Former football ace Lenny Johnrose still smiling despite his health struggles

It was in the days when we thought lockdown was just in Wuhan and social distancing meant don’t shake hands – and Lenny Johnrose was in a debate with his wife about going to the pub.

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 6:00 am
Lenny Johnrose

“Coronavirus doesn’t bother me one bit, in my position if I get it…” He smiles, shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t finish the sentence.

He then jokes with wife Nadine that she might get an early pay-out on the life insurance. She’s used to his dark humour.

Johnrose, 50, who lives in Preston with his wife and two teenage children, was known as a hard tackler when he played for clubs such as Bury, Burnley, Preston and Blackburn Rovers.

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He retired and went into teaching, then was diagnosed with motor neuron disease three years ago. He and the family have adapted their lives and their home in Preston to their new life with this cruel disease.

He now has limited movement in his arms and legs, and uses a wheelchair. He has a full-time carer – Zoe Clarkson – though Lenny prefers to call her his “personal assistant.”

“It makes me feel important,” he said with a smile and Zoe offers him another sip of water. I’ve still got movement in my neck so don’t need a brace yet, but sometimes it feels like I’m being choked.

“I can feel my voice getting weaker which is the next hurdle,” he says with acceptance.

Johnrose is banking his voice so that when the time comes he can communicate using technology and still sound like himself.

He’s been recording thousands of phrases ready to be processed by the kit he will use when he loses the ability to speak.

“It’s important my fans can still hear my opinions. I have a lot of opinions,” he jokes again.

Up until coronavirus, Johnrose had been spending much of his time raising funds to help research into MND.

“There is some evidence linking sport with MND and there are statistics which show there are more footballers and other sports people with the condition than in the rest of the population,” he said.

He talks regularly to fellow ex-footballer Stephen Darby who also has the disease, and other sports campaigners include former rugby players Rob Burrow and Doddie Weir.

Johnrose had completed one day of filming for a new documentary about his life which was being produced by sports journalism students at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.

But that went into lockdown along with everything else. So now he’s recording a weekly podcast with the journalism students.

He’s been recording a video diary and also invites guests on such as speech therapist Richard Cave who is helpng him with voice banking and physio Amy Parkes, who helped treat him in the early days of his diagnosis.

Next up is daughter Elizabeth, who has been helping care for her dad because his full-time carer can’t go into their home during lockdown.

When it’s safe, documentary filming with the UCLan students will resume and in the meantime, fans can enjoy hearing Johnrose’s voice on The Lenny Johnrose Podcast on all good podcast outlets.