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Ally Macleod's family call for head guards in football

The legendary Scotland manager had Alzheimer's disease before his death in 2004.

The family of legendary Scotland football manager Ally Macleod say children should be forced to wear head guards to prevent long-term injuries caused by heading the ball.

Macleod, who took Scotland to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, had Alzheimer's disease before his death in 2004.

His daughter Gail Pirie believes the condition was caused by heading the ball and wants tough new laws brought in so children wear protective headgear as soon as they start playing competitively.

Speaking to STV News with her mother Faye, Ms Pirie said: "In the era that my dad played in the style of footballs and everything were so different, they were heavy leather and laced up, and there was so much heading that I do think there has to be a connection somewhere.

"The balls now are so much lighter but I still think that even today people are at risk with continual heading of the ball.

"Should the players all be wearing head guards like the Arsenal goalie Petr Cech so they can head the ball?"

'Should players all start wearing head guards like the Arsenal goalie Petr Cech so they can head the ball?'
Gail Pirie

She added: "Heading is such a big part of the sport, would it take some enjoyment out of the game if you couldn't head the ball in the middle of the park or if you could only head it at corners or free-kicks? I don't know, it is a big ask.

"But if they can't take heading out of the game, and I think it would probably spoil it, then they should give more protection to them definitely."

She thinks that introducing it to children to begin with would be a way of normalising it in the sport for future professionals.

Ms Pirie said: "The players these days will be set in their ways at whatever stage they are of their career but they could bring it in for younger age groups and say 'this is the law and from now on you will have to wear a head guard'."

Petr Cech: Arsenal goalie wears a headguard.
Petr Cech: Arsenal goalie wears a headguard. Creative Commons

She added: "From that they won't know any different and that's the way they will have been brought up and we would eventually come to accept it as normal.

"I think bringing some kind of head protection into the game is now a logical step forward, obviously it could be quite light but it would still be a form of protection."

Last year, the family of Celtic's European Cup-winning captain Billy McNeill announced he had been diagnosed with dementia.

The 77-year-old former defender was famed for his heading ability and commanding displays.

Billy Mcneill: Family of Celtic great announced he had dementia in 2017.
Billy Mcneill: Family of Celtic great announced he had dementia in 2017. SNSGroup

Ms Pirie, who is a qualified nurse, believes constant heading of the ball could cause trauma similar to that suffered by a former boxer.

"There is so many folk now announcing that they have some form of dementia who have played the sport that there must be some kind of connection," she said.

"There just seems to be more and more people of my dad's era who were all heading the ball constantly and I am sure there must be a link.

"With the repeated trauma and your head being knocked constantly, it is a bit like a boxer being punch drunk. It's the same idea."

'It will be very difficult and I don't know how people would feel about that but if it becomes the law you eventually just have to accept it.'
Gail Pirie

She added: "I don't think it would have made any difference to my dad or his love of football and I don't think it stops people playing football, I just really want some acknowledgement that it is a problem."

The 53-year-old has also watched her son play football from a young age and believes children should be made to wear protective head guards as soon as they are in an 11-a-side team.

She said: "When they start off with five-a-side or seven-a-side they won't be heading the ball a lot anyway but once they get to 11-a-side it gets very, very competitive.

"I have been there with my son so I think taking heading out of the game would be very difficult.

"So maybe that is where the head protection should start, from the moment they first go to 11-a-side so that they know that as soon as they turn professional or amateur, junior or whatever they have to wear some kind of protection."

She added: "As soon as they go to 11-a-side they should start wearing head guards.

"It will be very difficult and I don't know how people would feel about that but if it becomes the law you eventually just have to accept it."

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