Sunderland stars of the past turned out to say goodbye to one of their own at the funeral of former Black Cats player Nigel Saddington.
Nigel passed away aged just 53 last month after suffering from heart disease.
His funeral was held at Sunderland Crematorium yesterday and a host of former Black Cats stars, including Gary Bennett, David Corner, Barry Dunn and John Cornforth, as well as Sunderland RCA manager Martin Swales, turned out to pay their respects.
Celebrant Andy Barker spoke of how Nigel, who grew up in Roker, had signed for Doncaster Rovers, but eventually got a dream move to play for his hometown team.
“He was a home boy at heart,” said Mr Barker.
“One weekend he decided not to go back to Doncaster from Sunderland.
“His manager there Billy Bremner let him train with Sunderland to stay fit.
“Then Lawrie McMenemy took a shine to the young centre-half and he signed for Sunderland.”
The service heard that Nigel had numerous jobs after he retired from professional football, including at Nissan.
“Nigel was looking to the next challenge, but sadly we find ourselves gathered here today,” said Mr Barker.
“He would want to see smiles on faces and people remembering the times that were shared together.
“He will live on in our hearts and in our minds.”
Nigel signed a contract with Yorkshire club Doncaster Rovers before moving back to Wearside to play for his hometown team in 1986.
He moved to Carlisle United in 1988, where he became club captain.
He remained at the club until 1991 when he was diagnosed with ME – a long-term chronic condition which affects the nervous and immune system – aged 25.
Nigel, who was dad to Hayley and Ellye, and grandad to Willow Bungoni, three, went on to work for Nissan and when he could would often still play for various teams.
Nigel’s funeral was held at Sunderland Crematorium and saw a host of former Black Cats stars turn out to pay their respects.
Following Nigel’s death, Hayley said: “He was such a funny man, he would always crack stupid jokes – he was a really good dad, who was always there for you.
“Growing up, I had no idea how big my dad playing for Sunderland was until I got into secondary school.
“Everyone used to ask about my dad.
“He idolised Willow and she idolised him.
“He was a great grandad to her.”
Nigel leaves behind daughters Hayley and Ellye, brothers Adrian and Mark, sister Clare and granddaughter Willow.