Len Johnrose: ex-Burnley and Bury footballer dies with motor neurone disease - career highlights and illness

Lenny Johnrose has passed away aged 52 with MND - the illness also suffered by Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Rob Burrow
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The former footballer Len Johnrose has died at the aged of 52, three years after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2017.

The defensive midfielder was best known for his time at Bury between 1993 and 1999 but also spent time at Burnley, Hartlepool, Burnley and Swansea, as well as helping raise money for the MND Association.

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Johnrose is survived by his wife Nadine and his three children: Chanel, Elizabeth and Patrick.

The Len Johnrose Trust tweeted on Monday: “We are heartbroken to tell you that our leader, Len Johnrose, passed away this morning. Len was an incredibly proud husband and father. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.”

The 52-year-old also raised awareness of the condition among current players through his work with Project 92. The 2019 FIELD Study identified a four-fold increased risk of developing MND among footballers compared to the general public.

Speaking in November 2020 to the PA news Agency, Johnrose said: “That (increased risk) should cause massive shockwaves, but it’s barely caused a ripple. We really need to get that message out there.”

So who was Len Johnrose?

Len Johnrose, the footballer

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Born in 1969 in Preston, Lancashire, Johnrose first began his career as a defensive midfielder with Blackburn Rovers.

As a young trainee, he also spent time on loan at Preston North End and his impressive stints lead to a £50,000 switch to Hartlepool United in 1992.

During his year with the side, Johnrose made over 60 appearances, scoring 11 goals in the process and the end of his year contract saw him signed by Stan Ternent, the Bury manager.

Johnrose was crucial to Bury’s rapid rise through to the First Division and Ternent was so dependent on the midfielder that he reportedly paid £225,000 to take Johnrose with him to his new club Burnley.

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He made nearly 200 league appearances for Bury before moving and would go on to play nearly 100 matches for Burnley in this three different stints at the club.

The defensive midfielder signed a 12 month contract with Swansea starting in the 2003-04 season and while a further 12 month contract was discussed later in the year, when the Swans manager Brian Flynn left the club by mutual consent in March 2004, Johnrose left within two days.

Len Johnrose and Motor Neurone Disease

After his retirement, Johnrose became a teacher before he was diagnosed with MND.

Motor Neurone Disease is a rare condition which affects both the brain and nerves, Symptoms of the disease include muscle weakness, twitches, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. The symptoms get worse over time and, at present, there is no cure for the disease.

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Former Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Rob Burrow was also diagnosed with the disease in 2019 and he has since been appointed MBE for his services to both the sport and the MND community.

There is a one in 300 risk of a person developing MND in their lifetime and not only is there no cure but there are still no answers which explain what can cause it.

Johnrose helped launch the IceFoot92 challenge in 2021 to raise funds for the MND Association. Participants were challenged to immerse their feet in icy water of 92 seconds.

Speaking in October 2019 to the PA Agency, Johnrose said he was “sickened” there were no restrictions placed on headers in childrend’s football and he said the sport’s authorities were “taking chances with people’s lives.”

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Since this, guidance has been introduced advising that all heading is to be avoided in under-11s football training.

What has been said?

Johnrose’s former clubs Burnley, Blackburn, Hartlepool and Swansea have all tweeted their condolences. The MND Association released a statement to PA on Monday 15 August saying: “Len lived with this brutal disease in the public eye after choosing to announce his diagnosis in the summer of 2018.

“Follow that he selflessly dedicated huge amounts of time to raising awareness.

“Len’s infectious smile, sense of humour, pragmatic approach to life and determination to do everything he could to work on behalf of people with MND made him a very popular figure within the MND community. He will be sorely missed.

“We would like to pass our sympathies to Len’s wife Nadine, his three children Chanel, Elizabeth and Patrick, his family and friends, and also our gratitude for their unwavering support.”

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