Former Aston Villa manager Ron Atkinson led the tributes to Dalian Atkinson following the news the former striker had died.
He played under ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson at both Sheffield Wednesday and Villa and his former boss remembered a happy man both on and off the pitch.
“He always had a smile on his face – and played football with a smile on his face,” Atkinson said.
“He was popular in the dressing room, had terrific ability and did it in the big games. He did very well for me. I signed him at Sheffield Wednesday and when I joined Villa he was one of the first players I wanted to bring in. It’s tragic.”
Former Wednesday strike partner David Hirst has spoken of his shock and sadness at the news.
Hirst played alongside Atkinson up front for the Owls in the top flight during the 1989-90 season before the club were relegated.
“It’s a very sad day and a massive shock,” Hirst said. “This is not the news you want to be seeing.
“I saw the news and was thinking they had surely got it wrong. That should not happen.
“Whatever has happened, I can’t comment on that, but I do know he was a great lad and a great character to have around the place.
“We got on great and had one season together before he moved on to Spain (with Real Sociedad) and then Ron Atkinson brought him back to Aston Villa,” Hirst continued.
“He was some player and of course at Villa he scored that goal of the season (against Wimbledon, in 1992-93).
“On his day he was unplayable and even on an off-day he could be unplayable because of his lightning pace.
“He was loud and fun to be around. He had an opinion, but who doesn’t? It’s very sad.”
Atkinson’s former team-mate at Aston Villa, Stan Collymore, tweeted:
RIP Big man. Deeply distressed and upset at the news. Condolences to DA’s family and friends. Much love. Devastated. pic.twitter.com/Uv9ib2zseT
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) August 15, 2016
Chris Turner, another former team-mate of Atkinson’s at Hillsborough said: “I’m very shocked. I’m gutted to hear what has happened and my thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.
“He was a great lad and well liked amongst everyone at Sheffield Wednesday. He had one of the hardest strikes of a ball I ever faced as a goalkeeper.
“I only spoke to him recently because he had become a football agent and had offered us some players. It’s very sad.”
Other former Villa team-mates took to Twitter to pay tribute to Atkinson soon after confirmation of his death.
Former centre-back Paul McGrath posted: “Don’t feel to gud at the moment, Dalian Atkinson was a huge part of the Villa family I played with lovely kid and friend R.I.P pal Xx.”
Goalkeeper Mark Bosnich wrote: “RIP Dalian Atkinson,at his best one of the very best.xmb”
Midfielder Ian Taylor tweeted: “Just heard news re my old team mate Dalian. Deepest condolences to his family. Only spoke to him last week as well. Sad sad news.”
Current Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, who was born in 1995 – the year Atkinson left Villa Park for Turkish side Fenerbahce – tweeted: “RIP Dalian Atkinson. Loved watching videos of him & always remember his great goal vs Wimbledon. My thoughts are with his family & friends.”