IT began, as so many great tales do, with a chat in the pub.

Bolton Wanderers’ assistant manager, Steve Parkin, had recently learned the news that one of his players, Stephen Darby, had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.

The former Bradford City and Liverpool defender was forced to retire immediately but within days began planning to launch his own foundation to raise awareness and funds for research into the incurable disease.

Wanting to help, Parkin and his pals at the Sherwood Ranger decided to get on their bikes and that is why, this weekend, they will be riding 136 miles from Workington to Tynemouth, also known as the ‘Coast to Coast’ challenge.

“It sums Stephen up totally that the moment he got the bad news about his diagnosis, knew he’d got such a fight on his hands, that he immediately looked at how he could help other people,” he told The Bolton News.

“I’m proud to call him a friend, not just a colleague, and so when one of the lads suggested we do the bike ride to try and raise funds we went for it.

“Phil Parkinson and Tim Breacker are on board. I’ve done the ride before, but it was 20 years ago so I don’t know how well the old legs will cope now.

“I’ve just done 40 miles in the Derbyshire Peaks and I’m starting to wonder what I’ve got myself into.”

Donations have poured in from football fans around the country and several players with Bolton connections including David Wheater, Josh Vela, Gary Madine, Craig Noone, Zach Clough, Lloyd Dyer, Darren Pratley, Derik Osede, Ben Williams, Gary O’Neil, Connor Hall David Lee and Jack Hobbs.

Parkin has been touched by the response.

“I really do have to thank people in and around Bolton because they have been terrific,” he said. “I will mention one bloke, Peter Morris, who took the time to send me a lovely letter and a cheque for £30 because he doesn’t have access to the internet. It was such a lovely gesture.

“The minute I knew I was going to do this I was straight on the phone texting everyone I knew in football, and I’ve been in a long time now.

“The reaction we have had from people everywhere has been brilliant, I can’t thank them enough for the money we have raised so far and I know Stephen is extremely happy too.”

Well on-course to break through the £20,000 barrier – with one anonymous donation of £5,000 online – Parkin hopes to give Darby’s foundation a good start.

“It’s incredible to think we’ll smash through that target once all the money is added to the stuff online and it will give Stephen a great boost,” he said.

“What happened is terrible. But he is determined to make something good from it and that is absolutely typical of him as a person. If me and the boys can help, it’ll be worth the effort.

“I hope people can keep donating and turn this total into something really special.”

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