Tributes flooded in yesterday for former Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop, following his death at the age of 32.
Former clubs, team-mates and friends of the Hungarian lined up to pay their respects, while flags at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light and Academy of Light training base flew at half-mast.
Former Black Cats manager Ricky Sbragia paid an emotional tribute to Fulop as the man who kept the club in the top flight in 2009.
Fulop’s former club MTK Budapest confirmed he had died following a long illness.
He played in England between 2004 and 2010 and was on the books of Tottenham, Ipswich and West Brom and also had loan spells with Manchester City, Stoke, Leicester, Chesterfield and Coventry.
But he is best remembered for his time at Sunderland, where he spent more than three years.
One of the tweets I saw said he was one of the good guys, and I can tell you that he was one of the very bestNiall Quinn
Sbragia highlighted his save from a Gary Cahill header in a goalless draw at Bolton in May 2009, which earned Sunderland their final point in a season where they finished just ahead of relegated Newcastle.
The Scotland Under-21s head coach fought back tears and could not hide the emotion in his voice as he spoke of his sorrow.
“Marton was everything,” said Sbragia, who was in caretaker charge of Sunderland for six months until May 2009.
“You talk about being a good friend and doing everything for you and being there, but he was a different class.
“I had a lot of time for him. He was great for me as a manager and did everything I asked.
“He kept us in the Premiership. Craig Gordon was injured at the time, so Marton was a big focal point in the team.
“I can remember at Bolton he made a save in the 94th minute from Gary Cahill and it kept us in the Premiership.
“I spoke to him about a year ago but I have great memories of him. A lovely man. I was really sad when I saw the news. Condolences to the family.”
Fulop decided to take a break from the game in 2013 following an operation to have a tumour removed from his arm.
He said back then: “I am sure that, after a few months, I will be ready both physically and mentally to continue playing football.
“What is more, I’d like to train between the treatment courses, as the doctors have said this is fine, and in fact, they heartily recommend it.
“I am very grateful to all the messages and good wishes – it really helps me that many are thinking of me.”
Also among those to pay tribute was Niall Quinn, who was Sunderland chairman during Fulop’s time at the club between 2006 and 2010.
The Irishman told Sky Sports News: “Marton was a most beautiful man who brought nothing but joy and a big, radiant smile into the Sunderland dressing room.
“The news is so tragic. He has a beautiful family as well, and I echo the sentiments of all the players and ex-players, ex-colleagues and people who knew him.
“One of the tweets I saw said he was one of the good guys, and I can tell you that he was one of the very best.
“His care for others was noticeable. Every day, he was anxious and eager to assist younger players.
“He was just a beautiful man, and a huge character in our dressing room.”
Fulop was part of Sunderland’s promotion-winning campaign of 2006-07, and went on to play in the Premier League for the Black Cats.
One of the team-mates he was closest to was Danny Higginbotham, who has described him as a “lovely, lovely fella”.
He told the Echo: “It’s awful news. He was a real good guy and character.
“I spent quite a lot of time with him and we spoke about a lot of things. He was a genuinely lovely, lovely fella, and I got to know him quite well.
“You’ll struggle to find anyone with a bad word to say about Marton. Regardless of how good a goalkeeper he was, he was a great man.
“I just feel for his family and hope they’re all right.”
Fulop competed for a place during his time at Sunderland with Craig Gordon, who the club signed for £9million in 2007.
Despite their rivalry for a shirt, a true friendship formed between the pair.
Gordon said: “Marton was a very humble guy, a genuinely nice man, who I was lucky enough to play alongside.
“Even though we were both competing for the number one shirt, he always supported me when I was playing and we were good friends.
“I had kept in touch with him and followed his career and am deeply, deeply saddened to hear the news. My thoughts are with his family.”
Fulop initially joined Sunderland on loan from Tottenham Hotspur in 2006, and impressed enough for the club to make the move permanent in January 2007.
The Black Cats’ chief executive Margaret Byrne said: “We are devastated to hear of Marton’s passing.
“He was a genuinely lovely man, liked and respected by everyone at the club during his four years with us.
“It is desperately sad when we lose a member of our Sunderland family, but to lose one so young and in such circumstances is simply heartbreaking.
“The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the club are with Marton’s family and friends at this terribly sad time.”
Jamie Chandler, from Boldon, was a youngster at Sunderland during Fulop’s time at the club, and now plays for Gateshead.
He tweeted: “Very sad news regarding Martin Fulop, unbelievable character, always top man with the young lads at @Sunderland AFC.”
Fulop made more than 40 appearances for Sunderland, and spent time with nine English clubs.
He had loan spells at Leicester City and Stoke City during his time on Wearside, and later played one game on loan at Manchester City after they had an injury crisis, before going on to join Ipswich Town.
Another of his former team-mates, Stephen Elliott, paid tribute to the stopper on Twitter.
He posted: “Really saddened to hear that my ex-team-mate Marton Fulop has passed away. Thoughts are with his family and friends at this awful time. #rip”
Fulop’s other former clubs also lined up to pay their own tributes, as did Shay Given, a former Sunderland loanee who was at Manchester City at the same time as the Hungarian.
He tweeted: “Terribly sad to hear that Marton Fulop has passed away. He came to MCFC for a spell while I was there. Way too young to pass. #RIPMartonFulop”
Man City captain Vincent Kompany added: “To the family and the dearest, I’d like to offer my deepest condolences in the loss of your loved one. Marton Fulop, may you Rest In Peace.”
Fulop’s former team-mate at West Bromwich Albion, Ben Foster, posted: “Rest in Peace Marton Fulop, one of the good guys and taken way too early. Thoughts and love go to the Fulop family.”
His captain at Tottenham, Ledley King, tweeted: “Shocked and saddened by the news about my former team-mate Marton Fulop. RIP my friend.”