FORMER Oxford United player Mitchell Cole has died, the Football League has announced.

Mr Cole, 27, was forced to hang up his boots as a professional player in February last year following a heart attack.

The winger suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is an irregular thickness of the heart in certain areas.

Writing on its official Twitter feed, the Football League said: "We are sad to hear former Southend, Stevenage and Oxford United player Mitchell Cole has passed away.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends."

Oxford United spokesman Chris Williams added: “Our players are devastated.”

Cole, who was married to the sister of England international Joe Cole, told the Oxford Mail after being forced to retire that he would be risking death if he were to play again.

“It’s hard to swallow at the minute,” he said.

“Football’s been my life. It’s all I’ve ever known.”

He quit as a professional for the U’s before returning to the non-League game.

Cole made just five appearances since joining the U’s from Stevenage in the summer of 2010.

It has been reported that Mr Cole decided to retire completely after watching Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba suffer a cardiac arrest in an FA Cup tie with Tottenham in March.

Muamba was "dead" for 78 minutes before doctors saved his life.

The Professional Footballers’ Association joined the Football League in expressing their condolences, tweeting: "The PFA is deeply saddened by the loss of 27-year-old Mitchell Cole, our thoughts are with his friends and family."

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