TRIBUTES have poured in for former Oxford United player Mitchell Cole. Mr Cole, 27, was forced to hang up his boots as a professional player in February last year following a heart attack.

He suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an irregular thickness of the heart.

Oxford United said players and management were deeply saddened to hear of the death of the winger on Friday. The United team wore black armbands during Saturday’s game against Accrington Stanley.

A minute’s silence will also be observed before Saturday’s home game against Aldershot Town.

United chairman Ian Lenagan said: “It is tragic news and our thoughts are very much with Mitchell’s family at this sad time.”

United boss Chris Wilder added: “I got to know him pretty well, I possibly spoke to him more when he retired and started his career as an agent. He was coming to youth team and first team games and he was just a really nice kid and a popular boy.”

Striker James Constable said the team were determined to go out and get a result for their former colleague.

He said: “Finding out first thing in the morning was a sucker punch for everyone.

“It was a difficult situation, especially for the lads who knew him so well.”

The Oxford Mail website has been inundated with messages of support for the player’s family, as have online fans’ forums.

On the website of supporters’ group OxVox, Matt D said: “Not just awfully sad news then, but a shock for our football club. As many people said, it’s the sort of event that sets things in perspective.”

Mr Cole made six appearances for the club after arriving in June 2010 from Stevenage. But his playing career ended when he was diagnosed with a heart condition after just a few months.

Mr 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.”

It has been reported that he 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 managed to revive him.