ANYONE who was lucky enough to witness Joe Jordan’s majestic diving header at Hampden against Czechoslovakia in 1973 would testify that heading is not only an integral part of football, but also to the theory that it borders on an art form.

What is often forgotten is that Scotland’s equaliser that night also came from a prodigious bound from big Jim Holton, who leapt above the Czech goalkeeper to nod home.

These snapshots of Scottish football history are priceless to supporters. But that doesn’t mean such moments don’t sometimes come at a price.

The latest findings from the FIELD (Football’s Influence on Lifelong health and Dementia) study led by Glasgow University are as sobering as the initial findings were in 2019, when it was established that professional footballers had an approximately three-and-a-half times greater risk of death due to neurodegenerative disease than the general public.

That led to the SFA introducing recommendations that children of primary school age should not be heading the ball at all, while it would be gradually introduced from the age of 13 onwards.

The latest study compared the medical records of around 8000 former professional footballers to around 23,000 members of the general public, and that data enabled the researchers to drill down further and identify the ratio of risk to position played.

They found that defenders were about five times likelier to develop dementia than the average person, while forwards were about three times more likely. Career length was also a major factor, with a five-year career doubling the risk of dementia, and a 15-year-career giving a dementia risk around five times higher than the average.

These results have led Professor Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow, to the conclusion that football is now at a crossroads, where it must either seriously consider banning heading from the game altogether, or at the very least ensure that it makes participants as aware of the risks involved as the tobacco and alcohol industries must now do.

“I think football has to ask the question: ‘Is heading necessary for the game of football?’,” Stewart said.

“And by asking that question they must ask, ‘Is a risk of dementia necessary for the game of football?’

“In boxing it’s difficult to imagine the sport without head shots. Boxers are counselled on the risk and professional boxers get regular health checks and regular brain scans. In football? None of that. You can argue if heading the ball is really necessary.

“Maybe football has to say that for professionals who are counselled and looked after medically and who have regular brain scans and reviews, you can head the ball, but there is another form of football at community and youth level which is without heading and that is a risk-free or lower risk sport than we are currently presenting.

“And in parallel with that manufacturers of footballs should be selling the ball with a warning saying heading the ball may lead to risk of dementia.”

There is a part of me, which will no doubt chime with the feelings of many football fans reading these quotes, that instantly recoils in horror at the thought of heading being outlawed in football.

There will be others who go further still, and see this as just the latest piece of ‘wokery’, or just another example of this ‘snowflake’ generation. If they want to subject themselves – and their kids – to a greater risk of neurodegenerative diseases, then they bloody well should have the right to.

Perhaps though the families of those we have lost, like Billy McNeill, Ally McLeod, Jimmy Johnstone, Frank Kopel and Stevie Chalmers would say different. Perhaps those caring for those still suffering now, like Gordon McQueen and Bertie Auld, would have another perspective too.

Given the magnitude of the possible repercussions for both the game and potentially the long-term health of footballers, it is no surprise that the SFA have decided to take some time to review these findings and decide what their next step should be. If any.

Their initial recommendations, for me, struck the right balance between protecting younger players and also protecting the game of football as we all know and love it. But the prevalence of risk to those playing the professional game that has been uncovered surely cannot now be ignored?

Professor Stewart’s suggestion that it may be time to outlaw heading altogether goes too far in my view, but there is certainly great merit in his recommendations that football associations and the clubs themselves should now look after their employees in much the same way that boxing does, by educating them fully in the risks and in monitoring their health with regular brain scans.

Concussion substitutes is another avenue worth exploring, where any significant blow to the head results in a player being removed from the action. Even temporarily, until they can be fully assessed.

Only last December, Arsenal’s David Luiz played on with a bloody bandage around his head following a head collision with Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Raul Jimenez which left the forward with a fractured skull.

Headway, the brain injury charity, has been vocal in criticising football for its procrastination on the issue, saying it lags well behind rugby or the NFL in its attempts to mitigate the risks of playing the sport.

What is clear is that football sticking its head in the sand is no longer an option. Hopefully it will be news of this study, and not news of tragedy striking another former player, that presses the sport into action.