Former football stars to donate brains for head injury research

England World Cup winner George Cohen and former Manchester United star Pat Crerand have pledged to donate their brains to science after research tentatively linked heading the ball with dementia.

The footballers, both 77, said they wanted to help improve understanding of how professional players could be at an increased risk of serious health problems in later life.

Cohen and Crerand revealed their intentions to the Daily Mirror following an announcement by University College London experts that they had found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that can cause dementia, in the brains of four ex-players.

The discovery prompted calls for more research and an investigation by the Football Association (FA), which has been criticised for a perceived lack of action despite it being a long-suspected issue in the sport.

Cohen said he would be happy to donate his brain, as long as his surviving relatives agree.

He said: "Whatever will help, I mean why not? It's no use to me any more at that stage.

"If they've found there is a link to the illness then someone donating their brain is a good thing if it can help. I'm sure others would be happy to do it too."

The former Fulham full back also added his voice to a growing number calling for under-10s to be banned from heading the ball to prevent health problems in later life.

The ex-players involved in the UCL study, 12 of whom eventually died of advanced dementia, all began playing football and heading the ball when they were children or teenagers and continued for an average of 26 years.

The rate of CTE detected in the footballers' brains was greater than the 12% average found in a previous study which looked at 268 brains from the general population.

Cohen, who was in the England team that won the 1966 World Cup Final, also highlighted the weight of old-style balls that would increase by a quarter when they were wet.

Scotland international Crerand said the rate of dementia and memory loss among footballers from the time was a "terrible thing to see".

He suggested all players from their era should consider donating their brains to the cause.

"I'm all for it if it can help make a difference, no question," he told the newspaper.

"How do you improve a situation like this? You're never going to know how to improve it without more testing and research."

The FA welcomed the research and said it takes the concerns around concussion and head injuries "extremely seriously".

The body's head of medicine, Dr Charlotte Cowie, said: "The FA is determined to support this research and is also committed to ensuring that any research process is independent, robust and thorough, so that when the results emerge, everyone in the game can be confident in its findings."

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