A YOUNG footballer whose shining talent dwindled weeks before he was diagnosed with leukaemia has been told his dreams of playing for Manchester United are still intact.
Joshua Almond, 11, is in remission, having undergone extensive treatment for the disease which attacks the blood.
Having been sent a letter by the Red Devils ex-manager Sir Alex Ferguson soon after diagnosis, the club kept in touch with his progress.
And academy chief Derek Langley has promised to take another look at the youngster when he recovers.
Mum Marie, 43, of Barley Bank Street, Darwen described the family’s harrowing ordeal once the diagnosis was made.
But now there is hope for the future as the Avondale Primary pupil has fought back against the disease.
Mum-of-five Marie, who is Joshua’s full-time carer, said they first found out about Joshua’s illness soon after his footballing ability began to suffer.
She said: “Joshua has played football since he was four and played for Rovers, Bolton, Liverpool, Burnley, Manchester United and most recently Preston.
“United were interested in him and said if he played at Preston they would keep an eye on him.
“Preston had told us he was one of their best players but then at the next parents’ evening they said his level had dropped and they were letting him go.”
Three weeks later, on May 15 last year, Marie and husband, Gary, 39, an area sales manager for UK Homemaker, were told Joshua had leukaemia.
Marie said: “Manchester United have been very supportive. They have said that when he gets better they want him back.”
Manchester United’s head of academy recruitment, Mr Langley, said the door would stay open for as long as it took.
He said: “We have always said to the family and to Joshua that we will always keep the opportunity open to him to have another assessment.
“We are really pleased he is on the mend and there is no time factor.
“We have just said when he is stronger and ready we will welcome him back with open arms.”
Marie said Joshua’s football playing had helped alert them something was wrong.
She said: “If it wasn’t for football we may not have realised there was anything wrong with him.”
As well as a letter from Sir Alex, Joshua has also had support from former Blackburn Rovers captain Tim Sherwood.
The news of Joshua’s leukaemia was devastating to Marie and Gary, who lost daughter, Kelsey, in 2008.
Marie, also mum to Gemma, 28, Michael, 22, and Grayson, three, as well as stepson Owen, 15, and a grandmother-of-two, said: “He was in and out of hospital and then four months in they did a bone marrow test and realised it was still there.”
Joshua was put on a stronger form of chemotherapy and sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital for a bone marrow transplant on January 5.
Following radiotherapy, he is now in remission and subject to regular checks.
Marie said: “They say if he stays cancer-free for two years he should be okay.”
She said she and her family wished to thank all the hospital staff, plus the Rainbow Trust.
She also thanked the anonymous bone marrow donor and the Anthony Nolan Trust and Joshua, who has a season ticket at Blackburn Rovers, said: “I still want to play for Manchester United. Robin van Persie is my favourite player.
“I don’t care what position I play in as long as I can make it!”