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Head injuries - again!

Back in May 2019, we published the article (shown below) after a football player suffered concussion during a match. It is disgraceful that the footballing authorities in this country and overseas have failed to act. It is more luck than anything that a player in the professional game has not died from head injuries caused on the pitch.

The head injury issue in recent weeks has been two fold, with the issue of concussion, and the long term links to dementia.

With several former England footballers having died of dementia, which has been linked to heading the heavy balls of days gone by, including Nobby Stiles, it is sad that even after the subject was reported on by former England footballer Alan Shearer a few years back, the footballing authorities have failed to react.

Since the incident involving Jan Vertonghen in 2019, there have been numerous incidents where players have suffered a knock to the head, and carried on before either collapsing or suffering concussion in the hours that follow. One example occurred several weeks ago when a head injury to John Egan was not treated on the pitch in the Republic of Ireland v England match, leading to him collapsing with concussion minutes later.

The issue was further highlighted yesterday in a Premier League game between Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Two players, Arsenal's David Luiz, and Wolves' Raul Jimenez accidentally clashed heads. Jimenez was knocked unconscious, and after ten minutes of on the pitch treatment was rushed to hospital, where he had emergency surgery on a severe skull fracture. We wish him well and a full speedy recovery.

Luiz, on the other hand, was down for several minutes, with a severe cut to the head. He was bandaged up and continued, although the state of the bandage showed he was still bleeding. He also took a limited role in the game, looking a little worse for wear. He was eventually substituted at half time. Again, we wish him well.

Alan Shearer has again, rightly, complained that Luiz should not have been allowed to play on. On BBC Match of the Day 2, he said that "football needs to get real and wake up. It needs to get serious, not next month, now. This has been going on for far too long. The protocols [for concussion] in football are not acceptable."

The brain injury charity, Headway says it is important players leave the field for a proper assessment after a head injury. They say that a further blow to the head, when concussed, could have very serious consequences. "Something is not right. This cannot be allowed to continue. How many warnings does football need?", their spokesperson said today.

Cricket, rugby league, rugby union and American Football all have concussion substitutions, so that a player can be properly checked for as long as it takes following a head injury.

It is about time football did the same, before someone dies. And at the same time, funded proper research and development into the dementia issue, to help protect future former players from the issues affecting our 1966 heroes now.

Update 3 March 2021: There is to be a parliamentary review into the links between brain injury and sport. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/56252010

Update 17 December 2020: Excellent news today that footballing authorities have approved concussion substitutes to be introduced from January 2021. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/55352368

Article first published 1 May 2019, and its August 2019 review:

During last night's Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax, Spurs player Jan Vertonghen clashed heads with one of his own players and an Ajax player. After seeking some medical attention on the pitch he was deemed suitable to carry on. After a few minutes, Jan was clearly seen suffering from concussion and helped from the pitch by his manager. According to his club, medical protocol was followed.

I am no medical expert, but seriously is this protocol suitable? Other sports have medical temporary substitutions for head injuries. Football does not.

The subject of head injuries in football is nothing new - there is some evidence that former great Jeff Astle died as a result of continuously heading a heavy leather ball throughout his career.

Head injuries can and do kill. My mum's cousin died after being punched once in the head in an unprovoked attack in 2017.