An odd concept, the header. Surely, there could be no more counter-intuitive element of a game supposed to be played with feet. We take it for granted these days, acclaiming it as an art form in itself. Where would we be, for example, without Pele’s dazzling bullet beyond Enrico Albertosi in the 1970 World Cup final, or all the moments that Alan Shearer – who scored 49 of his 206 Premier League goals off that ample forehead – would launch himself like a missile to nod past a flailing goalkeeper? Headers have been around so long that they are codified in football as a norm, a means of averting contact with the hands and thus establishing a crucial point of difference with, say, rugby. And yet they arrived in the sport essentially by accident. It was a certain George Sampson, as documented in Tim Harris’s book Players, who furnished us with the earliest known example, on Jan 27, 1872. A short...
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