A PLAYER with “great ability” who “could have gone a lot further and played a lot higher” were among the tributes paid to south Essex football hero Mitchell Cole by a former team mate.

Cole, who was just 27, passed away on Friday night after suffering a heart attack.

Tributes have poured in for the former Grays Athletic winger, who made 47 appearances for the club scoring nine goals during their 2004/2005 Conference South and FA Trophy winning season.

Staurt Thurgood, the current captain of Thurrock FC, who played with Cole at Grays during that successful season, said: “He was a good lad, a great player with great ability. It’s very sad news, it’s just gutting really. He was only 27.”

Cole had a rare heart defect which forced him to retire from the game in Feburary 2011.

He had two young children and was engaged to Joe Cole’s sister, with whom he was expecting a baby this week.

After playing for Blues under Mark Stimson, Cole joined Southend United in 2005 before teaming up with Stimson again at Stevenage. During his time there, he scored the first goal in the new Wembley stadium, as Stevenage won the FA Trophy.

On Saturday, football matches in south Essex kicked off following the news that Cole, a player who had had a resounding impact on players, fans and officials of the sport in this region, had passed away.

Blues players wore black arm bands during their 2-0 win over Ware on Saturday. A minute’s silence was observed at Rush Green before kick-off.

In Bury, where Southend United were playing, away fans sang his name after 14 minutes. He wore the number 14 shirt during his time at Roots Hall.

Paying tribute, Thurgood added: “I just feel for the family.

“He was very quick. I think if it wasn’t for his heart problems then he would have gone on a lot further and played a lot higher. He was a really good player.

“He was a good lad. He got involved in the banter and was a really nice fella. It’s just a real shame.”

In a statement, Grays Athletic said: “The Club are sorry to hear the news that former player Mitchell Cole passed away on Saturday night.

“He is best remembered for his rampaging runs down the left wing, and for scoring some spectacular goals.

“The thoughts of everyone at the club are with his family at this most difficult of times.”

Grays fans, who have fond memories of Cole, paid tribute to him on a forum. Glyn said: “I remember when he played his first friendly for us after West Ham released him because of his health problem.

“I thought he could have been up there with those other signings of that era: Eastwood, McLean, Oli, Hooper and Kightly, but it was not to be. So sad for one so young. Sincere condolences to his family and friends.”

Stiffordblue said: “How sad. Remember him well, one of the players that made us a force in non-league.”

On Twitter, Grays fan Matthew Wright said: "Such a sad loss, was a good player and I remember talking to him. Will be missed by all who knew him."