Heading should be banned in under-14s football - Lenny Johnrose

Heading in football
The FA says there are only around 1.5 headers per game in youth football

Football should ban heading for under-14 children, says former player Lenny Johnrose, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in March 2017.

New research says former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than those in the general population.

Former midfielder Johnrose says it "sickens" him that there are no heading bans as there are in the United States.

The Football Association says there is no evidence to support a ban.

It says: "Heading is actually significantly less common in children's games. Our analysis shows that on average there are only around 1.5 headers per game in youth football."

In the US, children aged 11 and under are not allowed to head the ball in football matches.

Dr Willie Stewart, who led the landmark study which compared deaths of 7,676 ex-players to 23,000 from the general population, added: "Until somebody can prove this is no risk to the young, we must assume the risk is there."

The study also found that "risk ranged from a five-fold increase in Alzheimer's disease, through an approximately four-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a two-fold Parkinson's disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls".

Johnrose, 48, who played for Bury and Burnley, said: "At least in America they have done something straight away. We're taking chances with people's lives and it does sicken me.

"I'm going to spend the next few weeks, months, however long it takes, speaking to as many authorities as I can to try and get them to do something about it. I don't see the point in taking that risk.

"It's not even a big loss to say, 'At your age, 14 and under, you're not heading the ball'. It won't cause any harm or damage to anybody."

Lenny Johnrose
Lenny Johnrose played for Bury, Burnley, Blackburn and Swansea

Concussion substitutions move a step closer

The research has also led FA chairman Greg Clarke to call for concussion substitutions to be introduced "as quickly as possible".

The game's law-making body, the International Football Association Board (Ifab), discussed new protocols in a meeting in Zurich on Tuesday and said it would set up an expert group to "focus on this important topic in the coming months".

That move was welcomed by world players' union Fifpro. It said it had asked for the laws of the game to be changed for the past six years.

It wants a 10-minute window to assess players who may have concussion, allowing a substitute to come onto the pitch in their place.

"We would fully endorse any changes in the laws of the game that would facilitate this necessary 10-minutes window, such as the use of a temporary substitute during this period," it said.

Any recommended changes to the laws of the game would have to be approved at Ifab's annual general meeting, in Belfast on 29 February.

FA chairman Clarke said: "One of the things we're pushing on, and I've spoken to Fifa and Uefa about this, is to introduce concussion substitutes as quickly as possible.

"If anyone has a head injury, you don't just want to have a doctor looking at them quickly and saying 'you're OK' or 'you're not OK' - you can send someone else on to play while that player is assessed to make sure we move away from time pressure on doctors to make really important health decisions."

Johnrose has called for permanent substitutions for any player who has suffered a head injury during a match, rather than a potential short-term concussion replacement.

He added: "The football industry is so focused on finance that we completely shelve our responsibilities to people's welfare.

"The squads are big enough anyway, why have a concussion sub so you can assess the guy and put him back on? Sport is a bit weird. One strike [and come off)], don't take any chances."

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