SUNDERLAND AFC chairman Niall Quinn has led tributes to a popular council worker who helped to change the face of youth services in the city.
Andy Neal’s family and colleagues have been left devastated after his sudden death from suspected heart failure.
In a career that spanned three decades, Andy, 51, who was an assistant manager at Sunderland Council’s Youth Development Group, was devoted to boosting the opportunities available to Wearside’s young people.
Mr Quinn said: “I knew Andy well and everyone was devastated to hear of his passing. He worked so hard and with such enthusiasm to help young people in Sunderland.
“He took his job so seriously, he was so professional, yet retained a warmth that all the young people who came into contact with him will remember.
“Personally I always held him in the highest esteem as someone who wanted to give at all times and seldom looked for anything in return. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends – it is a sad day for our city.”
Andy began his career with Sunderland Council in 1986 when he was a deputy warden at Thorney Close Youth Centre. His passion for the cause shone through and youth work roles soon followed in other areas of the city.
The assistant manager was heavily involved in Sunderland Young Achievers’ Awards, which recognises the courage, talent and determination of the city’s young people.
Earlier this month, he played a pivotal role in this year’s ceremony at the Stadium of Light for the awards.
Keith Moore, executive director of children’s services at Sunderland City Council, said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Andy’s family at this very sad time.
“Andy was inspirational and epitomised everything that is so good about youth services in Sunderland.
“He had a real and evident passion for youth services and was a great advocate for our young people, as demonstrated by his pivotal role in the annual Young Achievers’ Awards.
“He was someone who rolled his sleeves up and got things done. He was instrumental in the development of the nationally recognised XL Youth Village programme which broadens the appeal of youth provision and engages young people who might not access more traditional activities.
“His care for others, selfless attitude and his great sense of humour will be greatly missed by his very many friends and colleagues.”
Jim Ferry, project manager from the A690 Youth Initiative, said: “We came up with idea of the youth villages and Andy loved the idea. He was a huge advocate of the villages, what they achieve and their potential.”
Echo editor Rob Lawson, who sits on the Young Achievers’ judging panel, said: “I am shocked and saddened by Andy’s death. He was always a pleasure to work with.
“He was always very keen for the Echo to be involved in what he was doing, particularly the XL Youth Villages and the Young Achievers Awards.
“His work was really important in the city and his loss is a big one for Sunderland.”
Andy, who was married with two children and lived in Silksworth, was taken to hospital on Monday with chest pains. He died the next day from suspected heart failure.