A BOLTON Wanderers defender stood bravely in front of his team-mates yesterday to reveal he had been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. MARC ILES reports.

LAST week Stephen Darby was told he had developed an incurable, life-limiting illness after consulting specialists over a recurring nerve problem in his arm.

Darby, aged 29, had been unable to train properly for a few weeks and had come to terms with the prospect of retiring from football having previously been diagnosed with the symptoms of Isaac’s Syndrome, which can affect the function of muscle fibres.

The footballer had been alerted to the signs after his hand slipped from the wheel whilst driving, but tests after the event confirmed the worst case scenario. He has motor neurone disease.

Darby has asked for privacy as he comes to terms with the illness with his wife Steph, who is also a footballer for Manchester City and England.

Tributes were led by manager Phil Parkinson, who had worked with Darby for several years at both Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City.

Visibly emotional, Parkinson said the club will do everything they can to support the player and his family.

“It is very typical of Stephen that he came in to speak with the lads and be upfront with it all because he doesn’t want them to think they cannot talk to him about his illness,” he told The Bolton News.

“In my time in football, he is one of the very best characters I have come across.

“He met with the specialist on Wednesday and was perhaps expecting the news that he would have to retire, but not this.

“He wanted to tell family and friends over the weekend but then get it out in the media today because people were asking questions about why he wasn’t training.

“We can only offer our support. I have talked to him about keeping him involved, coming into the training ground, and he’s keen to do that because there is a lot he can offer us. He can help us in many areas.”

Darby, who also played for Liverpool and made more than 300 appearances in a 10-year career, had been at Bolton since last summer but only featured on four occasions in all competitions.

Parkinson admitted the player’s physical problems had limited his progress on the pitch but says his influence behind the scenes had been pivotal in helping the team avoid relegation last season.

Darby had been due to sign for Swindon Town on loan last month but broke down in training and was forced to step away from the club for a short time.

“Stephen had a nerve problem in his arm for a while and it had affected him but he has been able to train up until the last few weeks,” Parkinson said.

“At that stage he felt it was restricting him too much, although you might not have known that because he was still setting a great example on the training pitch.

“For the last three or four weeks he just came into the gym and we had been waiting for this appointment.

“The players are devastated, I can’t really use any other word. In his time at Bolton he hasn’t figured as much as he would have liked and maybe he has been restricted by the problems he has had – but he is very, very well-respected. He has always contributed.

“He played his role in helping us stay in the division last season. He played his role and we took him on away trips even when he wasn’t in the team, just to be around the boys.”

Darby had confirmed his retirement in a statement released on Wanderers’ official website.

“It is with great sadness that I announce my immediate retirement from professional football due to a recent diagnosis of motor neurone disease,” he said.

“I would like to take the opportunity to thank my teammates, Phil Parkinson and all the staff at Bolton Wanderers Football Club for their amazing support at what has been an extremely difficult period for myself and my family. I would like to ask for privacy at this time so I can adjust to the battle I have ahead and so that I can spend time with those closest to me.”