Blackpool skipper Jay Spearing has spoken of his delight at the support the footballing world has shown to his close friend Stephen Darby.
Almost 25,000 fans rocked up at Valley Parade earlier this month to watch a pre-season friendly between Darby’s former clubs Bradford City and Liverpool.
The friendly was in aid of his Motor Neurone Disease (MND) charity, with all proceeds going towards the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation.
While Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners, the main focus was on Darby who was forced to retire in September of last year when he was diagnosed with MND - a fatal disease which progressively weakens the brain and nerves, and can impact the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.
Before the game, a tearful Darby addressed a record-breaking, sold-out crowd of 24,343 to express his gratitude at the support he received.
“It was an emotional occasion,” Spearing, who attended the game, admitted.
“It was an outstanding day and it was an outstanding way of showing him the support he has in the football world.
“I think it was the highest attendance at Bradford since 1984, which just shows how well liked he is.
“Both teams came together, put on a great day and a great game for everybody and he was very, very good.
“He did his speech proud, himself proud and his wife and his family. Everyone is fighting behind him and relishing the future to back him.
“We know there will be some exciting times ahead and there will be some difficult times, but he’s got his closest friends and family around him and we’ll support him all the way.”
Spearing had previously helped raise awareness in light-hearted fashion alongside some of his Blackpool teammates.
The 30-year-old scaled Pleasure Beach’s ‘Big One’ rollercoaster to belt out the ‘Stephen Darby baby’ chant - to the tune of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” - that went viral on social media.
Darby, who is married to England Women's star Steph Houghton, came through the youth ranks at Liverpool alongside Spearing.
“I’ve known the lad since I was nine and we are very close, I speak to him on the phone every day whether it’s text or phone call,” Spearing added.
“I felt as though I had to do something outside the box and it got a bit of awareness we wanted, as did the game.
“Hopefully now he has raised enough money to help people less fortunate to have the help when they have this terrible disease.”
Spearing was nominated for the challenge by his former boss Gary Bowyer, who is now in charge at Bradford.
The 48-year-old belted out the Stephen Darby chant alongside his Bantams squad, although Bowyer's version wasn't exactly what Spearing was expecting.
“He pushed me more because he said to begin with it was only going to be him singing,” Spearing said.
“So when he actually sent me the video, with all the squad with him, I thought he had killed me here.
“But I had to go and step up and Stephen is one of my closest friends and I felt I had to do something outside the box and show the support I have for him.”
Members of staff at both Bolton Wanderers and Bradford are now readying themselves for a 65-mile walk across three days (July 26-28) to raise funds for Darby’s foundation.
At the time of writing, £4,500 had been donated towards the fundraising target.
To find out more information about the "Distance for Darbs" Challenge and to donate, go to: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/distance-for-darbs-fundraiser