Daughter of U’s legend welcomes upcoming heading ban

Shuker is United’s record Football League appearance holder, having turned out 473 times in the league, and 529 times in total.

He died in December 2019, aged 77, more than two years after being diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, which his family believe was linked to his playing career.

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The issue linking dementia and footballers has been in the public eye since 2002, when a coroner found the dementia suffered by former England striker Jeff Astle was ‘entirely consistent with heading a ball’.

A study commission by the Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association, and conducted by the University of Nottingham, found that former professional players are almost three-and-a-half times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than the general population.

World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton was revealed to have dementia in 2020, with his death in October following fellow 1966 heroes Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilson, plus Sir Bobby’s brother Jack, in suffering from dementia prior to their deaths.

Last month, the FA announced it is introducing a new rule to phase out deliberate heading in grassroots youth football over the next three seasons, beginning with Under-7 to Under-9s in 2024/25, then increasing to Under-10s in 2025/26, and Under-11s from 2026/27.

Shuker’s daughter, Hannah, told this newspaper: “I welcome it. The science and research are there to show that there is a link, and who is going to go against that?

“I don’t think that banning heading has an impact on the game at that level, when so much is played with the feet.

“We shouldn’t be surprised these deliberate heading rules are coming in. There have been bans in the US since 2015 and in Scotland since 2020.

“To implement a change takes time, and allows more research and scientific developments.

“I think the changes are enough for these age groups, and they should be able to enjoy and play the game safely.

“I’m glad it’s phased as that allows for training, and then the older age groups can prepare for it too.

“I welcome the phasing, but feel there is more to do for older age groups and at academy level.

“Education has to be part of tackling the situation, and building awareness of what heading a ball can do.

“It’s about giving the players the knowledge, it’s not about stopping the game.”

Shuker also said that modern footballs, lighter than those in previous generations, still pose a problem when it comes to persistent heading.

She said: “The balls now are much quicker and they’re coming at you as a very fast-moving object.

“I don’t think the argument between the balls is necessary. These aren’t the leather balls that my dad played with in his career, but a much quicker ball which moves at much higher speeds.”

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