Celtic star Ryan Christie provides thoughtful insight into heading and dementia discussion

By Euan Davidson

March 26, 2021

Celtic and Scotland midfielder Ryan Christie has commented on the heading debate.

Headers have been called into question over recent seasons. Exposés by the likes of Alan Shearer [BBC], as well as work done by Celtic legend Chris Sutton, have emphasised the long-term damage of heading the ball. Additionally, research done by Glasgow University concluded that heading a football was culpable for long-term head injuries [The Week].

Former Celtic full-back Andy Lynch, who played with Billy McNeill, has claimed there’s a clear link.

McNeill, Celtic’s greatest ever captain, battled dementia in his later years. The link between putting his forehead on heavy, leather footballs and his passing have been explored by his daughter, Susan [BBC].

Ryan Christie during last night’s 2-2 draw between Scotland and Austria / (Photo by Jan Kruger – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

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“Zero conversation”, claims Ryan Christie

Ryan Christie was asked for his take by Sporting Life journalist Charlie Webster. In a podcast with the outlet, Christie said:

“Obviously when I was growing up, it wasn’t spoken about at all. There was just zero conversation on it.

“So when it does start coming up and people start making links, it’s almost like [a] “why has this taken so long for this to be noticed” kind of thing.

“It’s worrying for me. Obviously I’ve had the bad facial knock. Apart from that, I’m not heading a ball too much, but I look at some of the defenders I’ve played with in the past. [They’re] throwing their bodies on the line, and heading a ball maybe 10, 20 times a game.

“It’s quite scary, obviously. You don’t want to speak to them about it. But you wonder if they’ve had the worries in the back of their head that there’ll be long-lasting effects from that.

“I remember speaking to a few people, talking about taking heading completely out of football at a young age. Obviously, a great idea, and the best place to start. At the same time, it’s hard to coach somebody not to do that. Because it comes so natural.

“When you love football, you end up throwing your head and everything at it. I don’t envy the people at the top that are trying to make changes on how you go about it. It is something to be looked at, for sure.”

Irreplaceable: Billy McNeill / (Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

Christie deserves his dues for speaking out

For obvious reasons, this is a cause close to Celtic supporters.

Billy McNeill, our iconic Lisbon Lion captain, lost his battle with dementia in 2019. Another Lion, Stevie Chalmers, suffered the same way and passed away just one week after Cesar. Chalmers’ son backed the Billy McNeill Fund, which aims to provide funding for investigations into the link between football and brain injuries [Glasgow Times].

Fair play, then, to Ryan Christie for speaking on this issue.

While contemporary footballs are much lighter and use synthetic materials, it’s hard to argue that repetitive blunt impact from a football wouldn’t cause some kind of long-term issue. The grim reality of this is that we’re more likely than not to see more players from the past go through the horrors of Alzheimers’, dementia or other brain diseases as a result of their profession.

Obviously, that can’t go on. Christie is an unlikely source for contribution in the debate. But the more current footballers speak out, the more that football will pay attention to this absolutely vital issue.

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