Lenny Johnrose staying positive in motor neurone disease fight

Len Johnrose in action for Burnley
Lenny Johnrose began his career with Blackburn Rovers

Lenny Johnrose understands how people with motor neurone disease can sink into depression.

He has been there himself.

Yet the former footballer, who was diagnosed with MND in March 2017, suggests that he "is sort of over the worst of it".

This is typical of Johnrose, whose courage and positive outlook are admirable.

There is no cure for MND, a debilitating condition which is fatal and can significantly shorten life expectancy.

Johnrose is having to battle fatigue, and says walking is becoming increasingly challenging however he is determined to get on with life.

"You have got to," Johnrose tells BBC Wales Sport.

"Whether you're ill or not ill, I have always said you have got to be positive and make something of it.

"The fact that I have a disability is not going to stop me doing things I want to do or things I think are the right things to do."

Johnrose has faced some dark times since a trip to hospital amid concerns over a fracture which had not healed began the process which led to the MND diagnosis.

His fight with this cruel disease is one he knows he cannot win, yet his spirit has not been broken.

"I understand completely people (with MND) who have dark moments and sink into depression because I kind of went there in a few moments myself and found it really difficult," the 49-year-old says.

"But the courage other people with MND have shown and the support I have had since going public has been absolutely overwhelming. They have been big factors in keeping me positive.

"There have been some tough times but I feel that I am sort of over the worst of it.

"My main worries are my family, but we are all trying to remain positive."

"Swansea have led the way"

Johnrose played more than 500 games during a 16-year professional career, turning out for the likes of Bury and Burnley.

Only 44 of those matches were in Swansea City colours, yet he left an indelible mark at the Welsh club.

Johnrose scored in the 4-2 victory over Hull City which saw Swansea preserve Football League status on the final day of the 2002-03 season.

It is regarded as perhaps the most important game in Swansea's history and this weekend, Johnrose returns to Wales.

He will be a guest at Swansea's Championship fixture against Sheffield United on Saturday, 19 January.

The following day, (Sunday, 20 January, 1.30pm), Johnrose will attend a charity game being played in his honour at Port Talbot Football Club.

A Swans Legends XI will take on a Len Johnrose Trust Legends XI, with all money raised going to Johnrose's trust.

"Swansea have led the way really in terms of doing things for me since I went public with my illness," Johnrose says.

"I wasn't there very long so I am very, very grateful."

Hull's Ben Burgess wins ball against Swans' Lenny Johnrose
Lenny Johnrose's goal against Hull City in May 2003 was his last in professional football

Footballing fortunes, and the challenges Johnrose faced during his playing career, seem irrelevant given the battle he faces now.

Johnrose, though, takes pride in the role he played at the start of Swansea's rise from Football League relegation contenders to the Premier League.

"I wasn't there very long but the reception and reaction I've had and still have is incredible," he adds. "That's testament to the football club and the people of Swansea.

"If I'm honest, signing for Swansea was not high on my list of priorities. It was the other end of the world for me.

"(Former Swans boss) Brian Flynn has got to take a lot of credit for the team he built at that time when we were really struggling.

"I just played a part in that. On a personal level it is great to have scored that goal (against Hull), but somebody put the ball in the box and somebody made goal-line clearances and all that sort of stuff.

"My memories of being in Swansea are that I loved the club and I loved the supporters and the city, so it's good that I could give something back."

'My family are absolutely amazing'

A father of three, Johnrose will be accompanied by his family on his weekend in Wales. Together, as usual, they will deal with the challenges MND brings.

"Walking is getting more difficult and movement and things, but that's kind of par for the course," Johnrose says.

"It's one of those things I have tried to get my head round.

"You change your parameters. There are things I can't do that I used to be able to do, but there are things I've had the opportunity to do that I wouldn't ordinarily have done.

"I have met some inspiring, wonderful people from all walks of life.

"I am not one of those people who thinks you have got to be grateful just to be here still.

"I think you should enjoy life as much as you can and I try to do that irrespective of the illness.

"How difficult is it? People are there to help. My family are absolutely amazing.

"The biggest factor for me is fatigue - I get a lot more tired than I used to. But I am working with that and trying to factor that into my day."

Project 92

Lenny Johnrose
After his footballing career, Lenny Johnrose worked as a school teacher

Johnrose fulfilled an ambition by doing a parachute jump last month.

Another fundraising event saw him and his daughter go for a dip in the Thames despite Johnrose being, in his words, the "world's worst swimmer".

Next on the agenda is a bid to get every player in English football's top four divisions to donate to the MND Association.

"I am starting a project called Project 92 - as in the 92 league clubs," Johnrose explains.

"Football people have been absolutely brilliant, but I don't feel like actual footballers have had the opportunity to contribute anything.

"I am basically setting myself the task of going to every ground, either in person or with a video link, and discussing MND with them and hopefully getting them all to donate a minimum of £10.

"Football has had a bit of a knock with MND, with (then Bolton defender) Stephen Darby coming out (as a sufferer) and other players.

"I still don't think there is that awareness in football. It's a big project but it's one I feel I am up to."

Johnrose ticked off his first club this week when he went to Fleetwood Town.

Swansea are next, before the charity game in Port Talbot which will feature the likes of ex-Swans Leon Britton, Lee Trundle and Alan Tate.

"I am looking forward to seeing some of the old lads on Sunday," Johnrose says.

"It's been organised without any input from me and I cannot thank them enough - they don't need to do this.

"It just shows what people are like."

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