I AM writing this from a position of blissful ignorance with regards to what has happened in the Scotland game, so whether you are crying into your tartan tammy or have partied into the wee small hours, please forgive the lack of attention paid here to the fortunes of our brave boys in dark blue.

As all-consuming as the prospect of our national team qualifying for a major championships has been this week, there has also been a far more serious conversation going on around the now established link between professional footballers and an increased chance of a degenerative brain disease in later life.

The debate around what action should be taken when armed with these alarming facts surfaces now and again, usually when there is a report published or when - to their credit - a governing body such as the Scottish Football Association introduces legislation that addresses the issue.

So it was that the results of the long overdue ‘FIELD Study’, which was commissioned by the PFA in England and carried out by consultant neurologist Dr Willie Stewart of Glasgow University last year, were discussed right here in this column.

It is worth revisiting the findings. Dr Stewart compared the medical records of 7,676 men born between 1900 and 1976 who played professional football in Scotland against more than 23,000 individuals from the general population born in the same period.

Dr Stewart found that footballers were five times likelier to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, approximately four times likelier to get motor neurone disease, and twice as likely to have Parkinson’s disease in later life than the average person.

Given the dates involved, there may be many of you out there who aren’t surprised, and would put the unfortunate prevalence of such diseases in footballers of the time down to the absurd weight of the old heavy lace-up balls of the era. As did I, at first.

A study by the University of Boston though, focusing on female footballers, is casting new light on the issue. Lead investigator and Professor of Neurology, Dr. Robert Stern, has found that as the ball has gotten lighter, the frequency by which players head the ball has increased. He is now investigating whether there is a link between heading the faster-moving, synthetic footballs and neurodegenerative disease risk.

While there is still no definitive proof that heading alone is causing the anomalous frequency of brain injury in footballers, Dr Stewart is in little doubt.

“Given that research from people with head injuries in car crashes had produced similar results, it is a working hypothesis that exposure to head injuries, through collisions or fouls or heading, could be the decisive factor,” he has said.

With that in mind, it was great to see our own SFA taking decisive action at the beginning of this year, banning heading practice for age groups below and including under-12 level. But have they gone far enough?

Nobody is proposing that heading is outlawed in football, but as former Celtic striker Chris Sutton – whose own father, former Norwich City midfielder Mike Sutton, suffers from dementia – has pointed out over the past week, there are immediate steps that could be taken which would protect players and not greatly impact upon the game itself.

The ideas he mooted were indeed recommendations put forward by Dr Stewart after the FIELD study, including the immediate introduction of concussion substitutes in football, whereby a temporary substitute comes on for 10-minutes while a player is better assessed.

Secondly, he has called for a uniform protocol on coaching heading through Europe, introduced across Union of European Football Association (UEFA) federations, particularly at youth level, which could limit heading training to once-per-week.

Third, there should be more specific research to track current and recently retired footballers and observe their brain development over time, with the introduction of a national database to collate causes of death from brain diseases affecting sportsmen and women, as has previously been the case for other industrial injuries.

The question now is whether our football associations take this advice on board and follow it through. Football authorities in general, perhaps understandably from a standpoint of self-preservation, have been slow on the uptake of such recommendations in the past, and have indeed sometimes been contemptuous. The Telegraph for instance, found that letters from Dr. Mike Sadler, Clinical Director to the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) between 1993 and 1997, calling for research into the potential link between football and dementia were met by a ‘dismissive’ response from their Chief Executive, Gordon Taylor. Such intransigence has been evident throughout football even since the issue was brought into the mainstream in tragic circumstances with the death of West Brom legend Jeff Astle from dementia in 2002.

It is to be hoped that the SFA can once again ‘grasp the thistle’ on the issue and lead the way by implementing the steps suggested by Dr Stewart. Concussion substitutes would be a good place to start.