The chairman of St Martins Football Club has described Derek Stokes as “the heart and soul of the club” following his death at the weekend.

Mr Stokes, 78, had an association with the club which lasted seven decades, and it was announced on Sunday night that he had passed away after a long illness.

Terry Ellis, who has known Mr Stokes for much of that time, says there will be a huge hole in his life, and says everyone who knew him will miss him.

“Derek was the heart and soul of the club,” said Mr Ellis.

“I was chatting to him and his wife Susan for an hour on Friday. I will miss a great friend – I’ve known him for a long time.

“I was with him every day and I don’t know how we’ll get on without him. I’ve phoned the chairman of the West Midlands Football League, and both he and his wife were very upset.

“They will be coming to the funeral which says everything.”

Mr Ellis says Mr Stokes was well-liked by everyone who met him, and as a footballer he could have played professionally – but his loyally to St Martins never wavered, serving in a number of positions.

He was manager and played well until his 50s, and Mr Ellis said the club would meet tonight (Tuesday) to discuss how best to mark his passing.

He added: “His association with the club started when he first went to watch them as a six-year-old.

“He remembers going to watch them with his father and then he first played for us when he was 14.

“He was in our youth team. He should have played at a higher level, but he was always loyal to St Martins.

“St Martins was him and he was St Martins. I know he had trials with Doncaster Rovers and with Wolverhampton Wanderers, but he stayed with the club.

“He was treasurer and secretary for 40 years. Everyone knew him and wherever we went in the West Midlands, everyone asked about him. He was so well-respected by everyone.”