FOR one afternoon on Sunday, Wanderers can disconnect themselves from the hustle of League One football and come together to help one of their own.

Gethin Jones sat before the cameras and tape recorders on Monday afternoon not as a right-back in Ian Evatt’s ambitious squad, but as a son who has been through unimaginable stress in the last four months.

In July, as the team prepared for a pre-season friendly at Atherton Colls, and with a dressing room buzzing with optimism after promotion, the 26-year-old former Everton defender received news that his mother, Karen, had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.

Mrs Jones, in her mid-50s, had worked as a midwife in North Wales for 30 years and is mother to three children, Gethin, Dylan and Ela, and wife to Gareth.

Understandably, the news hit the family hard. But Gethin recalled his mum’s advice about focussing on football and using it to channel the upset.

“The day she got diagnosed, we had Atherton Colls the next day,” he told The Bolton News. “I went home on the Monday and the gaffer said, stay home as long as you want. I woke up on the Tuesday morning back home in Wales and was lying downstairs with my mum.

“She said she wanted me to go back to Bolton and play in that game, which I found hard to do. But the thing that was going to make her happy the most is for me, my brother and sister to do well for her, so I came back and carried on playing.

“Football has been my distraction. I have been taking all my anger out about what is happening back home – why is it my mum, why can’t they find a cure. I have been taking it all out on the pitch.

“It has been quite difficult being injured because I tend to think about it 24/7 at the moment, but I try to stay positive for my mum and do as well as I can for her.”

Jones has been unable to play for the last few weeks after suffering a stress fracture to his tibia, an injury more associated with long distance road runners than footballers.

He hopes to return ahead of the doctor’s initial prognosis of January but has used his time to organise a weekend of events which will hopefully raise the necessary funding to send his mum to the US for the latest life-prolonging treatment.

“Basically, there’s no cure for Motor Neurone Disease,” he explained. “You have probably seen the likes of Rob Burrow (rugby league player) and Stephen Darby (former Wanderers defender) who have been trying to get more money into research in the UK.

“My agent got in contact with Stephen as soon as my mum was diagnosed. He said when he was diagnosed he was lucky because it was before Covid, so he could easily go out to Boston in the US.

“I think they are doing two drug trials in America and the one in Boston is close to being accepted for treatment. Obviously, it is costing us to go out there but we have been working on it for about three months now, having to get scans over there and being up until 10 or 11 o’clock at night because of the time difference.

“The last few days she’s been quite positive because we’ve had an email from Boston saying she’s been accepted to go over there (for treatment). That was probably one of the best moments of my life to be honest.

“My mum rang me straight away, so we’re hoping she can go as soon as possible.

“We’re hoping this drug trial in America is going to help here a lot more because the tablet they give in the UK, it’s called Riluzole. It has been the same one for 30 years and they have not changed it at all. There is no other treatment in the UK.

“MND affects every individual differently – it can progress quickly and things have progressed quite quickly with my mum. This is why time is crucial with this disease, so we just want to get her out to America to get any help she can.”

The influence of former Bolton, Liverpool and Bradford City defender Darby has clearly helped Jones and his family come to terms with the challenges they will face and the options they have available.

Darby was at Bolton when he was diagnosed with MND and announced his retirement from the game in September 2018. His tireless work in the meantime to raise awareness of the disease and campaign for more funding at Government level through his charity the Darby Rimmer Foundation has been applauded across the sporting landscape.

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Jones and his family had initially started to raise funds privately via a GoFundMe page but after the issue was spotted by a Bolton fan and thrust into the public domain, donations began to pour in and, eventually, his mum’s case caught Darby’s attention.

“He has honestly been the best support my mum could have asked for,” he said. “He put us in contact with the people in Boston and so we want to give 25 per cent of all the funds we make into his foundation as well.

“Honestly, my mum will tell you every single day, she just says I find Stephen Darby inspirational, and we do. He has been amazing. For him to go through what my mum’s going through and him to be on the phone with me and trying to keep me positive, even though he’s the one that’s got the disease, he has honestly been unbelievable.

“He just keeps saying to me every day ‘keep playing with a smile on your face, keep being positive’ and we are all trying to do so much in the UK to get more research to find a cure.”

Jones admits keeping a brave face in the first few months of the season has not been easy – but thanked Ian Evatt and his team-mates for their support.

“It has been difficult,” he said. “Some days I come in with obviously a big smile on my face, some days I’ll wake up and I’ll just be upset coming in the car. But when I come into football, the lads can judge how I am, so they’ll sometimes put an arm around me and say ‘it’s okay and just keep positive’. The gaffer has been the same.

“I was a lad from North Wales who lived quite far away from any football club and I wouldn’t be in football if it wasn’t for my mum and dad. They travelled quite far for me when I was younger to get into the game.

“So, because my mum wants me to do well for her, I just keep at it every day and I felt like I’ve done alright in my own performance this season, and that’s all I can do really is to try and put a smile on my mum’s face.

“It has been quite difficult but I try and get home at least once a week now to look after my mum. My brother has been there all the time, my little sister is still in secondary school, my dad still tries to go to work, but you can’t really. We have been just sticking together as a family as we have always done and tried to support my mum.”

Jones has received support from his former clubs, with many of his former team-mates and workmates buying tickets for the black-tie event on Saturday night, which is now sold out.

He has also received phenomenal local support, including office technology company Franking Sense, who have signed up to become the main sponsor of the event.

From the moment his fundraising effort went public, Jones has been taken aback by the backing he has received from the Bolton supporters. And he hopes to pay something back by helping to organise an event to remember on Sunday afternoon, as some of the most famous names in Wanderers’ recent history come back to town to take on the current team in a friendly.

“Obviously the current Bolton team, we think we’ve done well in the time we’ve been here,” Jones said. “The club wasn’t in a good, stable place before, and we have tried to get them back up.

“But you have legends of the past who played Premier League football. For us as players, growing up I was watching the likes of Stelios and Kev Davies, all of them being at this club in the Premier League, so for us to play against them and be among them is brilliant for us, and it will be a good day for the fans.

“We wanted to get the legends game going because I don’t think many of the legend players have been back since they’ve left, so it’ll be brilliant for them to come back.

“Kev (Davies) has been in contact with me quite a few times saying he’s getting his fitness in and I know Stelios has been playing somewhere to get his fitness in to be ready to play against us, so they’re obviously excited as much as we are, and I bet the fans are going to be excited on the day.”

Jones will not be able to play due to injury but he is hoping to take a central role in the game if his manager, Ian Evatt, fancies lacing up his boots once again.

As a full-back, however, the prospect of not sharing a pitch with Kevin Davies has its advantages.

“He saw I’d been injured and dropped me a message straight away saying ‘I’m guessing you can’t play in the charity game now?’ smiled the Bolton defender.

“I said no and he said: ‘Good job you can’t because I would have smashed you anyway’ and I just laughed straight away!

“They’re obviously all looking forward to it so I’m looking forward to meeting them all and just say thank you for everything that they’re willing to come down for.

“The gaffer will be playing, I’m sure. He joins in all the time, but it’s mad because a lot of managers who have been players, he won’t play centre back in training, he goes up as a striker and he will try and get the goals, obviously!

“He has still got a bit and he joins in with the passing drills and everything. I’ve had a little chat and he has just said you can put the boots on instead of me and we had a little laugh. It’ll be good for the gaffer to get on the pitch as well.”