THE first football game for adults to be played with restrictions on heading the ball has been played in County Durham.

The charity match at Spennymoor Town Football Club was aimed at raising awareness about the risk of dementia for players.

It was organised by Head for Change and Spennymoor charity Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust.

Dr Judith Gates, who runs Head for Change, set up the charity after her husband, former Middlesbrough footballer Bill Gates, was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The Northern Echo:

Dr Gates, who met her husband when they were both pupils at Spennymoor Grammar School, said: "I want people to come away from today with knowledge and the facts that the dangers of heading in football is not a myth.

"I would like people to know about the research that shows ex-professional footballers are five times more likely to suffer from dementia."

She added: "We are not proposing to ban heading but there needs to be a discussion about how to protect people who are playing football."

During yesterday's match, headers were allowed in the penalty box during the first half, before being completely banned in the second half.

Among those to attend the match was ex-Leeds midfielder John Stiles, whose father Nobby Stiles died in October last year having suffered from advanced dementia.

He said: "We donated my dad's brain and they found it was CTE that killed him. That can only be caused by head impacts and that can only be from heading the ball.

"We just want the profile to be raised so we can discuss what is undoubtedly an epidemic problem in football."

The Northern Echo:

Mr Stiles, who is an ambassador for Head for Change, said the charity wanted to set up a fund to research for players aged 30 to 60. He added: "They could be a ticking time bomb."

He added: “What I want to see is heading drastically reduced in training. I just don’t think it’s necessary and I think that is where the damage comes. There’s a direct correlation between how many times you head the ball and how much brain damage has been done.

"That’s what really needs to be changed, and it needs to change immediately.”

Former Middlesbrough defender and Spennymoor’s assistant manager Stuart Parnaby, who was playing yesterday, said the increase in proven cases had raised concerns.

He said: "Obviously it hasn’t really started with our generation yet, but it is affecting those before, and it makes you start thinking, is it going to be me in the future?"

“It’s going to take years for things to change in terms of how football’s played, but in terms of how much heading kids can do, that can change. It doesn’t mean heading is taken out all together, but you reduce how much heading you do in your career by, for example, only heading the ball on a match day.”

The Northern Echo:

Ex-Middlesbrough player Tony McMahon, who headed Darlington's academy, before taking up a coaching position with Scunthorpe United this year, said before the match that he was expecting the game to be "totally different" without heading.

He added: "It's not something I've given a lot of thought to in my career.

"From a young age you get told to head it and that's what I did.

"With all the research I can see why people are talking about restrictions. It would be difficult in games to change it but during the week in training I think it could be reduced."

The match was 5-5 after full time and went to penalties, with Team Solan winning.

Mark Solan, whose penalty kick helped secure the win, said: "I didn't know anything about this two months ago but spending time with Judith has given me a greater understanding.

"They are not trying to ban heading but they're trying to make people aware.

"As a non-footballer I didn't appreciate how hard it would be not to head the ball."

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