JAMES Hanson remains searching for words when talking about his good friend Stephen Darby.

The call he received from his former City team-mate is still raw.

The pair remain in regular contact through the Whatsapp group that also contains Rory McArdle, Nathan Clarke and James Meredith.

That was the way that Darby announced that he had been forced to retire.

He also said he would call them individually to explain the full reason why.

“It shows what a man he is that he wanted to ring each and every one of us first,” said Hanson, the emotion still clear in his voice.

“He’d messaged us on the night he found out to say the results had come back on his arm. You guessed it was bad but didn’t know to what extent.

“He wanted to tell us all properly before it came out in the press.

“Then he rang and said he had more bad news. I didn’t know what to say – I still don’t.

“It was a devastating thing to hear. Even now, I’m in shock.

“It’s been two weeks and I still don’t know what to say.

“We played together five years and were great mates on and off the pitch. I went to his wedding in the summer.

“He’s a great man and was brilliant as a leader.”

Hanson saw the clip of the City supporters singing Darby’s name at Doncaster last week and felt it a fitting tribute.

“It was a great touch from the fans but that’s the least he deserved at Bradford City.

“Hopefully the club and Liverpool can get together and arrange something for him and his family.

“He interacted with the fans so well and always had time for anyone.”

Twelve days after Darby's diagnosis with motor neurone disease became public knowledge, typically he will be back in Bradford tomorrow for a charity coffee morning in aid of Macmillan cancer support.

The event at the Highfield in Idle has been organised by Bantamstrek, the fund-raiser set up by former Valley Parade kitman John Duckworth. Darby and Clarke are his patrons and Hanson hopes to pop back home from London for a catch-up.

Hanson will be reunited with the present Bantams on Tuesday when they make the trip to his new club AFC Wimbledon.

He is enjoying his first foray down south – and has even conquered the vagaries of the underground, much to the amusement of his City pals.

“Rory and Darbs were having a joke about me watching my elbows on the tube when it gets busy.

“But I’ve got used to it now. My missus hates it because she says people are so rude but I’ve probably gone into that category.

“When you’re rushing for a train, you don’t want to be late so just go barging through. You play by the same rules.

“I had quite a few offers in the summer but the Wimbledon manager was the one who really stood out.

“He had belief and wanted me to get back to my best from two years ago.

“He believed he could get me fit and play to my strengths in a 4-4-2. It’s something I needed to do.

“But I also fancied a different challenge. I’ve always been at home so why not venture out for a couple of years and see what happens?

“It’s worked out well because my missus has just become a teacher and has got her first class this year, so she’s got a lot of work on anyway.

“She comes down at the weekend with my little un. My mum and dad are there as well.

“It’s difficult juggling things but it has helped being quite a northern league. I tend to find myself back at home most weekends when we’re away.”

Hanson is also settled back in the old routine on the field after the injuries that kept him out of the picture at Sheffield United and a fruitless loan spell with Bury.

“I’d not played in six months when I went there. If I’m being honest, I was probably 5kg overweight.

“I worked hard this summer to get back to my fighting weight and then got injured in pre-season. I was just playing catch-up for the first month.

“But I’ve been feeling sharper and fitter in the last four or five games and my weight now is bang on what it was at Bradford.

“I’ve been getting chances again, so hopefully once one of those goes in I can go on a bit of a roll. I do always score in the big games.”