James Milner paid tribute to Stephen Darby's incredible strength after a special match between Liverpool and Bradford City in his honour.

Former Reds defender Darby was forced to retire from football at the age of 29 last September having been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Sunday’s pre-season match at Valley Parade raised funds for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation, the foundation launched by Darby to increase awareness and help others.

Milner found the target twice in a 3-1 win for Jürgen Klopp’s side, one via a deflection and the other from the penalty spot, with Rhian Brewster also on the scoresheet.

But the result was insignificant compared to the greater meaning of the game, explained the Reds’ No.7 in a post-match interview with Liverpoolfc.com…

On football being secondary to the occasion…

Yes, it’s tough. Personally, I’m proud to know Stephen… how he deals with everything. It has been a great occasion today with everyone coming out. It is a horrible disease but [he has] everyone around him. Anything that’s been raised today, and the awareness, hopefully helps other people going through the same thing.

On handing over a cheque to the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation from the James Milner Foundation…

Obviously I’m in a fortunate position to help, we help some great causes and Darbs’s foundation is one of many. How he’s conducted himself, how he is going about what he’s done, setting up the foundation, him and Steph [Houghton] together – we obviously want to help as much as we can. We’re having another ball this year on December 1 and hopefully we can raise more funds again and some of those will be going to that again.

On Stephen’s situation making him appreciate his career as a footballer…

I think so but football becomes secondary. We know how important it is, how much it means to people, how much it changes lives and how happy it makes people. You see the parade after the Champions League and what it means to people. Maybe when they’re going through hard times football gives them a bit to take their mind off it. That’s secondary obviously to everything else and what the disease can do to people and families. So, the more money we can raise and the awareness to learn more about it because there’s not too much that’s known about the effects and what can help it.

On Stephen’s strength and bravery…

Incredible. I’m proud to know him. Losing his football career like he did, that’s one thing. And then dealing with the disease, having Steph around him, she’s doing incredibly as well – carrying on her football and being there for Darbs at the same time, going through it together. [He is] thinking about himself and his family but also thinking about others in setting up the foundation and how it can help other people going forward. They have done an amazing job. He is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. It’s unfortunate what happened. Today shows how much everybody thinks of him, both the clubs he’s played at and all the people who have come out today. It was a fantastic turnout. I’m sure you’ll see more of the videos on social media, there are more fun ways of doing it. We nominated everyone here so hopefully there’s a few videos going up and raising that awareness more and getting the word out.

On claiming the first goal…

I think I’ve got to! I’ll put my hand up and claim it. Today’s performance wasn’t as good as the other day. The pitch got dry after 20 minutes, that didn’t help us, and we’ve had a tough week. Sometimes they defended well and defended deep. You’ve got to keep making the runs in behind, which maybe we stopped doing, and we were a bit sloppy with some of the passes. It’s our fault as well and something to learn from. We started so positively the other day and it was the same score at half-time as the other day but probably not as good a performance. But we’re working hard; we want to play well, that’s obviously one thing we want to do, but at this stage of the season it’s about getting those mistakes out of the way and getting the fitness, getting game time in our legs.

On pre-season ‘stepping up’ when the Reds go out to America next week…

The majority of the boys are back and the sooner everybody can be on the same programme, the better. The first week is always the toughest, both mentally being back and physically. You’ve got that first week in the legs with some tough sessions. We’ll get out there, more games and more tough sessions and running I’m sure. The longer we’re together, the better you feel. Hopefully we can step up the preparations, tick them off one by one and be ready for that first game.

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