Bolton Wanderers defender Stephen Darby has sadly been forced to retire from football after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.
The full back, who has been at the University of Bolton Stadium since the summer of 2017, received the diagnosis from a specialist recently.
Darby reunited with manager Phil Parkinson after signing a contract with Wanderers following his departure from Bradford City where he made 236 appearances during his five seasons in West Yorkshire.
Coming through the youth ranks of his hometown club Liverpool, the right-back made his first competitive appearance for the Reds as a substitute in a Champions League fixture against PSV Eindhoven in December 2008. The following year he made his first competitive start, again in the Champions League, against Fiorentina.
Following loan spells with Swindon Town, Notts County and Rochdale, Darby made the move to Valley Parade where he spent two seasons as club captain.
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 teammates, 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.”
Phil Parkinson added: “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.
“The Bolton Wanderers fans didn’t see the best of him due to limited first team opportunities, but I can assure everyone that he made a significant contribution in last year’s survival.
“He constantly set high standards in training every day and encouraged and drove his fellow teammates on.
“All the staff and players at Bolton Wanderers Football Club think the world of him and are determined to give him every possible bit of support.”
Bolton Wanderers chairman Ken Anderson said: “We were all saddened when we found out that Stephen has to retire from the profession he loves.
“Stephen is very well thought of by everybody at Bolton Wanderers and he will always be welcome at the University of Bolton Stadium.
“Our thoughts are with him and his family and friends during this difficult time.”
For more information about Motor Neurone Disease (MND) please visit the MND Association’s Website by clicking here.