A DEDICATED photographer who spent more than 30 years capturing sports action passed away in his sleep aged 62.

Stephen Wheeler, known as Steve, travelled across the county every weekend taking pictures for the Oxford Mail.

He died at his Eynsham home on October 10.

Mr Wheeler’s images were pivotal in the paper covering grassroots sport across Oxfordshire, and he took thousands of pictures from the Oxford Mail Youth League and Oxford Mail Girls League.

He was a regular presence at rugby union matches – his favourite sport – and spent his summer photographing every level of cricket

Tributes from far and wide poured in after the news of his death, including from an old friend whose house in Australia had some of Mr Wheeler’s images on his walls.

Stephen John Wheeler was born on January 16, 1955, in Oxford to Alec and Jean Wheeler.

Alec worked for Oxford University Press and as a taxi driver, while Jean stayed at home to look after the children.

Six years later, Mr Wheeler's brother Anthony was born.

Stephen grew up in a happy home in the Wood Farm area of Oxford and went to Wood Farm Primary School and then attended Headington Middle School.

After leaving school at the age of 15 he took an apprenticeship at Hinkins & Frewin as a plumber and attended night school to gain his City and Guilds in plumbing.

Mr Wheeler then went on to work for Pressed Steel in Cowley, before he switched to engine reconditioning firm FJ Payne in Eynsham.

His next place of employment was Oxford Instruments, where he worked for 20 years with his brother.

During this period he worked as a part-time freelance photographer covering weddings and sport, mainly for the Oxford Mail.

He would do this on a full-time basis from 2005.

In 1973 he met his wife, Mavis Jedynowicz, and they were married on April 26, 1975, at St Giles registration office.

They lived at a number of properties in Iffley but moved back to the family home to save for their first house, which was in Howard Street, East Oxford.

They then moved back to Wood Farm after the death of Mr Wheeler's father to help his mother, before eventually moving to Eynsham.

Their first son, Matthew, was born on September 10, 1980, before a second, Daniel, was born on June 2, 1984.

He was a keen sportsman from an early age and, spurred on by England's World Cup win in 1966, became a huge football fan.

Mr Wheeler was good enough to play football at a semi-professional level for Wantage Town but his true sporting passion was rugby and in 1991 he became a rugby coach for the newly reformed Oxford RFC mini and juniors team.

He also played for Oxford RFC 3rd XI – the Vikings – and then the veterans side, for whom he featured until the age of 50.

He combined playing rugby with working for the Oxford Mail at weekends and would proudly complete a job in the morning and then rush across the county to play a match in the afternoon.

Becoming a photographer was a hobby that became his profession by accident.

He was taking pictures of his brother Anthony playing football when a reporter for the Oxford Mail approached him to say the photographer had not turned up.

The Oxford Mail borrowed the film, liked his pictures and the rest was history.

Mr Wheeler started taking pictures at grassroots level and that is where he finished up, documenting the foundations of sport.

He leaves wife Mavis and sons Matthew and Daniel.

Mr Wheeler's funeral will take place on November 3 at Oxford Crematorium at 2pm.