Martin Smith: Football must get its house in order on head injuries and concussion protocols

“NOW, now, now!”

Monday, 30th November 2020, 6:41 pm
David Luiz of Arsenal receives medical treatment after a collision with Raul Jimenez (Cannot be seen) of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Photo: John Walton - Pool/Getty Images

Nothing could be more clear or more pressing.

The emphasis came from Alan Shearer on Sunday night’s Match Of The Day 2 as he spoke emotionally about football getting its house in order on head injuries and concussion protocols for players following the sickening clash of heads between Raul Jimenez and David Luiz during the during the Arsenal v Wolves game.

The increased awareness of the long-term damage caused by micro-traumas to the brain when players head a football is one issue.

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Sending players back out to play with blood pouring through a bandaged head wound is a less difficult call.

The former England and Newcastle captain is fuming about football’s failure to look after players brains in the long and short term.

He’s right to be incensed.

Football, to a lesser extent than boxing, is a sport where the head is actually used in play.

Rugby players can’t score a try with their heads, cricketers don’t take wickets or score runs with theirs.

Those sports have their own issues.

No-one is disputing the damage that a cricket ball can do at 90mph or the danger of a clash of heads when two 16 stone athletes collide at top speed.

But in those other sports players can wear protective headgear and, equally importantly, have strict procedures that follow a head injury.

That football hasn’t, with all its media fanfare, finance and following is as absurd as it is so absolutely wrong.

As with the proposed financial bail-out of struggling Football League clubs the Premier League continues to sit on its hands as yet another ex-player goes down with dementia.

Footballers have a three and a half times higher neurodegenerative disease death rate than the rest of the population.

Shearer, like many before and since, made a living partly through his willingness and ability to head a football.

Heading a ball is a key and often thrilling part of the game but times, awareness and expectations change.

Today’s players don’t head the sodden, laced-up cannonballs of the 1950s and 60s but we know now that the speed of the modern, lighter ball can do as much damage as the weight of the old ones.

Seeing heroes like Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters, Jeff Astle stricken by dementia in their final years is heartbreaking and must be addressed.

But not having strict concussion protocols and temporary substitutions for head injuries in the world’s richest sport is no less than criminal.