Bolton Wanderers defender Stephen Darby has been forced to take early retirement from football after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.
Darby, 29, who joined the Wanderers in 2017, recently received the news from a specialist.
In a statement released by the club, he said: "It is with great sadness that I announce my immediate retirement from professional football due to a recent diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease.
"I would like to take the opportunity to thank my team-mates, Phil Parkinson and all the staff at Bolton Wanderers Football Club for their amazing support at what has been an extremely difficult period for myself and my family.
"I would like to ask for privacy at this time so I can adjust to the battle I have ahead and so that I can spend time with those closest to me."
Darby came through the youth ranks of his hometown club Liverpool, where he made his first competitive appearance as a substitute in their Champions League match against PSV Eindhoven in December 2008.
The right-back had loan spells with Swindon Town, Notts County and Rochdale before moving to Bradford City where he spent two seasons as club captain.
He then signed at Bolton to join ex-manager Phil Parkinson last year.
In a statement on the Wanderer's website, Parkinson said: “This is heart breaking news for Stephen and his family and the thoughts of everybody at Bolton Wanderers Football Club are very much with him and Steph.
“He is an outstanding professional and a fantastic person.
“He was simply magnificent during his time at Bradford and was a key figure in the resurgence of Bradford City as a football club.
“He typified everything the city and the football club represented and led by example on and off the pitch."
Darby has not played football since December.
Jamie Carragher who was part of the Liverpool with Darby in the late 2000s, described the news as "heartbreaking", describing Darby as "genuinely the nicest lad I've met in football".
Former Liverpool team-mate Jay Spearing said he was "devastated" to learn of the defender's diagnosis, as he described Darby as one of his best mates.
What is Motor Neurone Disease?
Motor Neurone Disease (MND) relates to a group of diseases that affect the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control your muscles.
According to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, messages that come from these nerves slowly stop reaching the muscles, which can cause them to weaken, stiffen and eventually waste.
- MND can affect your ability to walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe
- Some people also experience changes to their behaviour and thoughts
- MND is a life-shortening condition and there is currently no cure
- There is a 1 in 300 risk of getting MND in a lifetime
- It is more prevalent in people over the age of 50
- MND affects up to 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time
What are the symptoms of Motor Neurone Disease?
People who are affected by MND may find that symptoms manifest themselves in the following ways:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps/spasms
- Stiff joints
- Pain or discomfort
- Speech and communication difficulties
- Saliva problems and difficulty swallowing
- Breathing issues
- Changes to thought patterns and behaviour
- Emotional lability and changes in mood
Some may experience changes to taste, skin sensitivity or difficulties with regulating body temperature.
- For more information, visit the Motor Neurone Disease Association’s website