Footballer Danny Wallace discusses life with multiple sclerosis

BY Farhana Gani

1st Jan 2015 Celebrities

Footballer Danny Wallace discusses life with multiple sclerosis

With an FA Cup win and BBC's Goal of the Season award in the bag, the future looked bright for footballer Danny Wallace. That is until a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis changed his life forever. He talked to us about his battle with the disease.

In 1984 Danny Wallace won the BBC's coveted Goal of the Season. Four years later, he joined Manchester United. Danny was part of the winning team in 1990 when Man U beat Crystal Palace to lift the FA Cup. He was 26-years-old and at the peak of fitness.

But success was short-lived. Years of injuries followed and his career spiralled downwards. At just 31 years-old Danny was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

danny wallace
Danny Wallace crosses the London Marathon finish line in 2006

In 2006 he walked the London Marathon. It took him six days. “It was even better than winning the FA Cup,” he declared.

We caught up with Danny as he filmed an interview to support the DVD release of Jimmy McGovern’s critically acclaimed drama Go Now, directed by Michael Winterbottom and with a stunning cast including Robert Carlyle, Juliet Aubrey, James Nesbitt and Sophie Okonedo.

Go Now was first shown on the BBC in 1995 and has never been available to own before. McGovern’s co-writer, Paul Henry Powell, suffered from MS and this drama is based on his own experiences. Both writers won the Royal Television Society’s Best Writer Award in 1996.

The film follows Nick (Robert Carlyle), a builder and amateur footballer in an anguished, touching story of a young man in the prime of his life afflicted with multiple sclerosis.His relationship with girlfriend Karen (Juliet Aubrey) is tried and tested by Nick’s life-changing diagnosis and it forms the backbone of this unsentimental but uplifting drama.

Go Now has huge parallels with Danny's own experience of living with MS as we discovered.


Go Now

The cast of Go Now James Nesbitt, Sophie Okonedo, Robert Carlyle and Juliet Aubrey

Farhana Gani: Danny you recently watched Jimmy McGovern’s film Go Now, tell us what you felt really rang true about the drama?

Danny Wallace: To tell you the truth, it brought back a hell of a lot of memories.

The way Nick in the film plays football, all the locker room banter, his symptoms and his reactions, the way he was eventually diagnosed… it took me back to the time I started having all these bad episodes with MS.

I could relate to everything he went through.


Winning the FA Cup should have been the start of a long career, but it didn’t quite work out like that…

The FA Cup was an absolutely tremendous achievement for me and Manchester United, but there were definitely signs of what was to come.

I was already struggling to play and keep fit. There were times when I could feel numbness in my feet and when my legs felt really heavy. But I didn’t know what the problem was.

I thought I was suffering from normal, everyday footballer’s injuries. I just tried to keep on playing football, and not worry about it.


Were the symptoms in the film accurately portrayed?

Yes, I lost sensation in my hands and feet a bit later, when I left Manchester United and signed for Birmingham City.

We had a game and the right side of my body felt like jelly, and even kicking a ball felt like I was kicking a balloon full of water. It was very frustrating, not knowing what was wrong with me.

From there, every time I trained or played a game, I had that feeling.

danny wallace
Wallace playing for Manchester United during his glory days


How much pressure were you under to hide your illness?

Well I think at first, I thought it was just normal everyday footballer’s injuries, I didn’t really think about it that way, but once the symptoms started coming through, I had to hide it and try and get through training and games without anyone realising that there was something wrong with me.


When you were initially diagnosed, how did you cope?

At first, I just felt relief. Relief that it wasn’t my fault, that I wasn’t just an injury-prone player. That something out of my control had happened. But a few weeks later it hit me that I wasn’t going to be playing football anymore and that I had a condition that would be with me for the rest of my life. And that’s when I began to feel really sad.

I went downhill and fell into a deep depression. I just wanted to hide myself. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t want to be around anyone, even my wife. It was really hard for me to come to terms with having this disease.

I’ve always wanted to play football, and to lose that… I mean it was the only thing I wanted to do.

This period was extremely tough on my wife. I shut her out. I even shut out the kids. I wouldn’t talk to any of them. But my wife just carried on and made sure everything was alright. She was the one who really truly held us all together.


Danny Wallace
Posing for CAFE (Centre for Access to Football in Europe)


So what’s life like for Danny Wallace today? Describe how a given week is in your life

My week for the last 20 years has been, more or less, within the four walls of my house, I try to get out occasionally with my wife—she takes me out in my wheelchair now—because I can’t walk that far.

There are good times and bad times. Relapses are rare, but when they do come it’s pretty hard, and I could be immobile for three or four days. Then it lifts, and I’m pretty much back to my old self.


You’re a campaigner for the MS society

I’ve been involved with the society for a few years now, and I’ve been doing a lot of events, mainly walking events, such as the Wheel & Walk event. 

They usually invite me to help promote their events, and I’m more than happy to help out. They’ve done a lot for me, and hopefully I can do something for them in return to help other sufferers like me.

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