A new charity has revealed plans to unite the football community to eliminate brain disease linked to heading the ball from the game.

Head Safe Football is dedicated to raising awareness of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known as CTE, a neurodegenerative disease which research has linked to being caused by repeated head impacts.

It hopes to protect current and future generations of players while also supporting families of those who are currently affected.

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Through its campaign Football United vs CTE, Head Safe Football will bring in players, teams and clubs from across the whole football spectrum, from grassroots through to professional level.

It will also deliver practical support to those already affected by CTE.

The charity was founded by Dr Judith Gates, whose husband and former Middlesbrough defender Bill lives with probable CTE – ‘probable’ because CTE can currently only be formally diagnosed after death.

She said: “While football is a sport enjoyed by billions of fans around the world, played by millions of children and adults at all levels of the game, the risks that these players, and the players they idolise in professional football, are being exposed to remain woefully understood.

“This is putting lives at risk, there are no two ways about it.

“Through Head Safe Football, we want to make positive and lasting change, to protect everyone at all levels of the game we all love.

“This is a topic that many don’t want to talk about, but the reality is that we absolutely must, and we must take action.”

Head Safe Football’s logo, an elephant standing on a football, was chosen to represent the fact that CTE is the ‘elephant in the room’ for many involved in the sport - barriers the charity is determined to break down, to ensure a safer playing environment for everyone involved at all levels and ages of the game.

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Dr Gates said: “For families like mine, it is too late and we are forced to live with the heartbreaking reality of CTE every day.

“But for current and future generations, together we can ensure we tackle the elephant in the room and eliminate this cruel brain disease from football.”

Dr Gates, who also co-founded Head for Change, has led on globally-significant projects including the world’s first header-free game, held at Spennymoor FC where Bill began his career.

The spectacle, which made headlines around the world in 2021 and was repeated a year later due to its success, was hailed as the ‘Billion Pound Game’ due to the estimated cost of sports-related dementia care over the next 30 years in the UK.

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The latest study, the largest to date involving 631 deceased sports players, revealed their chances of developing CTE were irrevocably linked to both how many head impacts they received and how hard the head impacts were.

Dr Gates said: “Football United vs CTE brings together the whole of football, all ages, genders, levels of ability, absolutely everyone, to create a safer sport for us all.

“Our ambition is to collectively create a world where stakeholders in football acknowledge the elephant in the room and the irrefutable scientific evidence, and make the necessary change that will protect our idols and our loved ones from CTE.”

The Northern Echo: Hayley McQueen and Dr Judith GatesHayley McQueen and Dr Judith Gates (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

The charity was launched in Ferryhill on Monday with Sky Sports presenter Hayley McQueen, daughter of Manchester United legend Gordon McQueen who died from football-related dementia recently.

Ms McQueen said: "This is so close to my heart because my dad was a prolific header of the football, playing for Manchester United, Leeds United and Scotland. 

"He was proud to represent his club and his country and he scored some memorable goals.

"Unfortunately, those memorable goals would lead to memory problems.

"We are somewhere I never thought we would be but my dad would want his legacy to be that other people do not end up in the state he ended up in, where he had to be cared for at home and was struggling.

"Everything about him declined until we lost him at the age of 70 and I don't think that is any age at all to be losing somebody."