"Football has been traditionally fearful of change," said Luke Griggs, interim chief executive at brain injury charity Headway. The smallest snippet from reaction to the news professional clubs in Scotland will be banned from heading the ball the day before and after games - but an important one.

True, the beautiful game is not always the most receptive when it comes to uprooting certain long-established norms, although perhaps a bit too quick to mess with others. But there is one, particularly gutwrenching, topic that simply demands its full attention. It's a list that includes Celtic's Lisbon Lions Billy McNeill, Stevie Chalmers and Bertie Auld, as well as Dundee United legend Frank Kopel; the Scottish football heroes tragically lost to dementia in recent years. As the announcement was made over changes to heading regulations at training on Monday, the likes of Dennis Law and Gordon McQueen are among the ex-pros living with this cruellest of diseases.

Research conducted by Glasgow University has shown that footballers are three and a half times more likely to die from brain disease, and experts believe there could well be a link to repetitive heading of the ball. Led by Dr Willie Stewart, the groundbreaking FIELD project is likely to transform the way football looks at heading forever. It's already been suggested that repetitive heading can impair memory for 24-48 hours afterwards. I, and I'm sure many others, can personally attest to heading practices as a kid, at the very least, leaving me with a feeling that my brain had been sloshed around inside my skull. Looking back, it seems absolutely obvious now that this was not only needless, but potentially dangerous.

Since then, the SFA have introduced sensible protocols at grassroots level, with the key recommendation being that heading not be introduced to kids until they reach secondary school age, and even then a phased approach is encouraged. But it's one thing taking these steps at youth level - making transformative changes at the top of the game is another thing entirely.

And while the long-term link is subject to further study, the scientific and anecdotal evidence continues to mount. It's why it's heartening to see the Scottish FA take action now, not later. There have been too many horrendous accounts of how dementia has ravaged some of the greats of the game, and the devastating effects this then has on their families, forced to watch the person they once knew disappear before their very eyes. It's also pertinent in a week where Scottish rugby's loss of a titan in Doddie Weir to motor neurone disease sparked difficult conversations around degenerative conditions in sport, including elsewhere on these same pages.

The Herald: Former Dundee star Frank Kopel, and wife Amanda, at Tannadice in 2014Former Dundee star Frank Kopel, and wife Amanda, at Tannadice in 2014 (Image: SNS)

The positive reaction to the SFA's announcement from those closest to the issue is all the more impactful given they know exactly what is at stake. Amanda Kopel, wife to Tannadice hero Frank, described it as "a huge step forward", a sentiment echoed by the family of former St Mirren, Leeds and Manchester United star McQueen, the son of Celtic icon McNeill and by ex-Parkhead striker Chris Sutton, whose father Mike suffered with the disease after a playing career in the 1960s.

Sadly, it is too late to help these families, but that they remain so committed to pushing this issue and the need for action long after their loved ones are diagnosed, or pass away, is extremely telling. The SFA have found themselves a lightning rod for criticism over the years but their work on this has been genuinely forward-thinking, and for that they deserve credit.

The change in protocols now, of course, requires buy-in from clubs, but the indications are there has been limited pushback. The day before matches are traditionally when teams will take time to work specifically on set-pieces, but what is a slight restructuring of a training week against the long-term health of players?

The Herald: Kilmarnock's Rory MacKenzie wins a headerKilmarnock's Rory MacKenzie wins a header (Image: SNS)

At the top level, players' workload is measured and tailored to their specific needs with an increasingly minute level of detail. The hope will now be that limiting their exposure to heading the ball simply becomes part of that regimen; meticulously safeguarding against a pulled hamstring seems rather insignificant in comparison. After all, there's little chance that players themselves are not following these developments and considering just what they might mean for their own futures.

In a wider context, it could be some time before associations in other country's follow the SFA's lead, but greater stringency around heading now feels like the irreversible direction of travel for football at large. It's led to inevitable social media speculation that heading could one day be phased out of the game entirely. Only last year, Dr Stewart urged football's powerbrokers to consider whether it was an "absolutely necessary" aspect of the sport. He did not call for a ban, but simply some introspection and consideration of the science which is painting an increasingly grim picture for players who spent long careers throwing their head in where it hurts without a second's thought for their own wellbeing, at seemingly devastating personal cost.

It seems unthinkable to have football without heading, given the treasure trove of iconic goals and moments it's provided us with down the years. It would also fundamentally alter the dynamics of the sport, of that there can be little doubt. But football is now beginning to accept the dangers are apparent enough to limit it in training, which likely means it's only a matter of time until there are further debates around its place in competitive play. It could well emerge that a full-on ban is not needed - the research is still developing - but perhaps we owe it to those who have suffered so awfully to, at least, have the conversation.