Former Luton Town and Wimbledon striker Mick Harford says he “fears” developing dementia because he headed balls so much during his career.
The 61-year-old, now assistant manager with the Hatters, was renowned for his heading ability during a playing career that spanned from 1977 to 1997.
Harford says he practised heading “a hell of a lot”, but that it is a risk that he would “probably” take again.
“Every Saturday I was concussed – that’s not a joke,” he said.
Harford was twice capped by England and also played in the top flight for Derby, Chelsea, Sunderland and Coventry, before holding numerous coaching roles at Luton.
He told BBC Look East: “You’d get bangs on the head and it wasn’t just heading the ball – it was elbows, clashes of heads and getting a knee or boot to the head as you fell to the ground.
“You just got up and got on with it in the following game and never really gave any thought to the actual consequences.”
Last week the Professional Footballers’ Association set up a new taskforce to further examine the issue of brain injury diseases in football, and have said heading in training must be reduced to “give current players protection”.
“When you look at the percentages of old footballers who are getting dementia, I’m sure there’s some kind of correlation to that,” Harford said.
“[But] I wouldn’t swap what I did, how I trained, or how I headed the ball because I’ve got to be honest – I thoroughly enjoyed the art of heading the ball.”
Harford “vividly” remembers “blacking out for two or three seconds” after heading a “heavy” ball while at school, and says he has occasional “memory lapses”.
He believes heading the ball will have to be limited if scientific research proves it is the cause of health problems.
“I know one thing, if you don’t head a football it’s not a proper football match really,” Harford added.
“My theory would be to still head the ball and teach younger kids but maybe use sponge or softer balls so there’s no impact on them, but they can still get their technique right.”