SAFC legend Gary Bennett can't see how heading can be stopped in football as dementia debate continues
Former Sunderland AFC captain Gary Bennett says he doesn’t see how a ban on heading the ball could work without the game changing completely.
The issue of a possible link between footballers heading the ball and brain injuries has risen again, after Manchester United and Scotland star Denis Law, 81, became the latest high profile ex-player to announce that he is suffering from dementia.
Professor Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow, has suggested a ban on heading. But Gary, who played for Sunderland between 1984 and 1995, doesn’t see how this could happen without changing the game beyond recognition.
As a centre-back who played over 700 professional games, Gary headed more balls than most and can’t see how the practice could realistically be stopped.
He said: “I don’t know how you’re going to ban heading from football. It would be very difficult.
“We’ve recently rising found cases of dementia in ex-players, but footballers have been heading balls for a long time. Maybe there isn’t more dementia and they’re just finding more.
“Is it the end of heading the ball? What about other sports, like rugby? Boxing? Are you going to stop punches to the head?"
Gary says that changes for the better have already been made and is in favour of the new FA guidelines, which suggest a limit of 10 “force” headers per week in training.
He added: “I think if there’s a head collision you need to come off the pitch. Years ago if you were taken off with concussion you were allowed to play the next game. You can’t do that now and there were more injuries after clashes of heads. The ball’s not in the air as much.
“There was the famous Terry Butcher incident when he played on covered in blood. That just wouldn’t happen now.
“What happens if the rules change and you head the ball? Is it a free kick? What happens on corners? Would there be a limit on headers? Per team? Per player? It would be very difficult to manage.
“If you can keep the ball below head height, fantastic. But how?”