Tuesday, October 22 2019

A heads-up on football head injuries

There’s a famous old football story that has gained its subject - the former Partick Thistle manager John Lambie - more notoriety than his playing or managerial career ever did. It goes like this:

During a Scottish League match Lambie’s then centre-forward Colin McGlashan suffered a serious clash of heads with a rival. Lambie’s assistant Gerry Collins examined the injured player on the side of the pitch and reported back that McGlashan “didn’t know who he was”.

To which Lambie quipped: “Tell him he’s Pele and send him back on”.

Head injuries are no joke

It’s a funny line. Enjoyed countless times in after-dinner speeches. I’ve heard both Harry Redknapp and Sam Allardyce retell the story (as their own – but you wouldn’t expect any more from either of them).

It was chosen as the title of a best-selling book of football anecdotes. And the tale was even retold at Lambie’s funeral in April last year. As an epitaph, of sorts.

But in the light of recent research about dementia among former footballers, it is perhaps not such great bantz after all.

Ex-footballers 3 General Public 1

A report published this week found that ex-professional players are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than people of the same age in the general population.

Former West Brom great Jeff Astle developed dementia and died in 2002 aged 59. The inquest into his death found that repeated heading heavy leather footballs had caused trauma to his brain.

The FA and PFA reluctantly began research into the matter, but soon dropped the ball due to ‘technical’ flaws. Standard. We can only assume that there weren’t enough long, liquid lunches and backhanders on offer to hold their interest. Or – to be fair – it might just have been a bit too much like actual work.

Another open goal missed by the FA

So it fell to Alan Shearer to highlight the case in his tawdry, ego-soaked documentary ‘Dementia, Football and Me’. (I use the term ‘highlight’ loosely. Astle does get a mention, but the program starts and ends with reminders of Shearer’s goal scoring record. And could just as easily been titled: Alan Shearer: Me, Me and Me).

What Alan fails to remind the viewer of when he tried to kick Neil Lennon’s head off (v Leicester, in April 1988) – for which he received no FA sanction, so he was clear to captain England in the impending World Cup warm-up matches. Not sure how that sits with his faux concern about head trauma.

Nor does he mention his punditry advice to Wayne Rooney to ‘smack Ronaldo in the mouth’ following Winkgate. Or his suggestion that Croatian centre forward Mandzukic should’ve ‘smashed’ the Russian goalkeeper when he had the chance in extra-time, during last summer’s World Cup Quarter Final. So Akinfeev he wouldn’t have been able to play on during the penalty shootout.

Perhaps he’s suffering memory loss. He did score a lot of goals with his head.

Matt Nesbitt swapped his short unspectacular career in the English lower divisions for a much more successful one as a football tipster. He now has a proper job.

Ben Dinnery

Ben Dinnery


Ben is football’s leading injury specialist. The ‘go-to’ guru for big hitters like Sky Sports, ESPN and NBC Sports when they need data. Or the BBC, talkSPORT and the broadsheets when a quote is required. His unique insight has helped provide a better understanding of what is really happening in the treatment rooms.

Johnny Wilson

Johnny Wilson


Johnny is a respected physiotherapist and sports scientist, specialising in football injuries and rehab. Johnny has headed up the medical departments at Chesterfield, Scunthorpe and Notts County. Overseeing everything from player-specific training loads to pre-signing medicals. He has a proven record working with elite athletes in Private Practice and is regularly called upon throughout Europe to deliver presentations on the latest rehab innovations.

Matt Nesbitt

Matt Nesbitt On TipTV


Matt's short, unremarkable football career was ended by his own bad driving. His long, distinguished career as a football tipster was ended by his own good advice. Because bookmakers don’t like a winner. First, they closed his accounts. Then his members’ accounts. Then his tipping service. And now they employ him as a consultant. Funny old game.


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