AN ex-Northwich Victoria player has thanked the footballing community for the “unbelievable” support he has received since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

George Melling, a defender who played for Vics during the 2013-14 season, said it means so much more than just a thank you.

The 36-year-old can also count the likes of Blackpool, Morecambe, Altrincham, Lancaster City and Longridge Town as former clubs, with them and others all getting involved to help his cause.

“It’s a family, you know, people from the football community.” Melling said.

“That’s why people from the outside don’t understand – you all stick together.

“But it’s a family and the support has been unbelievable from all my clubs, fans, teammates, ex-teammates, opponents, it has been unbelievable.

“Lee Ashcroft (Longridge manager) and Mark Fell (Lancaster manager) have done so much too.

“Thank you, first and foremost. But it means so much more than thank you.”

Vics have been active in trying to raise awareness of the condition and help raise funds for a cure.

They are one of the teams that feature on a very special kit, with each side having a stripe to signify their spell in Melling’s footballing career. More than 100 have been sold already to support the MND Association.

The charity shirt that is on sale in aid of Georges fight against MND

The charity shirt that is on sale in aid of George's fight against MND

A GoFundMe page set up to ‘Help Big G Fight MND’ – to support more memories to be made and the fight for a cure – has already raised more than £6,500

Current Vics boss Steve Wilkes managed Melling at Padiham and used to live near him in Chorley.

He had watched Melling at two different clubs before bringing him to Padiham, where they travelled in together.

“He only played for me for a few games – I think about half a dozen, but I’d know him 10 years by then,” he said.

“He was always what I would class as a leader – a big presence in the dressing room and on the pitch as well.

“He is a great lad so it’s such a shame to see what’s happened to him.

“Non-league is unique. In the Premiership if one person leaves and goes to another club, the fans don’t like him because he left their club but that doesn’t happen in non-league,” he said.

“You can see what’s happened with George where everyone’s rallied around and given him support.

“His GoFundMe is flying, the shirt sales are flying, it’s a fantastic effort what the people that are really, really close to George are doing.

“Mark Fell and Lee Ashcroft have set up a bike ride which is great so it’s a non-league family, and George is a big part of that.”

Wilkes is right – Melling is part of that family but the man himself also recognises the importance of his own family closer to home in Blackpool.

“Family for me is the biggest thing in the world,” he said.

“My mum, dad, cousins, aunty, uncles, sister, grandparents – they’ve all been amazing.”

“I try to keep upbeat and positive which will help me and my fiancée Nicci. But we just carry on each day at a time – we’re all happy.”

Father-of-three Melling has plans to get married and get away when they can – all while making sure the kids do not find out first.

“We’re going to go away, me and Nicci on our own,” he said.

“Then we’re going to do something with the kids, but I don’t want to say too much because it’s going to be a surprise,” he said.

Even with the passing of a year, Melling can still recall the moment when he noticed that something was not right – a view reinforced when he looked into fellow MND sufferers across the sporting world.

“I woke up – I think it was February 2020 – and my left arm wasn’t right,” he said.

“I Googled it and instantly it came up saying ‘MND’.

“I’d played with Mark Maddox at Altrincham and he had it, so I kind of saw similarities.

“And then I saw Rob Burrow, Lenny Johnrose, Stephen Darby and the more you look into it, the more I thought ‘yeah it definitely is.’”

Melling will be starting a trial drug in an attempt combat the effects of the illness and remains positive.

He said: “Covid [test]-permitting, I’ll get on it sooner rather than later but I can’t wait.

“I’ve been given a chance by Professor Shaw, she’s the top MND specialist in Europe so I’m lucky enough she took my case on and I can’t wait.”

The footballing community have made it clear as to how much of a non-league gem Melling is, and that can be said for him as a person too.

> Click here to visit the GoFundMe page set up in support of George