The Big Interview: Getting on their bikes for George Melling’s charity
Craig Salmon talks to former non-league football stalwart George Melling who has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease
There was a wicked cackle in the voice of former non-league football stalwart George Melling when he turned his thoughts to the prospect of seeing his old gaffer going through the pain barrier.
The 36-year-old ex-defender will witness every mile of Mark Fell’s charity bike ride which began on Friday and will end on Sunday evening.
Lancaster City boss Fell – who used to manage Melling when he was a player at Nelson – will be using all the pedal power he can muster to complete the challenge which will see him cycle 240 miles with five other riders across three days.
His fellow bikers are ex-Chorley captain and current Dolly Blues skipper Andrew Teague, ex-Bamber Bridge ace Danny Mahoney, former Dolly Blues ace Farrell Kilbane – brother of ex-PNE and Everton winger Kevin – prolific former non-league striker Peter Wright and former Morecambe, Chorley and Kendal Town star Keiran Walmsley.
Also making an appearance along the route will be former North End striker and current Longridge Town boss Lee Ashcroft.
Together, they will be looking to raise as much money as possible for Melling, who announced earlier this year that he has been struck down by motor neurone disease (MND) – an uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves.
The ride will see them visit all of Melling’s former clubs. On Friday, their epic voyage started at Kendal Town before they headed to Giant Axe – home of Lancaster City, Bamber Bridge and finished at Coppull United – the ex-defender’s hometown club.
On Saturday, after an overnight stay, they travel to Altrincham where their journey began and will see them take in the grounds of Northwich Victoria and Leek Town. The final leg of the charity ride will see the bikers start at Ashton United on Sunday, stop off at Nelson’s Victoria Park with the final destination being Longridge Town – the final club of Melling’s career.
Although incurable presently, there are treatments to help reduce the impact of MND on a person’s daily life. Many people live with the condition for many years.
While his diagnosis came as a huge shock – especially for someone like Melling who was such a huge physical presence on the football pitch – he is doing his best to cope with the illness.
He has certainly lost none of his sense of humour – joking that seeing Fell suffer on the gruelling bike ride will be payback time for all the intensive pre-season fitness regimes he was subjected to when he played under him for the Admirals.
“I will take great pleasure watching him suffer after all the pre-seasons he put me through,” joked Melling, who will be following the riders’ journey in a motorhome.
“He said he’s going to be sore next week to which I replied, ‘Good’!
“But Felly has done really well organising it all and I just want to thank him really.
“I am really looking forward to seeing them all
“The support I have had since my diagnosis has been amazing.
“It shows just how much people come together in the non-league community.”
More than £10,000 has already been raised thanks to generous donations on a GoFundMe page to help make Melling’s life more comfortable as he continues his ongoing battle.
It was around 20 years ago when Melling decided to leave Blackpool, where he had been a youth team player, as he had grown frustrated by his lack of opportunities.
“I actually fell out with Blackpool,” said Melling. “It was nothing personal but I decided to go and play with my mates.
“I then went to Morecambe and ended up having a long non-league career.”
There were many highlights over the next 15 years as Melling represented a host of different clubs at different levels.
Arguably his greatest moment was being part of the Altrincham squad which won promotion to the Football Conference – now the National League – in 2005.
They defeated Sussex outfit Eastboroune Borough 2-0 in the play-off final at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium.
“I think winning promotion with Altrincham from the National League North is the biggest highlight,” said Melling.
“I went on to play in the Conference the season after. But the season we won promotion, we also did the double as we won the Cheshire Cup, beating Crewe Alexandra in the final.
“ Other highlights are winning the North West Counties Division One title with Nelson.
“I played in play-off finals with Bamber Bridge in the Northern Premier League and also won the league title with Longridge Town.
“I have no regrets – I enjoyed every minute of my football career.”