The incidence and mechanism of heading in European professional football players over three seasons

Gregory J Tierney, Barry Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


There are concerns surrounding the risk of neurodegenerative diseases associated with football (soccer) heading. The aim of this study was to conduct analysis on the incidence and mechanism of heading in the “Big 5” professional European football leagues (Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Premier League, La Liga and Serie A) and one lower tier professional league (English Championship) from 2016/17 to 2018/19. Match event data from 7147 matches were obtained from Opta Sports data feed. The data were parsed to extract header event details including player position, coordinates on the field, header type and preceding match event (including distance football travelled). Incidence data were reported as headers per match or match headers per player. Medians and interquartile ranges (IQR) were reported and either the Mann-Whitney U test or Kruskal-Wallis test were conducted for comparisons between positions and leagues. In the “Big 5” leagues, the most headers per match occurred during the Premier League (111.2 headers per match). However, the lower tier English Championship had the highest number of headers per match overall (139.0 headers per match). In all leagues, defenders had the greatest median number of match headers per player (P <.001). The highest median distance travelled by the football during a preceding match event was for goal kicks (57.5 m; IQR 53.7-61.1). The findings add necessary information for current longitudinal studies aiming to understand the potential link between football heading and neurodegenerative diseases. These studies should account for league, playing position, and level of play.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-883
Number of pages9
JournalScandinavian Journal of Medicine Science in Sports
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science In Sports published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • big data
  • data analytics
  • match analysis
  • soccer


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