FOOTBALLERS who head the ball most are three times more likely to have the symptoms of concussion, warns new research.

The findings add to growing concern that heading the ball may be linked to dementia among former footballers following the death aged 75 of former Celtic player Billy McPhail in 2003.

McPhail achieved fame in later life by waging a legal battle for compensation for the onset of pre-senile dementia, which he claimed had been caused by his frequent heading of heavy leather footballs.

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He lost his case, although his stance was later vindicated when an English coroner recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease on Jeff Astle, the former West Bromwich Albion and England striker, who had the same complaint. McPhail – like Astle – made his name as a great header of the ball.

The new study showed that players whose heads were hit in a collision two or more times in a two-week period were six times more likely to have concussion symptoms than players who did not have any unintentional head trauma, such as a ball hitting the back of the head or a head colliding with another player’s knee.

Study author Professor Michael Lipton, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said: “These results show that heading the ball is indeed related to concussion symptoms which is contrary to a recent study that suggested that collisions were responsible for most concussions.

“The findings raise concerns about the long-term effects from heading the ball, and more research is needed.”

The study, published online by the journal Neurology, involved adult amateur footballers who played at least six months of the year in the New York city area.

The players completed an online questionnaire about how often they played football during the previous two weeks, how many times they had unintentional head impacts and how many times they headed the ball.

They were divided into four groups based on how often they headed the ball, with the top group heading the ball an average of 125 times in two weeks and the bottom group heading the ball four times in two weeks.

They were also asked how often they had any symptoms from the head impacts.

Moderate impact was defined as moderate pain and some dizziness, severe impact was defined as feeling dazed, stopping play or needing medical attention, and very severe impact was defined as losing consciousness.