Expert calls for ban on heading in football after former Pompey player dies from debilitating brain disease

Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler
Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

A leading expert on brain trauma believes that football authorities should consider banning heading in football – speaking out after a former Pompey player died from a devastating form of dementia.

It has now been reported that Rod Taylor, a former wing-half with the Fratton Park side, Gillingham and Bournemouth, died in April having suffered from the debilitating brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a form of dementia.

Taylor, who died aged 74 on April 16, started as a ground staff boy for Pompey in 1958. He signed a professional contract in 1961 and later left for Gillingham in 1963.

Speaking to The Telegraph about his career, his widow Penny said: ‘It was brutal.

‘They would chuck medicine balls at their heads in training to build their neck muscles up.

‘He would be stitched up at half-time after collisions and was once unconscious on the pitch and they brought him back on.’

Taylor is the second player to have been diagnosed with CTE after Jeff Astle, the former West Brom striker, who died in 2002.

Now Dr Bennet Omalu, who discovered DTE in American Football players, has said he believes children do not have the 'brain prowess' to play the game as adults do and heading should be outlawed for children under the age of 18.

CTE, which affects behaviour and memory, is caused by repeated head trauma.

Omalu told BBC Five Live's Phil Williams Programme: 'I believe eventually at the professional level we need to restrict heading of the ball. It is dangerous. It does not make sense jumping up to control (an) object travelling at a high velocity with your head.

'The human brain floats like a balloon inside your skull so when you head the ball you suffer brain damage. You damage your brain when you head the ball.

'Playing soccer would increase your risk of suffering brain damage when you are much older and developing dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, that is why, I believe, no child under the age of 18 should be heading the ball in soccer.

'And children under the age of 12 to 14 should not play soccer as we play it today. Only adults should play soccer.

'Kids under the age of 12 to 14 should play a less contact form of soccer which we should develop for them. Kids between 12 and 18 can play but should not head the ball.

'Soccer is a high dexterity sport. A high visual, spatial sport that requires very sophisticated levels of brain functioning. Children under the age of 12/14 years old have not attained that level of brain development and that is why when you watch children play soccer as we played they are usually very sluggish.

'They are more likely to bump into one another. They just don't have the brain prowess to play soccer as we play. I know this is difficult for many people but science evolves.

'We change with time. Society changes. It is time for us to change some of our ways; this is who we are as human beings.'