Gareth Southgate joins The Drake Foundation’s HEADING study

Gareth Southgate is participating in The Drake Foundation-funded HEADING study and is encouraging eligible former footballers to do the same.

Manager of the England National Football Team, Gareth Southgate, has today announced that he is taking part in the HEADING research study, which aims to uncover associations between a history of heading the ball or concussion and neurodegenerative disease. Southgate is leading The Football Association’s support to encourage all former professional footballers to take part in research studies that focus on the potential links between neurodegenerative disorders and former professional footballers.

While recent research has demonstrated that former professional footballers are more at risk than the general population of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as dementias, the exact links between football and brain diseases are unclear.

The Drake Foundation is funding several studies that explore the link between football and cognitive decline, one of which is the HEADING study. HEADING, led by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is working with retired footballers to uncover associations between a history of heading the ball or concussion and neurodegenerative disease.

In the study, participating former elite football players over the age of 50 are asked about their heading and football concussion history and data is gathered on quality of life and social circumstances, with an extensive set of tests capturing physical and cognitive capabilities – including grip strength, memory and reasoning – and a neurological clinical examination to look for signs of disease. Given the ongoing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these assessments are taking place virtually, with participants able to take part from home. It is hoped that the findings from HEADING will help increase our understanding of the long-term effects of heading and concussion on neurological health.

Southgate commented: “This is an incredibly important issue in our game and I’m very happy to play my part in supporting this research. Having turned 50 last year, I am now eligible to take part in the HEADING study, which could provide crucial and valuable insight to help people who play the game now and in the future.

“I would encourage any former professional footballer who is willing and able to take part in the HEADING or the FOCUS study to do so. Our involvement is absolutely essential if we are to have a greater understanding of this issue; and their support for the studies can be done from their home, either online or over the phone.”

The FA’s Head of Medicine, Dr Charlotte Cowie, said: “Dementia is a debilitating disease across wider society, and we are doing everything we can to build a greater understanding of what causes the link between neurodegenerative disorders and former professional footballers.

“We have helped to make great strides in our knowledge and insight in this area, however our next step is a crucial one, and it’s not one that we can do alone. Simply put, without the support and involvement of former professional footballers who are over the age of 50, it will be almost impossible to take our research and understanding to the next level.

“I’m very pleased that Gareth Southgate has agreed to support the HEADING study, which is being led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and I hope that it will give encouragement to other former professional footballers to take part in these important research studies as well.”

Lauren Pulling, Programme Manager at The Drake Foundation, said of the news: “We’re delighted that Gareth Southgate is taking part in HEADING and is encouraging others to do the same. Studies such as this are essential to grow our knowledge of the link between football and neurodegenerative disease: knowledge that, in turn, will inform safe sporting practice and support measures for footballers past, present and future, as well as athletes across other sports. We encourage all eligible former players to take part in the study, and thank them for playing their part in helping to drive this essential research forward.”

How can former professional footballers get involved?

Former professional footballers can apply to be involved in the HEADING study if they are over the age of 50 and a member of the Professional Footballers’ Association. The research is largely being conducted by phone and online, due to current COVID-19 restrictions, so those involved may not even need to leave their home to take part; and personal details would be kept private and anonymous. No tests are uncomfortable or dangerous and it will mainly involve answering questions or filling in a questionnaire. If you are a former professional footballer and would like to volunteer to take part in the research study, please contact the HEADING study team for further details email [email protected].

Find out more about the HEADING study here:

Find out more about The Drake Foundation: