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Head, ref! Groundbreaking match with tests from ex-pros NO HEAD in the second half

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Head, ref! Groundbreaking match with ex-pro football players, organized in part by brain charity trial NO CUP in second half

  • The first half in Spennymoor Town also saw no header outside the box
  • Mark Tinkler committed the first foul of the game after scoring late in the lead
  • Ex-pros including Steve Howey, Craig Hignett and Tommy Miller took part
  • The game was co-hosted by brain charity Head for Change











There were two minutes and 56 seconds on the clock at Spennymoor Town’s Brewery Field when the referee blew for the game’s first foul. Against Mark Tinkler, because he headed the ball.

Cue a chorus of laughter from the substitutes. Tinkler, the former Leeds midfielder and Middlesbrough academy coach, had forgotten the rules of this experiment: not outside the box in the first half, not at all in the second.

Chalk it on instinct. “I was just testing the referee,” Tinkler claimed.

Craig Hignett (left) was one of the ex-pros who entered the competition at Spennymoor Town

Mark Tinkler was the first player to be penalized for going down in football history in stoppage time

Mark Tinkler was the first player to be penalized for going down in football history in stoppage time

That would be the only time in the entire 90 minutes that a player illegally headed the ball.

Furthermore, this football first went smoothly. Except when the studs on the bottom of Craig Hignett’s boots started falling off during the warm up.

The one-off pilot match was played between former professional footballers – such as Steve Howey, the former defender of Newcastle, Manchester City and England, and Tommy Miller, formerly of Hartlepool, Ipswich and Sunderland – and me.

Sportsmail’s campaign to properly tackle dementia in football into an invitation to play with the old pros.

With indications that heading the ball can be dangerous, this was a unique opportunity to see what the game would look like if restrictions were put in place.

One side represented Middlesbrough, the other Spennymoor, and we carried the names of former footballers. My shirt was Alan Peacock, Boro legend and an ex England international now living with dementia.

Among those in the stands was Gary Pallister, the former Manchester United and England centre-back who suffered from painful migraines in his day.

Head for Change and the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust hosted the competition

Head for Change and the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust hosted the competition

“Heading is a big part of football and you’re always on it,” he said. “I think about the number of times I headed the ball in training, the number of concussions and what the consequences are.”

Pallister and the other 350 supporters saw many crosses come in in the first half, when headers were only allowed inside the penalty area. One such ball in saw the score opened by a header on the back post.

In the second half, when headers were banned altogether, those crosses dried up as we tried to find other ways to get into the penalty area.

If a target kick was launched long, it would be controlled with a chest. As the ball flew high into the air, players struggled to try and gain possession as the ball fell to the ground. We have adapted.

The match ended 5-5 as Spennymoor won the shootout to win the Bill Gates Celebration Cup

The match ended 5-5 as Spennymoor won the shootout to win the Bill Gates Celebration Cup

The winners took home the Bill Gates Celebration Cup, named after the former Middlesbrough defender who suffered from dementia.

Gates was here with his wife Judith, the co-founder of Head for Change, the charity that hosted the competition yesterday in partnership with the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust.

The final score was 5-5, with the shootout being won by Spennymoor. “It was great fun but the main point of the day was to raise awareness about dementia in football,” said Middlesbrough manager Dave Parnaby. It did, with international media in attendance.

This was just a first glimpse, but it told us that if football ever decides it’s had enough of racing, the spectacle can survive.

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