Gary Neville, Ricky Hatton and Jamie Redknapp among those to send messages of support as sporting world rallies around former Blues defender George Melling

High profile names from the world of sport have been reaching out to former Clitheroe, Colne and Nelson centre back George Melling following his diagnosis with motor neurone disease (MND).
George Melling with fiancee NicciGeorge Melling with fiancee Nicci
George Melling with fiancee Nicci

Former world champion boxer Ricky Hatton has been in touch with an uplifting message of support for the tough tackling defender and others have followed suit.

Ex-Manchester United defenders Gary Neville, Wes Brown and David May have recorded videos, while Peter Reid, Jamie Redknapp, Dean Windass, Boudewijn Zenden and former Wigan Warriors ace Danny Sculthorpe are also rallying round his cause.

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“I’ve had loads of messages,” said Melling. “I wake up to a new message everyday. It’s nice and it’s given me that kick that I need.

Former Nelson and Clitheroe FC defender George MellingFormer Nelson and Clitheroe FC defender George Melling
Former Nelson and Clitheroe FC defender George Melling

“It’s brilliant. Hopefully they’ll get involved, but they’ve got their own lives so they’re busy. The support has been unbelievable.

“I just want to raise awareness. MND is up there with the worst illnesses, but not many people know about it.”

The 36-year-old, who won the North West Counties First Division title with the Admirals in 2014, is now determined to raise as much awareness as possible of the life-limiting illness.

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The ex-Blackpool, Morecambe and Longridge Town defender has teamed up with former Burnley midfielder Lenny Johnrose, legendary Leeds Rhinos player Rob Burrow MBE and former Liverpool defender Stephen Darby in a bid to help spread the word.

George Melling in action for the Admirals against West Allotment Celtic in the FA VaseGeorge Melling in action for the Admirals against West Allotment Celtic in the FA Vase
George Melling in action for the Admirals against West Allotment Celtic in the FA Vase

Melling revealed that the former professional sportsmen, who suffer from the same degenerative condition, have been in regular contact since his diagnosis last month.

And he says their support has been ‘unbelievable’. “They’ve helped me loads,” said Melling. “Rob Burrow has been unbelievable. We’ve got a few things that we’re trying to do together.

“We’re hoping to get a TV advert, where people can text to donate. Lenny has been brilliant as well. We’re supporting each other, emailing.

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“I’ve spoken to Stephen Darby and had a good conversation. The support has been unbelievable.”

Melling has got plenty to fight for. He is father to 10-year-old Jacob and seven-year-old Isabel and soon-to-be stepfather to Kaiser, 10.

The north-west fans’ favourite is also hoping to be well enough to walk down the aisle this summer to marry his fiancee Nicola Kendall.

They’re all the inspiration he needs. “I’ve got two young kids and a stepson and I would hate them to get this,” he said. “My aim is to raise as much money as I can to go towards a cure. I don’t want other people to go through what I’ve had to go through.

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“First and foremost my family has been unbelievable. My fiance, my kids, stepson, sister, mum, dad, cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents.

“They’ve been unbelievable.

“I’ve got all the support of my friends, messages from celebrities, it gives you that lift.”

He added: “We’ve got a happy house with three beautiful kids.

“We’re not the kind of people to sit and mope around. I’ve been diagnosed with MND, but I try not to think about it.

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“The plan was to get married in two years, but we don’t know how long I’m going to be on my feet.

“I want to walk down the aisle and have that first dance.

“It’s hard planning around Covid but we’re hoping to get married at the back end of summer.

“Nicola is my rock. I’ll ask her to make me a drink and she’ll say ‘go get your own!’ Just little things like that help. We’ll still go for walks. She’s been unbelievable.”

Melling, who also worked as an engineer on rollercoasters, first noticed his arm muscles twitching in February last year, which then spread to his legs, and then he started experiencing cramps.

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Doctors gave him the all clear after neck and spine scans and blood tests didn’t reveal anything untoward.

He was referred to a neurologist at the Royal Preston Hospital after his speech became impaired and it was at that moment when he was given the shattering news that he was suffering from MND.

Now he’s been put in touch with one of Europe’s top neurologists, Professor Dame Pamela Shaw at Sheffield University, and he will soon be starting on a trial drug.

Melling said: “I’ve just got to try and carry on. It’s affected me physically, but mentally I feel perfectly fine. I still know what’s going on.

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“I just keep taking each day as it comes and do as much as I can. I spend time with the family and Facetime my mum and dad every day.

“I don’t think they’re far off with a cure. There are a lot of things happening in America and Australia.

“Professor Pamela Shaw is a top neurologist in Europe so we’re going over there next month for more tests and hopefully start these trial drugs.

“There’s loads going on so we just need to raise awareness. The money we raise will get put into all these different charities.”

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Many of Melling’s former clubs and team-mates have pledged their support in the hope of raising £10,000 for the MND Association and The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN).

George has created a social media hashtag #helpbigGfightMND and the Go Fund Me campaign can be accessed here: