Scottish footballers to be banned from heading ball before and after matches | Scotland

Professional footballers in Scotland will be banned from heading the ball the day before and the day after matches after studies showing how it can affect the brain.

Clubs are also being advised to limit heading balls in training to one session a week because of the links between repetitive heading of a football and brain damage.

The guidance by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) comes after a landmark study revealed former professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to suffer from dementia and other serious neurological diseases.

The guidance introduced on Monday will come into immediate effect, including the banning of exercises with repeated heading of the ball more than once a week, and a day before or after a match day, including crossing, finishing and set-piece practices.

In 2020, the SFA led the way in banning children under the age of 12 from heading balls in training amid similar brain damage concerns, making Scotland the first European country to do so. Last year, clubs in English football restricted footballers to 10 “higher-force” headers a week in training.

“What we already know about heading and its effects on the brain suggests that there is measurable memory impairment lasting 24 to 48 hours following a series of headers and that brain-related proteins can be detected in blood samples for a short time after heading,” the SFA doctor John MacLean said.

“The goal is to reduce any potential cumulative effect of heading by reducing the overall exposure to heading in training,” he said.

Fifty men’s and women’s professional teams across Scotland were consulted before the release of the guidelines. To reduce the damage from the impact of heading, clubs are also being told to monitor activity in training.

The SFA said more than 70% of clubs surveyed in the Scottish Professional Football League and Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup supported the guidelines being introduced.

A report, co-funded by the FA and the Professional Footballers’ Association and conducted by the University of Glasgow in 2019, found that former professionals were three and a half times as likely as a member of the public to die from brain disease, five times more likely to die of Alzheimer’s and four times more likely to die of motor neurone disease.

“Our data show that mortality from neurodegenerative disease was higher and prescriptions of dementia-related medications were more common among former professional soccer players than among controls from the Scottish population,” the study concluded, after comparing the causes of death of 7,676 former male professional players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 people from the general population.

However, it was unable to establish whether the cause of the higher levels of brain disease was due to repeated concussions, or some other factor.

In a groundbreaking ruling in 2002, a coroner found that the former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle died in January that year from an “industrial disease”, caused by heading heavy leather footballs leading to his death at the age of 59.

His daughter Dawn Astle, who has long campaigned on the issue, called the SFA’s guidelines “another landmark ruling for the dementia in football campaign”.

Euro 2024 qualifiers: England given Italy rematch, Ireland face daunting group | Euro 2024

The draw for the Euro 2024 qualifiers has thrown up a repeat of the 2020 final, with Italy facing England in Group C. There were gasps at the Festhalle in Frankfurt as the former Germany striker Karl-Heinz Riedle pulled England’s name out of the second pot of seeds. On paper, it is England’s toughest qualifying group in more than two decades, with Ukraine and North Macedonia also contesting the two available places at the finals in Germany. Malta complete the five-team group.

In part England have been penalised for their shocking performances in the most recent Nations League, which saw them relegated to League B and meant they were absent from the top pot of seeds for the first time since the 2010 World Cup. The double-header against the defending champions represents their first time they have been drawn against one of the giants of European football in qualifying since facing Germany ahead of the 2002 World Cup.

Ukraine and North Macedonia are not to be underestimated, either. The fallout from the Russian invasion has forced Ukraine to play their home fixtures in Poland for the time being but they came within touching distance of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup and were quarter-finalists at Euro 2020 before being knocked out by England. North Macedonia also qualified for Euro 2020 and eliminated Italy from World Cup qualifying earlier this year. However, their veteran talisman Goran Pandev will announced his retirement from the game last month.

Scotland and Ireland have also been handed daunting assignments. Steve Clarke’s team have been drawn against Spain and Norway, while Ireland will face three former champions in the Netherlands, France and Greece. Wales will fancy their chances of qualifying from Group D, with Croatia, Armenia and Turkey their strongest competitors. Northern Ireland are in Group H with Denmark and Finland.

The top two teams from each of the 10 groups will qualify for Euro 2024 along with the hosts, Germany. The remaining three places will be determined by a play-off process based on performances in the recent Nations League.

Scotland, as winners of their League B group, are guaranteed a play-off place if they fail to qualify automatically.

The draw in full

Group A: Spain, Scotland, Norway, Georgia, Cyprus
Group B: Netherlands, France, Ireland, Greece, Gibraltar
Group C: Italy, England, Ukraine, North Macedonia, Malta
Group D: Croatia, Wales, Armenia, Turkey, Latvia
Group E: Poland, Czechia, Albania, Faroe Islands, Moldova
Group F: Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Azerbaijan, Estonia
Group G: Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Lithuania
Group H: Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland, San Marino
Group I: Switzerland, Israel, Romania, Kosovo, Belarus, Andorra
Group J: Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Liechtenstein