BOSSES at one of East Renfrewshire’s best-known sports clubs have banned its youngest members from heading footballs, amid fears it could be bad for their health.

Giffnock Soccer Centre, which is among Scotland’s largest youth football clubs, announced the policy at a time when academics have warned that heading the ball contributes towards players developing dementia later in life.

The rule change will affect its smaller-sided squads, up to and including the seven-a-side teams.

It follows guidance issued by the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) recommending that children under the age of 11 should avoid heading the ball.

Craig Inglis, chairman of Giffnock Soccer Centre, said: “As a community club, we’re parents first and coaches second.

“In light of the available medical evidence, we feel a responsibility to safeguard the future health of our youngest players.

“Although some of the ongoing scientific studies are yet to report, there is a growing consensus among the medical community that heading the football contributes towards players developing dementia and other brain conditions later in life.

“We have a responsibility to our players and would rather give families clear direction on this issue.

“We will be following the issues very closely and the policy with regards to the older age groups remains under close consideration.”

The move has been welcomed by former First Minister Henry McLeish, who was once a professional footballer.

He said: “I would like to congratulate Giffnock Soccer Centre for taking such a positive and inspiring step to safeguard the health and wellbeing of children and young people.”

In an additional safeguard, the SYFA has reminded its coaches and officials that if any player, at any age, is suspected of having a concussion, they must immediately cease playing in the game.

Florence Witherow, SYFA national secretary, said: “Coaches and officials are reminded of NHS advice on concussion and head injury and should seek immediate medical advice if symptoms continue or worsen or if a player is suspected of having lost consciousness.”