A MAN whose vision helped create an academy of football excellence for youngsters in a deprived Northern dale has died after a long battle against illness.

Mike Cavender, 44, was shortly to undergo a heart and lung transplant.

He died peacefully at his home in Wolsingham, Weardale, County Durham, near the recreation field where he first saw "a handful of kids kicking about a football in a five-a-side game" four years ago.

His legacy as the quiet man behind the scenes who worked tirelessly at fundraising and administration, was Wolsingham Football Academy, which has 80 members and a growing waiting list.

Tragically, his death came only months before the opening of a sports pavillion at The Rec, which will be used by the academy and a bowls club.

Mr Cavender worked with other community leaders in the Wolsingham Recreation Association to raise funds for the pavillion, which was given £100,000 by St Anne's Convent School, in the town, which has now closed.

But his biggest gift, helped by a dedicated team of coaches, was bringing the magic of football to youngsters of all ages on Saturday mornings.

Builder Colin Dixon, one of the academy's first coaches, said: "Mike was always there behind the scenes filling in forms, talking to local politicians and businesspeople.

"He was, in many ways, our guiding light."

As a measure of his success, Mr Cavender, who remained academy chairman from its start in 2001 until his death, managed to persuade local businessmen, such as haulage contractor Peter Monkhouse and caravan boss Jim Robson, to buy essential equipment for the academy.

Weardale District councillor Vere Shuttleworth, who is secretary of the Wolsingham Recreation Association, said: "It's very sad he should die so young, but his legacy will be his considerable output in administrative skills and putting together funding."

Mr Cavender's fiancee, Penny Brooks, whom he met two years ago, said: "He was a brave man. He quietly battled with his health for years and always put other people first.

"He worked so hard for the academy to give local kids a chance of playing football.

"We were so happy during our short time together."

A funeral service will be held at Wolsingham Parish Church at 1pm on Wednesday.

The coffin will be carried by Colin Dixon, Neal Wilson, Martin Waite and Danny Morgan, four coaches from the academy.