The Reality Of Heading

By: Akinloye Nafiu

Heading is simply heading a ball. But, beneath the moment of heading lies a throng of neurological calculations working mechanically in a swift. At the moment, the idea of heading to solve a present football problem looks encouraging. However, modern research offers a different perspective.  In 2020 alone, five notable British footballers died of dementia. Apparently, several years of accumulated heading were adjudged culpable reasons. It, therefore, begs the question of the validity of heading in the modern game. Basically, if an aspect of the game visibly poses a physiological obstruction within and after the years of players’ lifespan, banning it should clearly not be a far cry. However, this might be invalidating what appear to be congruous characteristics of the sport, an inevitable body contact.

Heading has been a vital part of football’s history since its diversion from a similar sport; rugby. In the early years of football beginning in Britain, the ancestral home of organised football, the sport was crude and had incorporated a lot of what characterise modern rugby: brute power, blocking, handball, and heading. The idea, being the allocation of every part of one’s body in the game regardless of how sensitive, never considered the neurological gravity of what was happening.

However, since the global receptivity of football, the sport had undergone and is currently undergoing endless reforms of perceived areas of primitiveness. It took almost a century since the development of football before a formal proclamation against heading, and even when it was done, it was half-hearted. Only U-12 players and teenagers were banned from heading. While it seems logical as their brains are at their infancy stage, modern research favours an outright scrapping of the feature. 15% of the 1966 English World Cup-winning squad are all victims of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, a consequence of hard-hitting heading.

Scientifically, heading a ball that weighs half a kilogramme and at an average speed of 12km/s increases the chances of dementia three times more than the random person. Footballers, most especially defenders and strikers, have been statistically measured to head a ball on an average 20 times per match, which suggests that heading poses a similar effect as a boxing experience. Besides, the hard requirements of heading a ball are adjunct risks of collision. Raul Jiminez’ experience comes easily to mind. If weighed on a random scale, the risk of heading significantly outnumbers the spontaneity of its importance. The question is, if heading has been proven to be antithetical to footballers’ overall health, why is it such a lasting feature of the game.

Football is a contact sport with a hallmark of risk-bearing characteristics. Countless footballers’ careers have been ruined by excruciating injuries. To suggest scrapping heading can be likened to reducing the number of tackles per game. The dynamic complexity of the game doesn’t even favour it. You extract heading and you subsequently limit the chances of goal scoring, the number of long balls, the tactical complexion of a lot of teams, and even the intensity of the game.

Football is primarily driven by adrenaline and strong hormonal tendencies, in which heading is an integral part. The fact that heading poses a significant threat to footballers’ post-career span is no case for an outright rejection; although, to be fair, this is not to denigrate the risk of heading and its attendant consequences. Perhaps, in a bid to reduce the effect of heading, other ramifications of the game such as the texture of the ball should be regulated. Regardless of how detrimental heading might be, it is clearly a reality we’ll be living with for years.

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