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18 Dec 2002 : Column 974—continued

11.9 pm

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): I have the honour to present petitions on the part of Mrs. Pamela Ellis of Bio-Five-O in Hastings and Mr. Crawshaw of Rye in precisely the same terms as that presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser). I shall not repeat the words, but I request that the House take note of them.

To lie upon the Table.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I rise also to present a petition, and Members will be familiar with the text of said petition. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) has introduced the same. The petition is from Noah's Health Food Store, and it carries the signatures of more than 500 constituents in Carshalton and Wallington. The petition expresses their concerns about the potential impact of European Union legislation on traditional herbal medicinal products.

To lie upon the Table.

Affordable Credit

11.10 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): I rise to present a petition on affordable credit on behalf of several hundred of my constituents in the Dunstable area.

The petition states:


18 Dec 2002 : Column 975

Football Head Injuries

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

11.11 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): I rise to introduce a debate on football head injuries, which have emerged as an important issue not only to the football world, but to many people up and down the land who are concerned about events that happened some years ago and which demand a Government reaction. First, however, let me describe the background.

In the treatise XThe Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy", usually called the XPrincipia", Isaac Newton proclaimed the three laws of motion and the law of gravity. He addressed the problem of the drag on a spear moving through a medium. One of his laws states that change of motion is proportional to the motive force impressed and takes place along the straight line in which force acts.

Loosely translated, that means that a football's behaviour is covered by the statement that the rate of change of momentum of a football is equal to the applied force. That is often translated as describing football rotation in terms of change of angular momentum brought about by an applied torque. It is Christmas, so I am allowed such a deliberate physical and mathematical analysis of a ball moving through the air.

A book entitled XThe Science of Soccer" by John Wesson has just been published. It describes how David Beckham can bend a ball in mathematical and physical terminology that I would not dare to translate in the House. Although I have great respect for the Hansard writers, they would not be able to take down the mathematical terms. I do not want to defer to them, as the problem is real.

The book describes the ideal bounce of a ball, kicks, bending the ball, intercepting a pass and rebounds from the crossbar. There is a phenomenon to describe, as it would excite people. Equations have been developed in relation to those particular events. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, who represents Norwich, South, is looking for a way to excite people so as they understand physics and mathematics. What better way than understanding such issues as how a ball is thrown in, the torque involved and the forces that apply to a football as it rotates through the air? I suggest that they might return the interest of many young people to science.

Heading, which is the subject of our debate, is also described in the book, which states:


my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport might avidly remember that from his youth, as he paraded around the playing fields of England—


That would certainly be true of my right hon. Friend, although earlier this year I managed him very successfully through 45 minutes of sheer magic as he kept out the forces of the British embassy on a Japanese playing field.

18 Dec 2002 : Column 976

The book continues:


which would be some speed up the M6, and quite unachievable in transport-torn Britain today. It continues:


When a sodden leather ball used to hit people's heads, the lace faced a certain way—unless Stanley Matthews kicked it across the penalty area at Tommy Lawton's head; the lace was always facing the wrong way as far as the opposition was concerned, but it hit Tommy Lawton on the head at the right time. When the head is hit by a ball, it moves a few inches. The speed of the head's movement depends on the velocity given to the ball. The head cannot move faster than a kick, because it is restricted by being anchored to the body.

The problem is that people mistime headers. If people are hit on the head by a ball, momentum may be lost and transferred to the head. Many footballers will remember how, in the early years of their careers, they were hit by that sodden leather ball that came out of the sky, and their heads moved back. That sometimes resulted in unconsciousness; it often resulted in sore heads and blackouts, and players in the 1950s and 1960s were frequently taken off the field for such reasons.

Let us think in terms of medical science. The brain can be likened to a blancmange in a bowl. When a certain part of it is hit, it wobbles. It is not restricted to one area; it moves around the circumference of the brain. I would expect the force of a wet ball to be some 180 lb. That might cause bruising, damage to the brain and some bleeding.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I am glad that my hon. Friend initiated this debate. As he may know, January saw the tragic death of Jeff Astle, the former West Bromwich Albion centre-forward, renowned for his heading abilities during the era of hard, wet, heavy leather balls. At his post mortem the neuropathologist made it clear that years of heading a ball had contributed to his premature death at the age of 59. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Football Association should provide a fund to benefit the families of footballers who have effectively been victims of industrial injuries?

Dr. Gibson: Other players have sustained similar injuries, and they deserve respect and a response from the Government.

The worst that can happen is more extended bruising to the brain. A subdural haematoma can occur—a sort of blood clot. That has happened to many players. In this regard football is not unlike boxing or horse riding. Many injuries are caused to people falling off horses. I am quite sympathetic to riders as long as they do not chase foxes, if I may refer to a debate we had earlier in the week.

We have heard anecdotes about players of the 1950s and 1960s who played with heavy balls before they were changed in the 1960s. The leather coating then became polyurethane, the bladder disappeared, and players now use a completely different kind of ball. In my

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professional footballing days, I remember being rather frightened at having to head a ball; however, it was something that we did because, after all, we were real men, we did not flinch and we went for the ball. I remember many of my young colleagues at school being frightened to head a ball, and being called a sissy as the ball descended on them.

A few years ago, Billy McPhail of Glasgow Celtic, who scored a hat trick in the Scottish cup final, tried to take up this issue in an industrial tribunal and failed. He tried to claim that some of his health problems were caused by his frequent heading of a football. The deaths of Alf Ramsey, Danny Blanchflower, Joe Mercer and many other great names have been considered, and it has recently been shown that degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's were associated with their problems in their latter years. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) said, the Jeff Astle case marks an epic moment in this struggle to get recognition of the effects of heading.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East): Does my hon. Friend share my view—it is doubtless also the view of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey)—that Jeff Astle was the best header of a ball since Dixie Dean? Of course, in this day and age the modern footballer would not be subject to the challenges to which Jeff was subjected, because a modern ball weighs only 14 to 16 oz. The new FIFA-standard ball does not have the absorption of older footballs, and the FA is conducting a 10-year study, under the stewardship of Dr. Miles Gibson, on the effects of heading a ball. The study is in its second season, and hopefully recommendations will be made throughout the 10-year programme.

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) agree that another reason why modern footballers would not be subject to such head injuries is the impact of modern coaching? Now, far more young people are taught proper heading techniques, which were not available in Jeff Astle's day. Such coaching is in part the result of the legacy of the late Sir Bert Millichip, who sadly died earlier today. He was a great son of West Bromwich Albion football club—a life president and former chairman—a former chairman of the FA, and a great advocate for the black country. My hon. Friend will doubtless agree that this House should pay tribute to the great man, and wish his family all the best in their hour of need.


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