EXPERTS from StirlingScots experts have renewed calls for further research into the links between heading footballs and dementia, saying it is time for “real answers”.

The appeal follows a documentary screened last night by former England international star Alan Shearer, who was investigating links between football and the degenerative condition.

The programme included footage of the former footballer undergoing tests at the University of Stirling where academics have found direct evidence of brain changes immediately after heading a ball in a recent study.

Questions about the long-term damage caused by heading have been raised in the past by the families of former footballers.

Football’s first case was discovered by leading Glasgow Neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart in the former England striker, Jeff Astle. An inquest into his death ruled he died aged 59 from a degenerative brain disease caused by heading the ball.

Earlier this year, the family of former Celtic manager and player Billy McNeill confirmed he has dementia and is now unable to speak. They also called for more research into the area.

Cognitive neuroscientist Dr Magdalena Ietswaart and Dr Angus Hunter, reader in exercise physiology, from the University of Stirling, say that because there is not a definitive link between football and dementia, more was funding is needed to back new research.

Dr Ietswaart said: “Current neuroscience has substantial promise in providing the evidence-base on the effects playing football has on brain health that is currently lacking. We do not yet know whether there is a definitive link between football and dementia. This can only be discovered by carrying out research in this area.

“Scientific developments open up a new approach that is achievable, but requires a robust funding drive.

“If you want real answers, you need to understand what is happening in the brain; what is cause and effect, the approach we use here at Stirling.”

In the documentary, Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me, the pundit heard from current and retired professional footballers, the relatives of former players diagnosed with dementia, and the Football Association (FA), the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).

As part of the investigation, the former England and Newcastle striker visited Stirling and underwent tests that exhibited immediate brain changes after heading the ball. It showed the same changes observed in participants who took part in the landmark Stirling study.

Shearer, now a BBC Match of the Day pundit, said: “Football should be encouraging these universities to do as much research as possible but, like everything else, these universities need funding.

“There’s enough money around nowadays in football, but not enough of it is being given to research. It is about time we had more definitive answers.”

Dr Hunter said: “As conveyed by the BBC documentary, our study is the first to show changes in brain function after heading the ball. Combined with the anecdotal evidence, our research and this documentary should provide the stimulus for further scientific research to be carried out in this area.”

It was also revealed by the Sunday Telegraph that families of British footballers have agreed to donate their brains for scientific research when they die, as some strains of the condition can only be discovered post-mortem.

The FA and PFA said they were seeking independent research into the degenerative neurocognitive disease.

The FA’s head of medicine, Dr Charlotte Cowie, said: “This is a crucial issue for the FA and one that we feel passionately about addressing.”