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Houghton & her ex-footballer husband in wheelchair raise money for Disease

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Former England captain Steph Houghton was joined by a host of footballing royalty as she pushed her husband Stephen Darby in a wheelchair to raise awareness for Motor Neurone Disease, which ended his career.

The 178-mile trek to Anfield, which was led by former Liverpool player Darby and former Bristol City forward Marcus Stewart – who both suffer from the illness – helped raise £130,000 for the cause.

The three-day ‘March of the Day’ walk started at Bradford City’s Valley Parade stadium on Friday, where Darby spent five years of his career, before ending at Anfield, the home of Liverpool, on Sunday.

Houghton was joined by a number of her former Lionesses team-mates on the walk, with Jill Scott and current England star Chloe Kelly showing their support on the day.

Former England men’s stars Jamie Redknapp and Paul Scholes also joined the walk as they braved the wind and rain for the cause.

Houghton told the BBC of her gratitude of everyone who turned out and helped raise money in their bid to find a cure for MND.

‘Sometimes you think “oh why us” and “why is it only happening to people like us” but at the same time, we’re really fortunate to have a good support network,’ Houghton said.

‘But many families don’t have that when this illness comes to them. That’s the idea of the foundation to support as many people as we can.

‘To know how much money we have raised already so far before this event but know how many people have really put themselves out to help and help us find a cure. That’s ultimately the goal that this is a disease that is under-funded and we want to raise as much money as we can to help people all over the country.’

Manchester United legend Scholes added: ‘What little support we can give is important to everyone.’

Darby, 35, who enjoyed spells with Bolton, Liverpool, Notts County and Bradford during his career, retired from football in 2018 after being diagnosed with the illness at the age of 29.

It came just three months after he had married former Lioness captain Houghton.

Darby began his professional career with Liverpool, rising through the youth ranks before going out on loan to Swindon Town and Notts County.

Reflecting on the illness inside one of the hospitality rooms at Anfield, Darby said: ‘MND brings all types of people together.

‘But what is special, is that we are all fighting for the same thing and that’s to find a treatment and a cure.’

He also spoke on the impact that living with the illness has on his family, stating: ‘It’s harder emotionally for them to see the fall. [It’s] not nice.’

Stewart subsequently lauded him for opening up, saying: ‘See for me what you’ve just said I won’t even be able to speak about that.

‘I don’t want to. You’re braver than I am. I think that but I don’t speak about it. Because I wouldn’t have been as brave as you just were.’

According to the NHS, there is currently no cure for MND but there are treatments that help to reduce how it impacts a person’s daily life, with the MND Association stating that the illness affects up to 5,000 adults in the UK at any time.

It is a rare condition that affects the brain and nervous system, causing those diagnosed with the illness to suffer symptoms of weakness in their limbs, slurred speech and weight loss. It can affect adults of any age but is more likely to affect people over the age of 50.

Back in 2019, the former Liverpool defender had also spoken more on how the disease had affected his family, calling it ‘brutal’.

He said to the BBC: ‘It doesn’t just affect me. It affects my wife, my mum and dad, my brother, family, friends. It affects everyone.

‘It’s a brutal disease with a horrible prognosis. That’s the message we need to get across to people to help move forward.’

He was playing at Bolton while studying for his football coaching badges when he was given the diagnosis at a Sheffield Hospital.

The former footballer subsequently went on to create the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation alongside Chris Rimmer, an ex-serviceman who sadly passed away due to the disease in 2022. Before the weekend, their charity has raised over £1.3million to fight the illness.

In December, Darby had also shed a light the realities of living with the condition, sharing pictures of three head injuries that he had sustained after he had suffered several falls.

He wrote to his social media followers to explain that the disease meant he was now prone to falls and also had two trips to A&E in 2023.

Darby posted several images online of the cuts he sustained to his head, but fortunately suffered no serious damage.

The ex-Liverpool player was also asked by Stewart whether his mental determination came from his footballing background, to which Darby replied: ‘Yeah defo. Do you feel the same way?’

Stewart responded during the BBC feature: ‘Yeah I do. You know I think that football background of it being an elite sport, it kind of prepares you for what’s happening now – psychologically.’

The 51-year-old began his playing career with Bristol Rovers before moving to Ipswich in 2000.

Stewart would stay at the club for two years before moving to Sunderland. In the later parts of his career, the former striker would go on to enjoy spells at Preston and Yeovil before hanging up his boots in 2012 after spending three years at Exeter.

‘I think we’re used to living in the moment as a player and we live day by day, week by week, you can’t look four months ahead, you can’t look a year ahead because you don’t know what’s going to go on,’ Stewart added.

‘So I think for me I can relate to it because that’s how it is now, because I live in the moment. I live week to week and don’t look at next year, next month, just every day.’

Stewart is renowned for scoring 19 goals during the 2000-01 season to help newly promoted Ipswich finish fifth in the Premier League.

He was diagnosed with MND in January 2022 but revealed he had the illness in September of that year.

He recently told Mail Sport that he was in a WhatsApp group with several other former professional athletes who are also battling the illness.

Former Leicester and Gloucester rugby player Ed Slater, who was diagnosed back in 2022, is one of its members, as is former Wales footballer Jason Bowen.

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