Former Scotland manager Walter Smith has said he would be in favour of a ban on young players heading footballs being extended to the age of 17.

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) is said to be close to introducing a ban on children under 12 doing headers in a bid to protect children from concussive risks in the grassroots game.

Speaking at the launch of the new Billy McNeill Fund, which will offer financial support to ex-players affected by dementia, Smith described the ban as a “significant step” and said he would go even further.

It follows a ground-breaking study led by Glasgow University which showed former players were five times more at risk of Alzheimer’s Disease in later life and had a three-fold risk of dementia.

While the study did not make specific reference to headers, the SFA is said to be keen to introduce additional safeguards for young players. A ban in the U.S has been in force for children under 10 since 2015.

Walter Smith described the ban as a “significant step” but said he would go even further. 

He said: “I’ve been watching my own grandkids play since they were six years of age, until 12, and they very rarely head the ball anyway.

“My oldest is over 12 now and you begin to see it. The goalie can kick the ball further and higher and kids who are defenders are going to head it. It’s only now and again so I don’t think that will harm anybody.

“But I’d maybe have extended it to 16 or 17-year-olds when kids have become stronger and able to deal with it a bit better. After my playing days, going into my management days, doctors became a lot more aware of the dangers of head clashes.”

The former Rangers manager teamed up with Celtic legend Frank McAvennie and Liz McNeill, widow of the Celtic legend for the official launch of the Billy McNeill Fund at Parkhead stadium.

They were joined by Dougie McCluskey of the charity, Battle Against Dementia, which is overseeing the new fund that will also provide therapeutic supports to former players.

McNeill died on April 22, 2019, at the age of 79, nine years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which his widow believes was linked to “his forte” of heading footballs during his playing days.

Billy’s daughter Susan, who was joined by her sister Paula, said: “My dad was quite a humble man so for this to be part of his legacy, he would have loved it.”

Water Smith added: “I was asked by Billy’s family to get involved and I was delighted to help. The fund will really put dementia in the spotlight.”

Frank McAvennie joked that his former Celtic boss would have been “pleased he was on time” for the launch. The former player remained cose to McNeill after his time with the club, continuing to visit him when he was battling Alzheimer’s disease.

He said: “It’s great to be part of the event. I’ve been an ambassador for Dougie’s charity for some time. Dementia, it’s a terrible illness. It’s always good to be back at Parkhead. I still go to the games, it’s the only time my wife gets a day out.”

The fund will be launched on May 29 at a charity event backed by names in Scottish football, past and present and music and TV personalities.

Celtic and Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, Neil Lennon, Ally McCoist, Walter Smith and Ian Durrant have all given their backing to the event, which will include a celebrity golf tournament and charity ball at Mar Hall in Bishopton.

The event organisers are also lining up artists to perform at the evening event hosted by TV’s Jim White, Suzie McGuire and Clyde 1 DJ George Bowie.

The Glasgow University study, which was led by neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart, compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish male professional football players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 matched individuals from the general population.

Former professional footballers had an approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected.
The wife of a former Dunfermline Athletic player has said she is “convinced” his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is linked to his playing days. 

Jim Maclean, who played with the club in the 1960s, was diagnosed with the disease in 2015 at the age of 78. 

She said: “I’ve always maintained that it was caused by his years heading the ball. Without a shadow of a doubt.”

Tickets for the event are available at