TRIBUTES have been paid to a former professional footballer turned maths teacher who has died of cancer.

The funeral of Nigel Walker, who played for Newcastle, Sunderland and Hartlepool, was held yesterday (Tuesday, February 11) following his death earlier this month aged 54.

After a sporting career, which took him to America to play alongside legendary Polish midfielder Kazimierz Deyna, taught maths at St Bede’s, Greencroft Business and Enterprise Community School, later North Durham Academy, near Stanley, County Durham.

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A service was held for for the father-of-two, who lived in Whickham, Gateshead, with wife, Nikki, at Mountsett Crematorium at Dipton.

North Durham Academy principal David Thornton said: “With typical humility, Nigel played down his sporting success and many students and staff were often surprised to learn that he was once a household name.

“In all the schools in which Nigel taught, he was revered by both staff and students for his dedication and commitment to the children.

“Colleagues valued Nigel’s sense of humour, his integrity and his willingness to help others. The teaching profession has lost one of its best practitioners.”

Mr Walker, who was born in Gateshead, began his career on the books of non-league Whickham before turning professional with Newcastle United in 1977.

He made 74 appearances for the Magpies and scored three goals before heading to play in America with San Diego Sockers during May 1982.

Paul Joannou, club historian for Newcastle United, said: “Highly-talented with the ball at his feet, many supporters who watched him in a black-and-white shirt were taken with his direct running at defences, showing plenty of flair to get past the opposition.

“Had he been in a better Newcastle line-up, maybe his career would have taken off. As it was, the Magpies' coaching staff couldn't develop the flashes of genius he possessed into a more consistent footballer, and he moved on.”

During the 80s, Mr Walker then had short periods with Sunderland, Blackpool and Chester before returning home to play for Hartlepool, going on to join Blyth Spartans, Dunston Fed and RTM Newcastle.

Mr Walker achieved a first class honours degree in computing from Newcastle Polytechnic and joined St Bede's as a maths teacher in 1992, leaving for Greencroft six years later.

Neville Harrison, headteacher of St Bede’s, said: “Nigel was a very popular and respected teacher. He was an inspirational person who will be sadly missed.”