Stars gather for touching story of Danny Wallace

Danny Wallace recalls the moment he knew his football career and, for a period, much of his life was over. It was one evening back in 1995 when he turned out for the reserves during a frustrating 18-month spell at Birmingham City. "The whole of one side of my body felt really, really heavy," he recalls. "Kicking the ball was like kicking a balloon full of water. My foot felt like that and I felt like that all down my right side as well."

Danny Wallace recalls the moment he knew his football career and, for a period, much of his life was over. It was one evening back in 1995 when he turned out for the reserves during a frustrating 18-month spell at Birmingham City. "The whole of one side of my body felt really, really heavy," he recalls. "Kicking the ball was like kicking a balloon full of water. My foot felt like that and I felt like that all down my right side as well."

Wallace had ended up in Birmingham's second string after one of the most glittering careers in English football had slipped into alarming decline. Little did he know, and it wasanother year before he found out, that he was suffering from multiple sclerosis, a condition that attacks the central nervous system.

"After I was diagnosed it was a shock," Wallace, now 40, says. "Maybe this was a problem that I'd had throughout my career. Then after that a bit of depression set in. I never came out of my house for about five years. It was scary, it was lonely. I had my family and they have been so good for me. But it was a deep, deep depression.

"Close friends knew what had happened, but not most people in football. I think I was embarrassed. I really wanted people to remember me as a player. The way I was was not the way I had become. My balance went and everything, I was falling over. I just thought to myself, 'No, I'm not going out'."

The distress is hard to imagine - particularly for such a high-achieving sportsman. Wallace became the youngest player in Southampton's history when he made his first-team debut aged 16. His performances, his skill and pace, brought him international recognition and he was capped by England in 1986. Two years later he made history again, playing for Southampton with his two brothers Ray and Rod before he made a £1.3m move to Manchester United, where he won the FA Cup and European Cup-Winners' Cup.

But it was at Old Trafford that his problems started. "I was at United for four years, and in the last two years I started to get a lot of niggling injuries - hamstrings and calf muscles - and they were occurring a lot more frequently than normal injuries should," Wallace says. "I would play a game and I'd be out for two or three weeks and then I'd come back, play a couple of games and get injured again. It was a circle."

At Birmingham it got worse - "pains in my back, pins and needles in my fingers" - before a three-month spell at Wycombe Wanderers signalled the end. He went to see the Professional Footballers' Association and they referred him to a specialist. "It was frustrating more than frightening," Wallace says. "I didn't know what was happening, I just wanted to play football and just thought this was something that was holding me up."

It was football that brought him out of his depression. His friend, and former Southampton team-mate, George Lawrence came to see him in Manchester, where Wallace and his family live. The two men have known each other for 26 years. There had been talk of a testimonial or benefit match. Lawrence decided he would make it happen, and tomorrow night at St Mary's Stadium a Southampton XI will play an All-Star XI.

It is a stellar line-up, including Matt Le Tissier, John Barnes, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, Mick Channon and Gordon Strachan. Part of the proceeds will go to the MS Society. "And now I feel I can come out because of this game and I feel more comfortable," Wallace says. He went down to St Mary's last month and was overwhelmed by the crowd's appreciation.

"I'm not too bad at the moment," Wallace says of his MS. "About three weeks ago I wasn't too good because I'd been trying to promote the game, and I had then to spend three or four days in bed.

"The fatigue is the worst thing. Seeing people is really tiring. My walking also is really bad. I use a cane now and have done so for a few years, and that's quite hard work. I can walk about 50 yards and then I have to stop. When I'm walking I have to make sure that I lift my legs so that I don't trip over the cracks in the pavement. So I have to take care and it takes a lot of concentration."

His family - wife Jenny, 20-year-old son Remi (named after the former United midfielder Remi Moses), 17-year-old daughter Elisha and nine-year-old son Thaila - have pulled him through. Time is now spent looking after Thaila. "He's not seen me run around and do normal father things," Wallace says. "But he's taken it really well." He still watches football. "And it's not hard watching videos of myself, I don't mind," Wallace says.

There's another reason to look forward to tomorrow's match. "I just want to say thank you and goodbye so that I can get on with the rest of my life," Wallace says. "I need to do that, to draw a line, because I never said anything in 1996. I just want a bit of closure now." And, it is hoped, before a sell-out crowd.

Tickets for Danny Wallace's testimonial are available priced £15 (adults) and £5 (concessions) from the Southampton ticket office: 0870 2200 150. For more information on Multiple Sclerosis, visit: www.mssociety.org.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home