Header, ref! Trailblazing match involving ex-pros trials NO HEADING in the second half


Header, ref! Trailblazing match involving ex-pros partly organised by a brain charity trials NO HEADING in the second half… and showed football can survive without it

  • The first half at Spennymoor Town also saw no heading outside the box
  • Mark Tinkler committed the game’s first foul after heading late on
  • Ex-pros including Steve Howey, Craig Hignett and Tommy Miller took part
  • The game was partly organised by brain charity Head for Change 


There were two minutes and 56 seconds on the clock at Spennymoor Town’s Brewery Field when the referee blew for the game’s first foul. Against Mark Tinkler, for heading the ball.

Cue a chorus of laughter from the substitutes. Tinkler, the former Leeds midfielder and Middlesbrough academy coach, had forgotten the rules of this experiment: no heading outside the box in the first half, no heading at all in the second.

Chalk it up to instinct. ‘I was only testing the referee,’ Tinkler claimed.

Craig Hignett (left) was among the ex-pros taking part in the match at Spennymoor Town

Mark Tinkler was the first player penalised for heading in football history in stoppage time

Mark Tinkler was the first player penalised for heading in football history in stoppage time

That would be the only moment in the entire 90 minutes that a player headed the ball illegally. 

Other than that, this footballing first went off without a hitch. Well, apart from when the studs on the bottom of Craig Hignett’s boots started to drop off during the warm-up.

The one-off pilot match was played between former professional footballers — like Steve Howey, the former Newcastle, Manchester City and England defender, and Tommy Miller, formerly of Hartlepool, Ipswich and Sunderland — and me.

Sportsmail’s campaign to have dementia in football properly tackled to an invitation to play with the old pros. 

With evidence suggesting heading the ball can be dangerous, this was a unique opportunity to see what the game would look like if restrictions were implemented.

One side was representing Middlesbrough, the other Spennymoor, and we wore the names of former footballers. My shirt was Alan Peacock, Boro legend and an ex-England international who is now living with dementia. 

Among those in the stands was Gary Pallister, the former Manchester United and England centre back who suffered from agonising migraines in his day.

Head for Change and the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust organised the match

Head for Change and the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust organised the match

‘Heading is a big part of football and you’re forever practising it,’ he said. ‘I think about the amount of times I headed the ball in training, the amount of concussions I had, and what the consequences of that are.’

Pallister and the other 350 supporters saw plenty of crosses come in during the first half, when heading was only allowed inside the box. One such whipped-in ball saw the scoring opened by a header at the back post.

In the second half, when heading was banned altogether, those crosses dried up as we tried to find other ways into the box.

If a goal kick was launched long, it would be controlled with a chest. If the ball flew high in the air, players wrestled to try to win possession as it dropped down. We adapted.

The match finished 5-5 as Spennymoor won the shootout to lift the Bill Gates Celebration Cup

The match finished 5-5 as Spennymoor won the shootout to lift the Bill Gates Celebration Cup

The winners took home the Bill Gates Celebration Cup, named after the former Middlesbrough defender suffering from dementia. 

Gates was here with his wife Judith, the co-founder of Head for Change, the brain charity which organised Sunday’s game in association with the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust.

The final score was 5-5, with the shootout won by Spennymoor. ‘It was good fun, but the main point of the day was to raise awareness about dementia in football,’ said Dave Parnaby, manager of the Middlesbrough side. That it did, with international media present.

This was only a first glimpse, but it told us that if football ever does decide its had enough of heading, the spectacle can survive.



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