THE south Essex football world has united to pay tribute to former Southend United winger Mitchell Cole.
Mitchell, who was forced to retire from football due to a heart condition, passed away aged 27 on Friday evening.
And Southend striker Freddy Eastwood admitted he has been left devastated by the death of his former Blues team-mate.
Eastwood, who also played with the winger at West Ham United and Grays Athletic, is still struggling to come to terms with the news.
“When I heard what had happened I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t if I’m honest,” said Eastwood, 29.
“Mitchell was a really, really nice person and someone I had played with virtually all of my career.
“We were at West Ham together as kids then both went to Grays and Southend, and I knew his wife really well too.
“We had been on holidays together and I saw him a few months ago when he came back to play in the club’s family day during the summer.
“It’s just really shocking and I’m devastated by the news.”
Mitchell played 37 games for Blues between 2005 and 2007 and was part of the squad that won the League One title.
He was also on the bench when Southend beat Manchester United 1-0 in the Carling Cup.
And Steve Tilson, who brought Mitchell to Roots Hall from Grays in 2005, has also been left stunned by his death.
“It’s a huge loss and I feel so sad and sorry for his family,” said Tilson.
“Mitchell had two young children and his wife is currently pregnant so it's a tragic loss.
“I never had a problem withhim when he was a Southend and he was a very good player.
“He had bags of pace, a good left foot and was capable of scoring goals.
“If he didn’t have the heart problem then who knows how high he could have gone in the game.
“But at 27 years old he had hardly started to live his life and it’s just terrible.”
“To see a life taken that early — at that age — it’s upsetting really.
“It does make you realise that football is just a game, even though we always want to win.
“But these things happen and it does put everything into perspective — it makes you think you need to live each day as it comes.
“We all worry about things like money, we worry about this and we worry about that, but a friend has just died at 27 years old and it does put things into perspective.”
Tilson said Mitchell was a genuinely talented footballer.
“He was a left-sided player with bags of pace, I mean he was quick,” the current Canvey Island manager added.
“He had a nice left foot and could score a goal.
“He was a nice lad as well and he was never a problem for me, ever. In training and in games he was always a good character, and just a great person to have about.”
Mitchell was captained by Kevin Maher during his time at Roots Hall and the midfielder was also quick to pay tribute to his former team-mate.
“Mitchell was a great lad, who played his part in a very successful time at the club,” said Maher.
“It’s a devastating loss and my thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
London-born Mitchell retired from professional football in February 2011 but played non-league for both Basildon United and Arlesey Town this season.
It is also believed he played five-a-side football with his friends just hours before his death, but it is not yet known what caused it to happen.
Southend fans at Bury on Saturday paid tribute to Mitchell by chanting his name during the 14th minute of the match at Gigg Lane.
Cole wore number 14 during his time at Southend and the club are planning to pay tribute to him before tomorrow night’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash against Brentford at Roots Hall.
Thurrock FC captain Stuart Thurgood, who played with Mitchell at Grays Athletic during their Conference South and FA Trophy winning season in 2005, said: “I was at Grays with him for a couple of years, he was a good lad, a great player with great ability.
“It’s very sad news, it’s just gutting really. He was only 27 and it’s just really sad.
“He’s got two kids, one due this week and I just feel for the family.
“He was very quick. I think if it wasn’t for his heart problems then I think he would have gone on a lot further and played a lot higher. He was a really good player.
“He was a good lad. He got involved in the banter and was a really nice fella. It’s just a real shame.”
Mitchell scored nine goals in 47 appearances for Grays and was renowned for his flying runs up the wing.
In a statement, Grays Athletic said: “The club are sorry to hear the news that former player Mitchell Cole passed away.
“He is best remembered for his rampaging runs down the left wing, and for scoring some spectacular goals.
“The thoughts of everyone at the club are with his family at this most difficult of times.”
Grays players wore black arm games during their 2-0 win over Ware on Saturday.
Before the game there was an impeccably observed minute’s silence.