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Newcastle boss Steve Bruce supports move to ban under-12s heading in training

Research has found footballers are are more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease.

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Steve Bruce during his playing days at Manchester United (John Giles/PA)

Steve Bruce during his playing days at Manchester United (John Giles/PA)

Steve Bruce during his playing days at Manchester United (John Giles/PA)

Former Manchester United defender Steve Bruce has backed moves by the Scottish Football Association to ban players under 12 years old from heading the ball in training.

The SFA is understood to be moving towards prohibition for younger children following the publication in October of the initial findings from the FIELD study carried out by researchers at the University of Glasgow, which discovered that footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.

Ex-Newcastle striker Alan Shearer fronted the BBC documentary Dementia, Football and Me in 2017 highlighting the issue, and close friend Bruce, the current Magpies head coach, is conscious of the issues raised by recent research.

Asked about the SFA proposal, he said: “Well, I can understand it. We’ve all seen Alan’s documentary, haven’t we?

“When you think of the [1966] World Cup team in particular and see that generation with Alzheimer’s and all sorts of stuff, you think maybe we have to look at it.

“The ball, back in their day, became three times heavier than it is today, but if the right stuff is there, I can agree with it.”

Bruce made more than 900 appearances for Gillingham, Norwich, Manchester United, Birmingham and Sheffield United in a 20-year professional career during which he established himself as an accomplished defender both on the ground and in the air.

The link between football and neurodegenerative disease has come to the fore since a re-examination of the brain of former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle, who died in 2002, revealed he had done so as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy with a coroner ruling that it had been damaged by repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs.

It was also revealed in 2016 that three members of England’s World Cup-winning team, Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson, were living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Peters and Wilson have since died.

In the wake of Shearer’s documentary, Bruce hinted that he may get himself checked out and although he has not done so, he can see the wisdom of restricting younger players.

He said: “It is a concern, I’m sure, for a lot of people. When you see, unfortunately, especially the era before me, a lot of them – you look at the World Cup squad, all of them seem to have been struck. It’s ridiculous.

“But I’m all for it. If it’s clinically proved, then should we be asking a young kid who’s not developed to be heading the ball repeatedly?

“I don’t think they do it as often as we did, to be honest. We repeatedly had it. They kicked it into the box and you headed it away.”

PA