WHAT Tottenham were hoping would be a glory night at Wembley will now be tinged with sadness after English football lost one of its bravest warriors and gentlest souls.
Grief-stricken Spurs must somehow try to focus on playing Chelsea in tonight’s FA Cup semi-final, just hours after the death of their Under-23 coach Ugo Ehiogu.
The former England and Aston Villa defender passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning at the age of just 44.
What effect this will have on shell-shocked Spurs at Wembley remains to be seen.
Ugo was rushed to hospital after he suffered a cardiac arrest at Tottenham’s training centre in Enfield on Thursday morning.
The state-of-the-art complex was “a sea of tears” yesterday as colleagues, players and staff struggled to come to terms with the sudden loss of one of their own.
Head of coaching and development, John McDermott, said: “Words cannot express the shock and sadness that we all feel at the club.
“Ugo’s immense presence will be irreplaceable.”
While chairman Daniel Levy said: “This is an incredibly sad day for the club and a tragic loss of a talented member of our Spurs family.
“Ugo was an extremely popular and respected academy coach, a tremendous influence on our younger players, both in training and away from the pitch.”
As more and more tributes poured in, it came to light that in what was to be the last message he posted on his Twitter account, Ehiogu revealed he had given £10 to a homeless girl in Dalston, not far from where he grew up in East London.
The tweet added: “She didn’t ask or beg. Random impulsive act from me. Not gonna lie. Felt good. #dosomethingkind.”
The significance of Ehiogu helping a poor girl on the streets of London would not be lost on those who knew him as a youngster.
I was born in the same year and grew up in the same area as Ugo. We were not pals but we had plenty of mutual mates and there were occasions when we took part in the same kick-about.
We played on the same pitches but never in the same junior teams as I turned out for St John’s and he for St Matthew’s. My pals who played alongside him remember him being polite, painfully shy and, of course, extremely talented.
Like many at that time, he also came from an impoverished family.
So much so that the dads of his little team-mates used to buy his boots for him so he could continue playing the game he loved and would go on to make a career from.
That career took off when Aston Villa signed him from neighbours West Brom, where he had been a trainee, for £40,000 in 1991.
Ehiogu made over 200 appearances for Villa between 1991 and 2000 and then spent seven years at Middlesbrough.
He won the League Cup with Villa in 1994 and 1996 and also with Boro in 2004.
He earned four England caps, scoring one goal.
The centre-back also played for Leeds, Rangers and Sheffield United, before retiring in 2009. He then began coaching at Tottenham in 2014.
A kind, unassuming fella — certainly not your flashy Premier League star — he was as popular at Spurs as he was at all his other clubs.
As I walked down a corridor at Tottenham’s training centre on Wednesday, I saw him sitting in front of a computer in an office with his coaching colleagues.
The following morning he was joining in with his young players in a training session when he suddenly screamed out for everybody to stop.
His bemused players, wondering why the action had been halted, then watched in horror as, after bending over as if he was going to be sick, Ugo collapsed.
Spurs physios and medics rushed over to him and performed CPR until an ambulance arrived minutes later.
As well as football, Ugo was a co-founder of music label Dirty Hit, which has British indie band The 1975 on its books.
He married his wife, Gemma, in 2005. He had two children — son Obi Jackson and daughter Jodie.
Spurs’ reserve team game at Manchester United on Monday has been postponed.
And all of the club’s weekend academy matches have also been called off.
Villa will hold a minute’s applause before their Championship derby against Birmingham tomorrow, while both sets of players plan to wear black armbands.
The same tribute will be paid before Spurs’ FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Wembley tonight.
Ugo’s old Boro boss Bryan Robson said: “He was such a good, strong defender and a fitness fanatic, which is why it comes as a real shock.
“I know he was a good lad and a team man who would chat to everybody, so I always thought he could be a coach.”