PUBLISHED: 09:14 20 November 2020 | UPDATED: 09:20 20 November 2020
A Norfolk non-league side is blazing a trail in the fight against football-related dementia by banning its youth players from heading balls in training – and is calling on others to do the same.
Wroxham Football Club is believed to be the first club to officially take the decision, which will also see it limiting the amount of heading its senior players do in training.
It comes after club chairman Lee Robson was moved to tears by Norwich City legend Chris Sutton discussing his father Mike’s struggles with dementia as part of a campaign to address the issue.
Mr Sutton’s three sons, Ollie, George and Harry are all involved with the Yachtsmen, and the former Canaries striker has been passionately campaigning for more to be done to address the connection between heading footballs and developing brain illnesses like dementia in life.
And it was Mr Sutton’s passion that led to Mr Robson making the decision to take action and sign up to a seven-point plan to help reduce the later-life risks of heading footballs.
He said: “Chris’s involvement in the club really brought to issue to the forefront of my thoughts and it was heartbreaking to hear about his father’s struggles – so I thought we should act.
“In many walks of life, if you wait for change to be made from the top down you can be waiting years, if not decades, so we are taking the opportunity to bring about our own change and hope it works its way up.”
As well as encouraging other teams to do the same, Mr Robson also plans to write to the Norfolk FA and other branches of the Football Association encouraging them to bring temporary substitutions into the game for the event of concussions or head injuries.
He added: “If somebody like Simon Lappin can sit in a sin bin for 10 minutes for mouthing off, I don’t see how it is any different having somebody sit out and be replaced if there is any risk they are concussed.
“To me it seems a very simple thing to ask and something that would make such a big difference. “I’m really pleased that we can help Chris’s campaign and his family, and it is great we can be one of the first to make such a positive step.
“I come from Wales where mining was a big thing over the generations and you hear all kinds of stories about miner’s knee or similar things developing over a time and they are considered to be industrial injuries – that to me seems no different to people developing brain illnesses in later life after spending their youth repeatedly heading footballs.
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“With young players it can only be beneficial to encourage them to keep the ball on the ground, so I’ve told all my youth coaches to only play below head height in training, which isn’t hard to do.
“We’ve already had lots of great feedback since making the decision and the dads in particular have been incredibly supportive.”
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