TRIBUTES have been paid to a County Durham-born former international footballer who has died at the age of 64.

Former Spurs and Burnley midfielder Ralph Coates passed away in his sleep in a Bedfordshire hospital today following a stroke.

Born in Hetton-le-Hole in April 1946, the winger's talent was initially spotted by the legendary scout Jack Hixon, the man who went on to unearth the likes of steve Bruce and Alan Shearer.

The 16-year-old apprentice colliery fitter was spotted playing junior football and given a trial at Burnley, for whom he made his debut in December 1964.

He went on to make more than 200 appearances for the Turf Moor club and was called up for the first of his four England caps, before a then-record £190,000 transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in May 1971.

Coates quickly established himself as a crowd favourite at White Hart Lane. In all, he played almost 250 times for Spurs, including the 1972 and 1974 Uefa Cup Finals. However, he remains best remembered for his role in the 1973 League Cup Final against Norwich, when he came off the bench to score the winner.

He ended his career at Leyton Orient and retired in 1980, but in later years returned to Tottenham to work in the executive lounges on match days.

A Spurs spokesman described Coates as: "An extremely likeable man who always had time for a chat with supporters, He will be sadly missed by all."

Manager Harry Redknapp said this morning: "He was just a great guy, one of life's nice fellas. He is still loved here."

Former team-mate and now Burnley chief executive Paul Fletcher said: " He was revered here and it is a very sad day for everyone."