Town legend Butcher: Time to phase out heading in football

Sporting Memories Suffolk Celebration Event at Quay Place with Terry Butcher.Picture: RACHEL EDG

Terry Butcher, has been buoyed by the positivity shown to his comments about phasing heading out of football. - Credit: Rachel Edge

Terry Butcher says he has been buoyed with the positivity over his comments about heading being phased out from football.

Speaking to the BBC last week, the Ipswich Town and England legend said he would like to see a time when heading the ball in football was no more in a bid to prevent 'catastrophic' head injuries and reduce the risk of dementia.

"Eventually I want to see football have no heading — phase heading out," said Butcher. "I think you’ve got to do it gradually. I think you have to be very careful but I think you have to look at safety. You have to look at families losing their loved ones too early."

Ipswich Town and England legend Terry Butcher celebrates a World Cup qualifying win over Sweden in 1

Ipswich Town and England legend Terry Butcher celebrates a World Cup qualifying win over Sweden in 1989. Photo: PA - Credit: Archant

Butcher's comments may have been seen radical to some, but he says it has started a debate he feels could well lead to heading being banned in the future.

"My comments have had a big impact, people are thinking about it, where you are going to go with this?" he said.


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"It could easily happen. There are more goals scored with your feet than your head.

"The reaction I've had so far has been very good, people have been very positive I think for some it might be a bit radical, but when you look at the changes to the game and the laws that have been made, football does adapt, does evolve. I think that's what we have to look at.

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"You have to look at other things in the game, rather than just putting a cross in the box hoping for someone to head it in, or someone to head it away. There's always a 50/50 challenge most times when you are looking at the ball in the air but football isn't particularly like that now.

"Take a look at the stats. Now you are looking at the amount of successful passes, completed passes, rather than 50/50 challenges. The sooner we can get rid of the challenges involving headers, football will become better

"And parents will be able to breath a sigh of relief that nothing happens to their children in the future."

Butcher, who played almost 300 games for Town and won 77 England caps was a renowned header of the ball. The iconic photograph of him in an England shirt with blood seeping down from a head wound has gone down in football folklore.

John Wark and Terry Butcher

John Wark (left) and Terry Butcher celebrate in the dressing room - Credit: Archant

And he knows his ideas won't suit all.

"Yes, it was an integral part of my game," he said.

"I really enjoyed it. I would miss seeing headed goals, headed clearances, but football has to develop, football will develop -  it's vey adaptable. It can change.

"If you just try and tamper with it and water it down a bit, it won't do anyone any good. You've got to be realistic to say the end game is to have a good game of football that is played on the ground, no headers.

"Yes you can have long balls, you pass in the air sort of thing, but you take away the threat of impact, take away the threat of collision, permanent damage later on in life.

10 - Terry Butcher

10 - Terry Butcher

"I think when people look at it like that, you have to say that's the only way you would have a very good chance of having a real crack at cutting down on the possibility of dementia and Alzheimer's."

Many purists of the game acknowledge that football played on the ground is more attractive and there has been a definite swing to playing the game more on the grass than in the air - at all levels of football.

"That's why no headers could happen," said Butcher. "The game is more attractive on the ground.

"Yes, you are pressurised sometimes as defenders and goalkeepers to kick the ball long, but you are then looking at taking the ball on your chest and looking at body control rather than heading the ball on.

Terry Butcher, Paul Mariner, Eric Gates and Mick Mills

Terry Butcher, Paul Mariner, Eric Gates and Mick Mills - Credit: RICHARD SNASDELL

"You have to adapt. In the future, defenders may get beaten by the odd through ball, thinking they could head that, but now  they can't, but they have to adapt. People have to cover round. There are ways of combatting heading in terms of getting into position early."

And it's young players and young coaches who hold the key to a football future without heading, says Butcher.

"Young players would take this on board quickly, it would soon become the norm, new coaches, the younger generation in football," he said.

"We must be positive that's where we want to get to. If we are wishy washy just saying only header in this region or this area, that's no good, you need to go the whole hog and see where we go from there."

Never Lost at Home tells the story of ITFC fans during the club's glory days in the early 80s

Never Lost at Home tells the story of ITFC fans during the club's glory days in the early 80s - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Away from the game on grass, Butcher has been enjoying 'Never Lost At Home', the Wolsey Theatre production of Ipswich Town's 1981 UEFA Cup win, which ends this Saturday at the Ipswich theatre.

It's a tale that has gripped and entertained many who have seen the play.

"I thought it was unbelievable," said Butcher.

"It evokes so many memories. I found it very emotional to be honest. I wanted to cry , it was such a big part of my life, our supporters' lives, something that will never be repeated."

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