing to be wary of was if you accidentally headed the laces, that was painful!

Heading the ball today is a little like heading a reasonably heavy feather by comparison to the casey.

So, for players who can’t manage two games in a week, on pitches resembling the best Persian carpets, using a ball which is smaller than the one with which we used to play on the beach, but has little difference otherwise, I have very little sympathy.

I also have very little sympathy for the interfering do-gooders who are now saying that heading the ball can cause brain damage to kids under ten. Not only are they wrong, in my experience, but the report would carry more weight if comparisons could be made with say, the footballs of the 1930’s and the 1950’s against the football of today. If, for example, there is no evidence of brain damage from the 1930’s or 1950’s, then there will be none today.

I would agree that sports such as boxing, where constant punches to the head will eventually cause some damage, should have tighter control over this problem, but heading a football, I ask you?

The human skull is the brain’s protector. It has done it’s job for millions of years. It has saved the brain from serious damage on many occasions. Times, for example, when the careless human owner runs into a tree head-first, or a wall, or trips and lands on his/her head. All of these scenarios are more dangerous than heading a football a couple of times in a match.

So should we just equip our newborn baby with a Petr Cech style helmet and only remove it as an eleventh birthday present?

Why only now has it become apparent anyway? Were the experts incapable of reaching this conclusion before now? I doubt it. It appears they have nothing else on the agenda at present. As usual, when this happens, they look for a headline-grabbing diagnosis of something that would have been a lot worse fifty years ago but now is not a problem, so they try to make it one.

Please try to find a way to conduct meaningful experiments which will be of use to mankind rather than adopting scaremongering tactics to frighten young American mothers. Have you no shame?

  1. Hi Iain,
    I love this article about heading.
    Back in the younger days when we were playing soccer, those that “dared” to head were considered as heroes. Those days, my gang comprises people who were only accustomed to using legs, and not using hands (the proverbial handball!!).
    I started out playing as a defender, cos of my lousy shooting skills. Hacking and clearing the ball is way much easier than placing the ball in a specific corner of the net (not to mention with a goalkeeper in between). That time, I was one of the brave souls who dared to put my head when the ball came in, and everyone applauded. It helps that I probably can jump a bit higher.
    Nevertheless, heading is an essential part of soccer, be it offensive or defensive. Ultimately, I felt that the damage (if any) can only surface many years after the individual stops playing footie. 🙂

    Few cents worth…


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