‘It can’t do you any good’ - More clubs come out in support of heading ban following Wroxham decision
- Credit: Tony Thrussell
A non-league football club’s decision to ban youth players from heading in training has been backed by rival clubs and researchers.
Following Norwich City legend Chris Sutton’s campaigning, Wroxham has blazed a trail for other clubs by agreeing not to let youth players head the ball in training.
The decision came as a reaction to Mr Sutton’s heart-rending accounts of his father’s struggles with dementia - which has been widely linked to heading of footballs in his youth.
And following club chairman Lee Robson’s pledge, a number of other local clubs have spoken out in support of the move.
Chris Brown, who is chairman of Horsford FC, in the village Mr Sutton was raised, said he too was behind the former England international’s campaign.
He said: “I’ve lost family members to dementia so I know first hand how devastating it is for families and the FA’s current guidelines over heading were disseminated to all of our coaches.
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“I personally think it makes a lot of sense and it is something we will be discussing as a club to do ourselves.”
The Football Association’s current guidelines forbid heading in training for primary school age children, with a limited approach for those aged between 12 and 16.
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Ian Bird, manager of Dussindale and Hellesdon Rovers, added: “I think there’s now enough medical evidence to see the link and that it is a good idea.
“I remember when I was younger coming home from a game and for the rest of the night my head would feel like it was a bruise, so it can’t do you any good.
“I think we will be taking a similar approach to Wroxham.”
Wroxham Football Club is believed to be the first club to officially take the decision, which will also see it limiting the amount of heading its senior players do in training.
It comes after club chairman Lee Robson was moved to tears by the former Canary discussing his father Mike’s struggles with dementia as part of a campaign to address the issue.
Mr Sutton’s three sons, Ollie, George and Harry are all involved with the Yachtsmen, and the former Canaries striker has been passionately campaigning for more to be done to address the connection between heading footballs and developing brain illnesses like dementia in life.
And it was Mr Sutton’s passion that led to Mr Robson making the decision to take action and sign up to a seven-point plan to help reduce the later-life risks of heading footballs.
He said: “Chris’s involvement in the club really brought to issue to the forefront of my thoughts and it was heartbreaking to hear about his father’s struggles - so I thought we should act.
“In many walks of life, if you wait for change to be made from the top down you can be waiting years, if not decades, so we are taking the opportunity to bring about our own change and hope it works its way up.”
Mr Robson’s decision also has the backing of Richard Graveling, who is involved in the youth set-up at Wroxham and has coached teams elsewhere in across the county.
He said: “I think anything that can help prevent head injuries in football has to be a good thing.
“I think it’s so important that campaign’s like Chris’s are in the public eye, rather than pretending the problem isn’t there and it is great to see a senior club like Wroxham championing it.
“It also helps from a footballing point of view, as more and more we see youngsters playing a more technical game with the ball on the ground. One thing I also personally think could help is placing a ban on goalkeepers
A pioneering project into the relationship between heading footballs and dementia headed up by UEA researchers got under way earlier in the year.
It sees people over the age of 40 who have been involved in the game, including former professionals, take part in a series of ongoing tests, tracking their results as they age.
A total of 35 former professional footballers are already involved in it, including Norwich City legends Iwan Roberts and Jeremy Goss.
It is being led by Michael Grey, who is supportive of both Mr Sutton’s campaigns and the actions being taken by Wroxham FC.
He said: “I really support the move and think it is the right idea to prevent children from heading footballs.
“While we are still yet to see a proven causal link, there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence that does suggest it can cause harm, so I see it as enough of a problem to say that children should not be heading balls.”
Promoting the study in the national press this week, Mr Roberts said: “For me, it just made sense. I have a family, I owe it to myself and them to know what is going on.”
Close to home
Mr Robson said the struggles of the Sutton family had brought the matter closer to home for him.
He said: “As the old saying goes, a million dead is a statistic and one is a tragedy. Seeing first hand just how much this is impacted Chris’s family really makes that ring true.”
And for Norwich City fans, the matter became all the more poignant following the deaths of two hugely popular former Canaries.
Duncan Forbes and Martin Peters both died within just a few weeks of one another in October 2019, having each fought long battles with brain illness.
Janette Forbes, wife of the former centre-back, has long since been a supporter of research into the connection between heading footballs and dementia.
Speaking previously, she said there was “no doubt in her mind” that heading footballs contributed to his illness in later life, saying he would train using medicine balls during his career.