Heading has long been an important part of football but now there is a medical view that repeated heading of the ball may lead to neuro-degeneration. When former West Bromwich and England centre forward Jeff Astle died of Alzheimers his family claimed it was as a result of continual heading the ball when he was a footballer. The claim probably floundered because of the thousands of sufferers of the disease who have never headed a ball in their life. Jeff played of course in the days of the old leather ball.
One of a referee’s duties before a game is to inspect the ball, and there were often problems with the leather ball especially with its lacing. They were not however heavier than today’s balls. The permitted weight, from 14 to 16 ounces has not changed for at least 70 years but the leather was apt to soak up moisture in the rain. Law 2 says the ball must be made of leather or other suitable material, but we are not told what other material is suitable. Most footballs today are in fact coated, perhaps with vinyl or nylon which makes them impervious to water. However, the pressure range allowed is wide, 8.5 to 15.6 lbs per square inch and clubs seem intent to have them at the highest level, which makes the ball very hard.
After a group of American parents tried to file a lawsuit against FIFA, heading the ball has been banned for children aged ten and under in the United States. In my experience boys of that age seldom head the ball but in the States it is claimed that 50,000 concussions were recorded among high school footballers in 2010.
Imagine if it’s extended to adult football. How would players defend against high balls, would forwards ignore crosses into the penalty area? Would referees have to treat heading like deliberate handball? It raises many questions and I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping it never happens?