THE family of Scottish football legend Gordon McQueen has warned of the health dangers surrounding the game as he was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Relatives of the 68-year-old former Scotland international and Manchester United defender, who started his career at St Mirren have said that they wanted to raise awareness over the long-term effects of heading the ball.

They have said that Mr McQueen, who had 30 caps for Scotland, said he wants other footballers of today's generation "to know there may be risks with persistent heading of the ball".

It has sparked a new debate about safety in football as Mr McQueen's former Leeds team-mate Jack Charlton died with dementia last year and it was confirmed in recent months that Sir Bobby Charlton has been diagnosed with the disease.

READ MORE: Glasgow dementia research benefits from donations of ex-footballers' brains

The brothers' 1966 World Cup-winning team-mate Nobby Stiles also died with dementia last year.

Last year it emerged that children aged 11 and under will no longer be taught to head footballs during training in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

New football association guidelines for coaches also puts limits on how much heading older children should do.

It follows Glasgow University research that showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease.

In a joint announcement from the FA, Scottish FA and Irish FA, coaches were advised that there should be "no heading in training in the foundation phase" - which covers primary school children, or under-11 teams and below.

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There are also new rules for age ranges up until 18, with headers being kept a "low priority" and gradually becoming more frequent in training until the age of 16.

But Jonathan Woodgate, head coach of English Championship side AFC Bournemeouth Jonathan Woodgate said heading was an "important part of the game" and questioned how it could be cut out.

"I don't know what the balls were like in those days, but they are a lot more lighter now," he said. "Years and years ago when I wasn't playing they were a lot heavier. "It is a sad situation for Gordon and his family. I know him personally. He is a really nice fella. And I wish him all the best.

"But something has to be done about the situation on dementia now."

The University of Glasgow study, published in October, 2019, found that former professional footballers were more likely to die of degenerative brain disease - and five times more likely to die from Parkinson's disease.

There was no evidence in the study that linked incidences of the disease with heading the ball, but the FA said the new guidance had been issued to "mitigate against any potential risks".

A statement released by Mr McQueen's wife Yvonne and children Hayley, Anna and Edward read: "In January, Gordon McQueen, our dad, was formally diagnosed with vascular dementia.

"As a family we felt it was important to let people know, particularly if raising awareness can help others in similar situations.

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"Whilst as a family we've found it hard to come to terms with the changes in dad, he has no regrets about his career and has lived life to the full.

"He had unforgettable experiences in his playing days with Scotland, Manchester United and Leeds United, and also took so much from his coaching and TV work in more recent times.

"Football has allowed him to travel the world and experience things he could only have dreamed of.

"But he wants other footballers of today's generation to know there may be risks with persistent heading of the ball.

"Dad scored some important goals in his career and memorable headers but used to stay back in training, heading the ball to the goalkeeper for practice over and over.

"He does wonder if this has been a factor in his dementia as his symptoms appeared in his mid-60s."

"The last year in and out of lockdown has been tough as dad is such a sociable person and thrives off company."

One of those headers was also the most famous of his five goals at international level for Scotland. It came against the Auld Enemy, England in 1977 in a famous 2-1 win at Wembley Stadium.

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Mr McQueen broke into the Scotland side after moving to Leeds United from Scotland in 1972, winning the First Division two years later and playing an important role in their run to the 1975 European Cup final.

Mr McQueen went on to enjoy a successful time with Manchester United.

A member of the 1978 World Cup squad, he was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Having managed Airdrie during a coaching career that included time at Middlesbrough, the ex-centre-back went on to become a popular TV pundit with Sky Sports.

The family added: "Social interaction is key for someone with dementia and he has been deprived of this for so long. He is fully aware of his friends and family still and his memory of all things football is sharp, but his cognitive functions are not the same.

"We don't want people to be surprised by his condition or continue to ask him for media interviews or autographs which he is not able to do any more.

"Whilst he is looking forward to seeing people again after lockdown and getting the social aspect of life back, we know people will see a big difference in his health so wanted to be transparent.

"We thank everyone in advance for their understanding and hope sharing this news will help dad to face the future in a positive way."

The English Football Association is currently supporting two independently-led research studies examining former professional players for early signs of neurocognitive degeneration.

England World Cup winners Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Ray Wilson and Martin Peters are among those to have died from the disease.

Here we look at some of the former players known to be battling dementia.

Jimmy Calderwood, 65 In August 2017 former Aberdeen boss Calderwood, who guided the club to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup and a Scottish Cup final, announced he was being treated for early onset dementia. His son Scott told the Aberdeen Press & Journal last year that his father was “OK just now” and “coping” with his condition.

Sir Bobby Charlton, 83 Another World Cup winner with England, the Manchester United stalwart is one of England’s greatest ever players. His diagnosis was made public in November last year with his wife, Lady Norma, saying she hoped the information would raise awareness of the condition and help others who are suffering with it.

Chris Chilton, 77 Hull’s record goalscorer has both dementia and Alzheimer’s and requires full-time care. A fundraising campaign launched by his family last year raised £30,000 in just a few days towards the costs. Chilton joined City in 1960 and scored 222 goals in 11 years at the club.

Gordon Cowans, 62 Cowans, a European Cup winner who made more than 400 appearances for Aston Villa across two spells with the club, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in March last year. Cowans told the Daily Mail in November that while the condition had only had a limited impact on him until that point, he knew “what is coming” having seen his friend and former team-mate Chris Nicholl battle against it.

Chris Nicholl, 74 Former Northern Ireland international Nicholl won two League Cups with Aston Villa, captaining the side in the mid-1970s, before playing more than 200 games for Southampton between 1977 and 1983. He later moved into management with the south-coast club and then Walsall, before a stint as assistant manager in the late 1990s with Northern Ireland, under the man who signed him for Saints – Lawrie McMenemy. Last summer fans raised money to replace a vital tracker watch for Nicholl after his was stolen.

Gordon McQueen, 68 McQueen’s family said they were making his diagnosis, first made in January, public in order to raise awareness of the condition. McQueen played 30 times for Scotland and won the English First Division with Leeds and FA Cup at Manchester United.

Jimmy Millar, 86 The family of former Rangers striker Jimmy Millar went public with his diagnosis in May 2017, by which point he had already been suffering with it for a decade. Millar scored 162 goals for the Ibrox club, forming a famous partnership with Ralph Brand.

Ernie Moss, 71 Moss made more than 500 appearances with his hometown club Chesterfield across three spells, scoring a record 191 goals. In a career lasting more than two decades he clocked up 749 league appearances with 10 different clubs, earning him a place in the Football League’s top 20 all-time list. Last year his family revealed Moss has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia called Pick’s Disease.

Jimmy Robson, 82 Seven members of Burnley’s First Division-winning side from 1960 were diagnosed with dementia and six – including Ray Pointer and Jimmy McIlroy – have since died with the condition. Former target man Robson continues to fight it, with his daughter Dany campaigning for more to be done.

Dave Watson, 74 Watson, capped 65 times by England, was a member of Sunderland’s FA Cup-winning side of 1973 and later lifted the League Cup with Manchester City. In February 2020 his wife Penny revealed he had been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease which his consultant believed to be chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – the condition which killed Jeff Astle in 2002.