TRIBUTES have been paid to a former North East footballer who died after taking ill at a restaurant on Teesside last night.

Neil Campbell apparently became, “seriously unwell” while having a meal at an Italian restaurant in Yarm.

An ambulance was called to Uno Ristorante, in the High Street, shortly after 7.10pm.

Despite the efforts of paramedics the popular father-of-two was pronounced dead a short time later.

A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said: "Police were contacted by ambulance service colleagues just before 8.10pm last night while they were treating a man who had become seriously unwell while out for a meal in Yarm.

"Officers attended and, very sadly, the man, who was in his 40s, was pronounced deceased shortly afterwards.

"A file will be prepared for the coroner.

"All our thoughts are with the man’s family and friends at this difficult time."

Uno posted a message thanking other customers who came to Mr Campbell’s aid as well as the members of the emergency services who attended the scene.

It said: “With great sadness in our hearts, we tragically announce the passing of a guest last night.

“We thank the doctor and medically trained customers who were in dining who did everything they could, and the emergency response team that arrived very fast.

“We thank all our diners for accepting that we had to evacuate during this tragic incident.

“Uno Ristorante offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends at this sad time.”

The Northern Echo:

The message added: “We ask for the respect to the family in this sad time and we do not wish to comment further.”

Among many former clubs, Middlesbrough-born Mr Campbell played for local Northern League side Thornaby FC, for whom he was also assistant manager last season.

A message on the Teesdale Park club’s twitter site said: “All connected with the club is devastated with the passing of Neil Campbell.

“Cammy was a fantastic character and one of the best wind-up merchants, with a great sense of humour.

“Always approachable to talk football or anything else.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Replies carrying similar sentiments were sent from fans and officials of fellow Northern League clubs.

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Barrow AFC, another of Mr Campbell’s teams, said: “The club is extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of former player Neil Campbell.

“Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his family and friends.”

Mr Campbell scored 27 goals in 76 appearances for the Bluebirds, famously scoring the winning goal in the UniBond Presidents Cup Final, at Cumbria neighbours Workington, in 2004.

Scarborough Athletic FC, with whom he had two spells, said: “Very sad news this morning with the passing of ex-Scarborough FC player Neil Campbell this morning.

“My condolences go out to his family.”

The striker appeared in more than 400 games at both Football League and lower league level, also playing at York City, Southend United, Doncaster Rovers and Leigh RMI, plus for other Northern League sides.