SPORTSTALK – Footballers continue to be affected by MOTOR Nuerone Disease

Mel Holden, front row far right, with Bobby Charlton (centre) at Preston in the 1973-74 season.
Mel Holden, front row far right, with Bobby Charlton (centre) at Preston in the 1973-74 season.

MOTOR Nuerone Disease victim Mel Holden died in 1981 aged 26 – leaving a wife and young family behind.

Former Preston North End, Sunderland, Blackpool and Netherlands club PEC Zwolle striker Holden would have celebrated his 64th birthday in August.

Holden, who died in 1981, made over 150 career appearances and is one of many people who have lost a young life to MND – an incurable disease.

Holden was forced to retire in 1979 while in the Netherlands, having played just 10 games for PEC Zwolle.

Two years later, Holden who lived in Penwortham, Preston, my birth City, was dead.

Almost four decades since Holden’s passing footballer Fernando Ricksen, 42, is in St Andrews Hospice in Airdrie, Scotland, six years after being diagnosed with MND.

Former Rangers star Ricksen, who has a property near Valencia, uses a voice-counter to speak.

Ricksen, diagnosed in 2013, was told he had 18 months to live.

Brave Ricksen continues to fight the disease, and is actively raising awareness about the illness: “I just keep going,” said Ricksen, who has a six year old daughter, Isabella.

Ricksen’s second wife, Russian born Veronika, and Isabella, visit him frequently from their Spanish family home, where she had been caring for him.

Having washed, dressed and fed him, she is no longer able to provide round-the-clock medical attention, that is now undertaken at St Andrew’s Hospice.

Ricksen will spend the remainder of his life there.

Isabella, Fernando and Veronika depart in tears – when his wife and daughter return home to Spain after visits.

Another footballer diagnosed with MND was Bolton defender Stephen Darby – aged just 29. He announced his retirement in 2018.

Former Liverpool prodigy Darby, married to Manchester City defender and England Ladies football team captain Steph Houghton, is receiving support from the Players Football Association (PFA).

“I have seen first hand how difficult it has been for Stephen, Steph and his family – but he has conducted himself with a tremendous amount of dignity and bravery.

“Stephen has been a credit to his profession. Myself and the PFA will continue to support Stephen in his battle ahead against motor neurone disease,” said Matthew Buck from the PFA.

Returning to Holden, who played under former England and Manchester United star Sir Bobby Charlton at Preston in the seventies. Deepdale teammate Mike Elwiss told a story of dressing up – as ice cream men – during a team talk!

Elwiss recalled when Bobby Charlton arranged a special coaching film, and all the players had to attend.

Elwiss and Mel Holden donned white coats, held torches and had an ice cream box each.

As the coaching film played in the dark – Elwiss flicked a light switch – and he and Holden announced: ‘Choc-ices, crisps, pop-corn, lemonade’.

Elwiss, Holden and the players howled with laughter. Charlton was lying on the floor in fits of laughter.

A light hearted indelible everlasting memory, taken from a tragic story in the life of MND victim Mel Holden.


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