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Gary Lineker wants brain tested for dementia and heading banned from training

England legend Gary Lineker wants his brain tested for signs of dementia and says heading should be banned from training at all levels of the game.

The Match of the Day host, 60, said he had spoken with co-stars Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, admitting they each fear they could end up with the disease.

The former Tottenham striker said there was a good chance one of the three would be struck by it.

Research found that former professional footballers are 3.5 times more likely to die from a brain disease than the general population.

England 1966 World Cup heroes Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton, who both died last year, are among former players to have suffered with dementia, while Bobby Charlton was diagnosed with it last year.

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Gary Lineker was not afraid to use his head

Fellow 1966 winners Martin Peters and Ray Wilson were also diagnosed with dementia before their deaths.

While former Welsh international Alan Jarvis, who played for Everton and Hull City in the 1960s and 1970s, died from dementia linked to repeatedly heading the ball, a inquest heard last year.

Just last week former Manchester United and Leeds United defender Gordon McQueen, 68, became the latest reported ex-pro to be affected.

Lineker has joined talkSPORT for a special documentary named Dementia in Football.

Gary Lineker was one of England's most prolific goalscorers
Gary Lineker was one of England’s most prolific goalscorers

It comes after an inquiry was launched by Parliament this month into sport’s link to brain disease.

Shearer, 50, presented his own documentary in 2017 named Dementia, Football and Me, looking at the link between the illness and the sport.

Lineker, who has scored more headed goals for England than anybody else,

said: “It was something that always went on in my mind and I’ve thought about it a lot, and especially now with seeing so many footballers seemingly get dementia.

Manchester United footballer George Best at a photocall with Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles. 25th July 1968.
Nobby Stiles suffered with dementia

“I mean, the statistics are quite worrying.

“I’ve had conversations with Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and various others about, you know, the worry that come 10, 15 years that it might happen to one of us.

“In fact, the odds suggest that it probably will happen to one of us, so it is concerning.

“I mean, I have regular health checks anyway, which includes the brain which so far everything is OK.

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“I sort of go every three years for a full check and I’ve added that particular thing, if they can investigate.

“So I think I’ll have my triannual test this summer, after the Euros probably, and I will ask them to see if there’s anything they can establish around the brain, because I don’t see how, given the circumstances any footballer wouldn’t be worried about it.”

Ex-West Brom and England forward Jeff Astle died in January 2002 aged 59

and later that year a landmark inquest ruling said that his death was the result of an “industrial disease” resulting from heading footballs.

File photo dated 15-04-2017 of Ian Wright
Ian Wright shares Lineker’s fears

His daughter Dawn, 53, has campaigned tirelessly since then for action to be taken to protect footballers.

She told the Mirror: “It’s of course great to see a big name like Lineker come out and do this.

“But part of me feels a bit frustrated that it’s taken so long for really big names to come out about it.

“Lineker is right to say there has to be a link between heading and this illness.

BBC commentator Alan Shearer chats before the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool at Molineux on January 7, 2019 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.
Alan Shearer scored a lot of goals with his head

“We may ever actually get to prove the causal link with this or it may take another 40-50 years.

“The time between the heading to the outcome (the illness) is often decades. It was two decades after my dad finished playing.

“But with all the evidence we have to date you can look on the balance of probability and say that heading is the problem.”

Lineker told talkSPORT: “Do you want to take heading out of the game? No I don’t think so, but I think you can take heading out of training, or limit it massively.

“You talk about head tennis, that’s not going to do much as it’s just little flicks and touches, but exercises where defenders are heading it clear, crosses are sent in and players are heading the ball away and at goal repeatedly in training, I’ve watched centre-backs do it – bang, bang, bang – most of the damage will probably be done then.

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“In a match how many times would you head it? Probably not that many.

“So I don’t think you can change the whole game, but you can definitely change the way we think about training.

“That’s why I’m slightly concerned because I know I did a lot of heading when I was young, so I’m worried whether that’s had any effect.

“I won’t know for a while, I’m seemingly fine at the moment and hopefully what will remain the case.

“I don’t see how any footballer reading all this stuff at the moment wouldn’t have some kind of concern.

“If I had known what I know now, I would have certainly limited the amount of heading I did when I was younger – no question.

“Whether that would have made me not as good a footballer or whether I would have been not as good as heading the ball as I actually was, it’s impossible to say.

“It’s hard to imagine the game without heading, but maybe it’s worth trailing to see what it looks like.

“Particularly if the evidence keeps rolling in and more and more players…

it was the era of the 1966 players who have made us really aware of this.

“Football has changed since then, so we may see that it (dementia) is less prevalent in my era… but can we afford to wait that long? I suspect not.

‘Let’s keep an eye on our brains’

– Comment by Dr Michael Grey, head of football dementia study

Dr Michael Grey has been exploring brain injuries from sports

Just like an eye test, we should be testing people’s brains.

Our SCORES project is investigating the rate of cognitive decline in ex-pro footballers compared to the average healthy person and other athletes.

You can do the tests online and at home and each one takes about 30 minutes. We are not diagnosing dementia but looking for early signs of possible cognitive deterioration.

It is important to get tested early because the sooner you know there’s a potential issue, the more tools we have in the box to deal with it. We cannot cure dementia but can extend the period of better health by months or years.

The third reason for testing I give people is that if you find out you have dementia, then you can make plans for the future. If I knew I was getting it I would make very different decisions with my
life.




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