TWO years ago, Scott Bell was banging in the goals for Bedlington Terriers, but the striker knew something was wrong after becoming increasingly sore during games.
And last month, Scott received the news that he was dreading after doctors confirmed he had motor neurone disease (MND).
Now the 32-year-old, supported by family and friends, is out to raise awareness of the muscle-wasting disease and is playing his part in helping to find a cure.
Speaking at his home in Cramlington, Scott said his problems started in April 2009 while playing for the Terriers.
“Looking back now, I can identify the symptoms,” he said.
“My calves were tight. I was playing on a Saturday, then couldn’t do anything for a week until the next Saturday, which was unusual as normally I could train twice a week in between.
“I wasn’t playing well. I went from being good to rubbish. There was no explanation.
“The pain in my calf was getting worse. I was putting the tape around my calf so tight that it was acting as the muscle.
“At that point, I realised I couldn’t play. Even the warm-up before games made me feel like I’d played a full match.”
Scott was able to get private medical care through his work, and scans revealed a broken foot which had happened a year earlier while he was at Blyth Spartans but had been missed by doctors.
However, when the pain in his calves got worse, Scott went back to hospital six months later and was referred to a neurologist.
Further tests and scans over a five-month period failed to yield a conclusive diagnosis, and all the while Scott’s pain and discomfort continued to get worse.
“It was the middle of last year when I realised there was something extremely wrong,” he said.
“I couldn’t do any exercise and I tried to play badminton and found my head was trying to get me to do things but my legs wouldn’t do it.
“I couldn’t do what I would normally do, and I didn’t know why.”
After undergoing more tests and scans, Scott was referred to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary at the end of April and saw Professor Patrick Chinnery, an expert in MND, and he was able to confirm within a week that Scott had the disease – more than two years after his symptoms started causing him concern.
However, Scott would not change the months of uncertainty he had to contend with in favour of a speedier diagnosis, saying: “It gave me six months of peace and not having to worry.
“I wouldn’t change things. I would have been worried for a longer period, and it wouldn’t have changed the timescale.
“There’s no cure at the moment. There is one treatment that I’m on, but it only adds three months on your life.”
The week he spent waiting for confirmation of his MND diagnosis gave Scott time to prepare his wife Louise about what might happen and “bring her onto the same page”.
“It was upsetting when we were told, but I just wanted to make it easier for her,” he said. “It was a lot harder for my family and friends. It was a massive shock to them.
“From the beginning, I’ve told people that I need everyone to be positive. I don’t need people getting upset and looking at it negatively.”
One ray of hope that Scott has been given is that doctors believe his condition is not as aggressive as some forms of the disease, meaning he could live longer than the average two to five years.
Scott – who now walks with a limp and needs a walking stick to go more than 50-yards – has been researching the disease, although he admits there are some websites he wished he had not looked at.
“I know the disease is going to affect all of my muscles,” he said. “Mentally, it’s quite challenging.
“Every day, you feel something in your muscles and wonder if it could be that.
“I’m having problems with my arms and hands, but I don’t really think about it too much.”
Scott has been in touch with former Whitley Bay player Mark Taylor, a former opponent on the football pitch diagnosed with MND in January 2010.
“He has helped me a lot,” he said. “It’s been great communicating with someone who is in the same situation as me. It’s been comforting in a way.”
Scott admits that a big weight has been lifted from his shoulder as his employer, the academic publisher Pearson Education, has vowed to support and help any way it can, enabling him to work from home if needs be.
He said: “I did fall over at work on occasions, while giving presentations at schools, before I was diagnosed as I’m unable now to walk sideways or backwards.
“Pearson Education have said they will support me. That has given me peace of mind.
“The first thing I thought about when I was diagnosed was security for my wife Louise more than anything. I worried about that, but this has taken a weight off my shoulders.”
Now Scott has set out on a mission to raise awareness of the disease and help raise funds for research into a cure with the support of the MND Association.
He has set up the Scott Bell Fund for people to donate money to, and family and friends have begun organising a number of fundraising events.
Within days of being diagnosed, his former clubs Blyth Spartans – where he spent four seasons – and Bedlington Terriers were in touch offering support and help.
Blyth Spartans are holding a fundraising match in May next year.
Scott’s wife Louise and brother Chris, along with seven other friends and relatives, are now in training for the Great North Run.
“If people want to help, all I want to do now is raise awareness of the disease,” said Scott, who has also played football for West Allotment, Brandon, and Newcastle Blue Star.
“In my opinion, the only reason there isn’t a cure is because not enough people know about it. I want to raise the profile of MND.
“There’s lots of trials into it, but nobody knows how it develops, just what it does.”
He added: “It’s amazing how much people are doing for me.
“Some friends are arranging a charity golf day with Alnwick Golf Club involved, one friend is doing a boxing match in November, and four girls from work are going to do a 10K run.
“Me and my best mate are doing a parachute jump. We want it to be the first event and are hoping that will be in July.
“We’ve set up a website which has more information about the fund, how to donate money and promotion of forthcoming events.
“It won’t just be about raising funds – it will also have information about MND and how it affects people. It’s information which I think is appropriate.”
Scott said the fund proceeds will be split in two, with half going to the MND Association and the rest enabling him to buy any equipment he might need in the future that is unavailable on the NHS.
For more information, visit www.scottbellfund.com
To sponsor Louise in the Great North Run, visit www.justgiving.com/loubell1980
Scott is also looking for businesses to donate prizes for raffles. Anyone who wants to make a donation can e-mail scott firstname.lastname@example.org