Former Aston Villa and Wolves midfielder Paul Birch has lost his long, hard battle with bone cancer at the age of just 45.
He died this morning just after 10am at Birmingham's Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield. It is believed his family were at his bedside.
News of the tragic death of a much loved and talented former player reached his friends and former team-mates on what was a doubly sad occasion with many preparing to leave for another former Villa player's funeral, that of Vic Crowe who died last week aged 76 and who led the team to League Cup success in 1961.
Today tributes poured in for "Birchy" as the player was affectionately known by his former team-mates and fans who still chant his name to this day from the steps of the Holte End at Villa Park.
Another former Villa star, Neil Rioch, who runs Aston Villa's Former Players' Association confirmed the sad news and said: "The Former Players' Association knew unfortunately that this day was inevitable but the news was still a devastating blow to us all when it came.
"Paul was one of life's loveliest men and would do absolutely anything for anyone both on and of the pitch. He was a great supporter of the association and all our charity and fundraising work."
Former Villa team-mate Andy Blair who played with Birch at Villa during two spells in the 1980s, said: "Paul was one of the best team-mates you could ever wish to have - he was always dependable, rock solid but was also a very good friend too.
"When I signed for Villa in 1981, Paul was coming through the youth ranks and we played together in the 1982 European Super Cup against Barcelona at Villa Park.
"When I rejoined Villa in 1986, along with Steve Hunt, Paul was still there and we had another season together."
Blair, who last saw his friend two weeks ago, added: "He was a fantastic lad and the tenacity and courage he used to fight his illness were just the same attributes he showed on the pitch. This is a very, very sad day for us all and everyone at Aston Villa."
Birch began his career as a Villa youth player and broke into the side for odd games before becoming a regular first-team player in the 1983/84 season.
He made his league debut on 29 August 1983 in a 1-0 win at home to Sunderland. During Villa's decline he was the mainstay of their midfield - able to play on the right or in the centre - and through his tenacious performances became a Holte End favourite.
However, when Jozef Vengloš became Villa manager in 1990, Birch found himself out of the team and was sold to second flight Wolverhampton Wanderers in early 1991 for £400,000 where he joined up with former manager Graham Turner. He had served Aston Villa for over 10 years and was awarded a testimonial by the club against Wolves in August 1991.
Birch stayed at Wolves for five years as the club tried to break into the Premier League. He was almost an ever-present under Turner, but found regular appearances harder to come by after Wolves appointed another former manager of his, Graham Taylor.
He was finally released by Wolves in the summer of 1996, finishing his career with spells at Doncaster Rovers and Exeter City before retiring from professional football.
In May 2008, it was revealed he was suffering from bone cancer and friends and former team-mates rallied round by setting up a trust fund in his name.
After a long battle and spells of chemotheraphy, Paul was recently allowed home from hospital where he was cared for with the help of Macmillan nurses, but he was readmitted two weeks ago after being given the dreadful news that his condition had deteriorated.
Birch leaves a young daughter.