Scientists at University College London say years of heading the ball can cause the same type of progressive damage as suffered by heavyweight boxers, that could lead to dementia and early death the Telegraph reports.

They scientists found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can be caused by repeated blows to the head and is a condition known to lead to dementia.

Dr Helen Ling, the UCL scientist who led the research, said this was the first time CTE had been confirmed in a group of retired footballers. “These players had the same pathology as boxers,” she said. “The most pressing question now is to ask how common dementia is among retired footballers. “If we can demonstrate that the risk is higher than the normal population then we would need to look at putting preventative strategies in place.”