NEW Brentford Football Club scholar Chris Mepham will feel a particular pride in pulling on the famous striped jersey.
Nearly four years ago, his uncle, Roy Mepham, once a Brentford junior, died after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, aged 61.
He had continued to play football up until five years before his diagnosis.
Now, 16-year-old Chris Mepham has signed a two -year scholarship with the Bees. He signed with the Chelsea Academy when he was 10 and was with them for four years.
At Brentford, his next aim is to go professional and one day represent England.
The Motor Neurone Disease Association has been running a national campaign, called Football V MND, fronted by former Altrincham footballer, Mark Maddox, who was diagnosed with MND in his late 30s, In March. Brentford ran the campaign poster in their match programme.
MND can strike anyone at any time. It is progressive and terminal, attacking the nervous system and stopping messages from reaching the muscles.
This means that people with MND can lose the ability to walk, move their arms, talk and eventually breathe. Half will die within 14 months of being diagnosed. There is no cure.
Chris’ dad, brother and uncle were all inspirations for him to keep practising and training hard.
When he was accepted by Brentford, following in his Uncle Roy’s footsteps, it was a proud moment for Chris and his family.
Chris said: “It’s probably changed a lot from when Roy was playing, but we’re in roughly the same age group at the same club. Roy was a winger, a very quick winger and I’m a defender.”
This June sees the World Cup and MND Awareness Month coincide. If Football V MND is to make an impact, now is the time.
Money is needed for training healthcare professionals, adapting houses and vital communication equipment.
This demand is often too much for health and social services, and that is where the West London and Middlesex branch comes in.
Chris said: “Before Roy got diagnosed with MND, I wasn’t really aware of what it was. But, I was on the Central Line the other day and saw a big MND poster. My dad pointed it out straight away.
“People don’t really know what it is, which makes you think that maybe there isn’t enough out there for raising awareness for it.
“Football is the biggest sport in the country. If MND and football were linked, there would be a lot of people that might start understanding what it is and see it differently.”
Chris starts with Brentford youth team on Monday.