TRIBUTES have been paid to ‘local legend’ Alf Bilby who has passed away at the age of 87.

Alf ran a Saturday morning soccer school in Thundersley for more than 40 years and was also a regular at the Southend United training ground during Steve Tilson’s successful spell in charge.

Tilson formed a close friendship with Alf and was among the first to pay his respects.

“Everyone who met Alf, loved him and he was a real local legend,” said Tilson.

“He was such a good bloke and he would do anything for you.

“He loved football and everyone knew him around the area., “It’s a sad, sad day but he had such a good life in the fact he did so much.”

Tilson had been close to Alf for more than 30 years and knew just how much enjoyment he got from helping youngsters learn the game.

“He just loved coaching the kids,” said Tilson.

“He got so much enjoyment from the kids kicking a ball about and he did it for so many years it was incredible.

“He did it for the love of it and he must have known so many people because he has coached so many kids.”

But Alf also became a popular figure with Blues.

“When I took charge of Southend he came to every single game,” said Tilson.

“He was in every day when we trained and he got on so well with everyone.

“The players loved him and so did the staff.”

Alf helped to nurture a number of young players down the years and was particularly proud of the part he played in Jai Reason’s career.

Reason came through the ranks at Ipswich before playing for Cambridge United, Eastleigh, Dover and England C.

But Reason feels none of that would have been possible without Alf.

“When I played for England C I signed my shirt to Alf and took it round to him because I wouldn’t have got that far without him,” said Reason.

“I was first coached by him when I was three years old on his Saturday soccer schools at Dark Lane School.

“Money makes the world go around but Alf only ever charged £1 for his training sessions and you could be there all day if you wanted to be.

“That was just the type of man he was and the only reason he charged £1 was to pay the lady on reception.

“He was such a community man and he touched so many lives. This is heart-breaking news.”

And Reason is saddened Alf never got to meet his son.

“The one thing I’m gutted about is that I’ve got a baby boy now and the last time I saw Alf I told him I’d bring him round to meet him but it never got to happen,” said Reason.

“We always kept in touch and I was round there all the time after his wife passed away.”

Southend United legend Adam Barrett was another to form a close friendship with Alf.

And Barrett will forever hold fond memories of their time together.

“I formed a good friendship with Alf and he lived round the corner from us,” said Barrett.

“He had such an infectious way about him and everyone liked him.

“He tried to help everyone and was a very caring man.

“He would do anything for anyone.

“Everyone knew him and everyone liked him.

“You would never find anyone who didn’t like Alf and he will be greatly missed by so many people.

“He loved football and I just always remember he would turn up in a shirt and tie every day and be immaculately dressed.

“He had high standards and values and was just such a lovely guy.”