STEPHEN Darby remains as sharp and as funny as he has ever been.

He will not go quietly in his unenviable, cruel battle with motor neurone disease.

Football friends, team-mates and supporters are joining his crusade to keep fighting this wicked illness in next month’s trek from Valley Parade to Anfield in aid of the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation.

Filipe Morais, who has rallied the City section of those taking part, continues to be blown away by Darby’s sheer strength of character and refusal to let impossible odds bring him down.

Morais visited his old pal recently with another ex-Bantam Nathan Clarke. James Hanson plans to come next time.

“Darbs is the exact same,” said Morais. “He’s still charming and funny – the nicest guy ever.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Stephen Darby waving before City's game at Swindon in 2020Stephen Darby waving before City's game at Swindon in 2020 (Image: Thomas Gadd)

“I have seen a difference in him physically and with his speech. But he’s still so inspiring to be around.

“It’s incredible the energy you get off him from someone who is going through the worst time.

“It doesn’t even pop into his mind (to feel sorry for himself). He’s just so happy to see you and so inspiring to be around.

“It’s also a reminder that you are so lucky and blessed to have what we have.

“Being able to run to the door, go for a jog, picking the kids up from school, you realise how lucky you are to do things like that.

“He needs help even scratching his nose and having a drink and that’s where it really hits home. It’s really hard to see him that way.

“But we’re just trying to keep going over and seeing him as much as we can.”

It is almost five-and-a-half years since Darby announced that he was suffering from the incurable disease.

He has never hidden away in that time or backed off from showing the world the pain he is going through – and the immense courage required to keep fighting.

Like rugby league star Rob Burrow and former Huddersfield striker Marcus Stewart, their public profile has garnered so much support and raised so much in donations.

They have put themselves forward for the thousands suffering in exactly the same way who can’t.

Morais added: “Many, many people around the country have MND and it’s so tough for them. They can’t do what Stephen is doing.

“It’s so selfless to put himself out there and show the suffering. It’s a very private matter.

“He’s allowing the world to see him in that way. It’s the same with Marcus Stewart, they are willing to put it in the public domain to show the cruelty of this disease in order to raise more money and awareness to try and find a cure.

“Nobody would blame them if we never saw anything online or on social media from Stephen or Marcus. They are the ones who are going through it.

“The fact they are willing to put their own personal struggles out there is such a huge selfless act and it’s so inspiring.

“There are so many selfish people in the world and you see cruel things in the news all the time. It just puts everything into perspective that they are doing this to help others.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Stephen Darby with his friend Chris Rimmer, who died in 2022Stephen Darby with his friend Chris Rimmer, who died in 2022 (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Morais admits it has been emotional catching up. There were occasions when he was tempted to steer clear because he knew how hard it would be seeing Darby as he is.

“At times, especially early on, I probably avoided speaking to him,” he admitted. “The fact is he’s a lot stronger than me.

“I didn’t want to bring him down by me being upset or emotional. You do try and put up a front when you’re with him and be positive and funny.

“The reality is that, deep down, it’s very hard for me. But how can I complain when he’s the one going through all of this?

“It’s something you just have to swallow and show that strength for him.

“We don’t really go there when we’re talking. Every day he’s reminded of it.

“Darbs being Darbs is always asking about you and your family. How are the kids? How’s your missus?

“He’d rather talk about everything else and remember old times and funny memories.

“We talk a lot about what’s going on at Bradford. He knows I’m at a lot of the games, so he always wants to know what’s happening.”

March of the Day kicks off from BD8 on Friday, March 22 on a three-day route to Anfield, stopping at 17 other football grounds along the way.

Morais and Clarke will be among those going the whole distance.

An 86-strong group will do the opening six-hour leg from City’s home to the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield, via Elland Road, including several of Darby’s former Bantams and Bolton team-mates.

City boss Graham Alexander and assistant Chris Lucketti, who both played alongside Stewart at Preston and Huddersfield respectively, have also agreed to take part as well as several staff members.

Morais said: “Darbs feels that special connection with Bradford the most of all his clubs.

“They have been the most supportive in the fact they are giving everything to help. They have been very public in their support and the way they try to galvanise other people to join.

“What they have done with this walk has been incredible. I’m always on the phone to (director of operations) Paula Watson and she’s so willing and has a huge drive to help.

“I made sure he’s aware of that and the boys who will be walking. None of them thought twice about being there.

“That just shows how much everyone is behind him.”

Click HERE to donate towards March of the Day.