Former footballer Len Johnrose dies aged 52 after MND battle

Former footballer Len Johnrose, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2017, has died at the age of 52, his charity has said.

Johnrose, who had a six-year spell with Bury between 1993 and 1999 and also played for Blackburn, Hartlepool, Burnley and Swansea, helped raise funds for the MND Association following his diagnosis and campaigned for greater player safety.

He also sought to raise awareness of the condition among current players through his Project 92 work, after the 2019 FIELD Study identified a four-fold increased risk of developing MND among footballers compared to the general population.

Johnrose told the PA news agency in November 2020: “That (increased risk) should cause massive shockwaves, but it’s barely caused a ripple. We really need to get that message out there.”

The Len Johnrose Trust tweeted on Monday: “We are heartbroken to tell you that our leader, Len Johnrose, passed away this morning.

“Len was an incredibly proud husband and father. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.”

There is a one in 300 risk of a person developing MND in their lifetime. There are still no clear answers about what causes it, and there is no cure.

Johnrose, who is survived by his wife Nadine and his children Chanel, Elizabeth and Patrick, helped launch the #IceFoot92 challenge last year to raise funds for the MND Association, where participants were challenged to immerse their feet in icy water for 92 seconds.

He told PA in October 2019 he was “sickened” there were no restrictions placed on heading in children’s football and said the sport’s authorities were “taking chances with people’s lives”.

Since then, guidance has been introduced advising all heading to be avoided in under-11s football training, while this season the Football Association will trial the complete removal of heading in selected under-12s competitions.

Johnrose’s former clubs Blackburn, Burnley and Hartlepool have tweeted their condolences to his friends and family, as have Swansea.

Johnrose scored the third goal in a 4-2 win over Hull in May 2003 which secured the Swans’ league status.

The MND Association released a statement to PA on Monday afternoon, paying tribute to Johnrose.

“Len lived with this brutal disease in the public eye after choosing to announce his diagnosis in the summer of 2018. Following that he selflessly dedicated huge amounts of time to raising awareness,” the statement said.

“Len’s infectious smile, sense of humour, pragmatic approach to life and determination to do everything he could to work on behalf of people with MND made him a very popular figure within the MND community. He will be sorely missed.

“We would like to pass our sympathies to Len’s wife Nadine, his three children Chanel, Elizabeth and Patrick, his family and friends, and also our gratitude for their unwavering support.”

The association’s director of external affairs Chris James added: “I clearly remember the summer of 2018, when Len Johnrose first spoke about being diagnosed with motor neurone disease and his story immediately gained national TV coverage and newspaper headlines.

“Len helped us in almost every area of our work, responding positively to every request and invitation, and giving his time to help both nationally and locally as a patron of the Central and East Lancashire Support Group.

“We are incredibly grateful to him and his family for all their help over the years, and we will continue to support Len’s family as they deal with this very sad news.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association tweeted: “Heartbreaking news. Lenny was a real gentleman, and an incredibly popular character within football. He’ll be sadly missed.

“The thoughts of everyone at the PFA is with Len’s family and friends.”