Ex-footballer George Melling opens up about battle with motor neurone disease

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Tough tackling footballer George Melling is taking his no-nonsense attitude into his fight with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

The 36-year-old, who has played centre half for Blackpool FC, Morecambe, Altrincham, Leyland Town, Kendal, and home team Coppull, was diagnosed with the life-limiting condition last month after first noticing symptoms a year ago.

Now he is determined to raise money for a cure, to play with his children, and to be well enough to walk down the aisle this summer to marry his fiancee Nicola Kendall.

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Celebrities from the world of football, including Gary Neville, Jamie Rednapp and Peter Reid, are also rallying round his cause, and teams across Lancashire are pitching in to help.

George with fiancee Nicci
Photo: Neil CrossGeorge with fiancee Nicci
Photo: Neil Cross
George with fiancee Nicci Photo: Neil Cross

"I have to be positive", said George. "Every day is a new day and I want to walk down that aisle and have that first dance".

George, 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.

George said: "I saw a doctor and he said it can't be MND. I had a neck and spine scan and that was all clear. Then I had a blood test, and that was all clear.

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"Then in August, my speech started to be slurred ans it's gradually got worse. I sound like I'm really drunk now, but I'm not."

George is raising awareness of MNDGeorge is raising awareness of MND
George is raising awareness of MND

George was called to see a neurologist at the Royal Preston Hospital at the end of January, and was given the shattering news that he was suffering from MND.

He said: "Me and Nicola were taken into a side room where there was a diagram and the word MND written on a board. Then we were left alone. We just sat and cried for 10 minutes.

"But I knew from day one that it was MND. I'd already mentally battled it. I knew my own body from footballing injuries and I'd watched a documentary on it and I could see the similarities."

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The MND Team at the Royal Preston Hospital have put George 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.

George in action for Coppull Utd in 2016George in action for Coppull Utd in 2016
George in action for Coppull Utd in 2016

He said: "This drug first came out in 2013, and it replaces damaged cells in the motor part of the brain.

"They've given it to people who've been in wheelchairs for two-and-a-half years, and all of a sudden, they can stand up again.

"So there is hope. Fingers crossed, we're very close to a cure.

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"This is why I need to put something back. I need to raise as much awareness as possible so that people donate money and the cure can come quicker. I don't want anyone else to have to go through this."

George, who is father to 10-year-old Jacob, Isabel, 7, and soon-to-be step-father to Nicola's son Kaiser, 10, is also being driven by his desire to get married.

He said: "Me and Nicola were going to get married in two years' time, but we've moved it forward to this summer, Covid-permitting.

"I want to walk down that aisle, I want that first dance.

"I have to stay focused and believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I do. I'm struggling to walk and my speech is slurred, but mentally I'm fantastic. I'm better than ever.

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"I haven't had a drink since New Year's Day and I feel so sharp."

George said he is working with friends and former colleagues, and is planning a television advert appealing for donations for MND research. He has created a social media hashtag ##helpbigGfightMND and friends have set up a Go Fund Me campaign looking to raise £10,000 for the MND Association and The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience. (SITraN).

There are several fundraising events already in the making including a bike ride that will visit all of George’s former football clubs in May, a weekend of football in the summer, and a three-peaks climbing challenge.

Nelson Football Club's squad have also committed to running a collective 1,000 miles in February.

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For more information on how to help, visit: http://https://www.gofundme.com/f/helping-big-g-aka-george-melling-fight-mnd?utm_source=whatsapp-visit&utm_medium=chat&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet* Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here: https://www.lep.co.uk/subscriptions