Thursday 01st September 2005

Paul Sykes

As promised, here is the statement issued by Folkestone Invicta Football Club:

KENT football was mourning the loss of one of its great characters as Folkestone Invicta striker Paul Sykes tragically died on Tuesday night after collapsing on the pitch during the club’s Kent Senior Cup semi final tie against Margate.

Sykes, just 28 years old, received treatment on the pitch from respective physios Dave Williams (Folkestone Invicta) and John Griffin (Margate) after he had stopped breathing and paramedic staff also did their best to revive him on the pitch before he was taken to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford where he was later pronounced dead.

Sykes leaves a wife Carly and young son Thomas, born in July 2004.

Folkestone Invicta manager Neil Cugley paid tribute to the striker. “We are all obviously distraught and this is a time when any worries about football become irrelevant as all our thoughts go out to Paul’s family and closest friends.

"They are the ones that matter, football and football clubs will go on but this is a time when everybody needs to rally around Paul’s family and friends.

"Football is a competitive game and it is not always the nicest business to be involved in but it is at times such as this that the football world has shown what a kind and considerate world it can be with all the tributes we have received from other clubs about Paul.

"Everybody knows what a great character Paul was to have around, he was a player who always gave 100% and his infectious personality shone both on and off the field. He livened up the dressing room and the crowd and although a very competitive player he was always one of the first to shake hands after the game and enjoy a drink with both team mates and opponents. He will be sadly missed.”

Margate manager Chris Kinnear added his thoughts on the players whose goals helped to take Margate to the Dr Martens League Premier Division championship in 2000-01 and with it promotion to the Conference.

“I think that Paul played the best football of his career at Margate and his partnership with Phil Collins at the time was unstoppable," he said.

"They both had power and pace and both could score goals. I had only been talking to Paul about that before Tuesday night’s game.

"Paul did very well for us here and his time at the club only came to an end when he smashed his knee in a game against Bath City.

"Sometimes Paul was his own biggest critic as he wanted to be as good as he could make himself and that sometimes held him back, but in other ways made him better. He was a good lad. This is a tragedy.”

Invicta chairman Bob Dix also paid tribute to the player. “Paul approached the club during November when he knew that we were looking for strikers and said that he would like to come and play for us," he said.

"Unlike many players these days he didn’t ask about money and was prepared to play just for travelling expenses, which showed just the type of person he was. Very genuine.

"Unfortunately nowadays you don’t get that type of attitude in footballers or in other walks of life.

"His primary objective was playing football and helping to take the club forward which is what he did. I haven’t known him as long as some people in the game but had known him when he joined us on loan when Tim Hulme was the manager back in the mid 1990s and was pleased to see him back. He will be sadly missed by the club.”

Police have said that there were no suspicious circumstances into the death but that the coroner would be informed.

Invicta manager Neil Cugley, reserve team manager Micky Dix and KCFA Chairman Keith Masters had all travelled to the hospital and there were emotional scenes as the ground as news came through of his sad death as players and officials from both clubs struggled to come to terms with the tragic news.

Sykes had been a popular player with both clubs and few could take in what they were being asked to cope with.

The striker had always been the life and soul of the party and had been his usual jovial self on Tuesday night as he shared his usual laugh and joke with supporters and players and officials of both sides such as his long-time friend Kevin Raine, assistant manager at Margate.

The kick off had been delayed for 35 minutes due to an accident on the M20 and Sykes collapsed after about 23 minutes, shortly after Margate had opened the scoring through Rocky Baptiste. The game was subsequently abandoned.

This was a night which firmly put football’s rivalries into perspective and tributes to Sykes have been pouring into the Folkestone Invicta website from a variety of clubs, some of which are not even in Invicta’s league, all united in their grief and sense of shock.

Sykes joined Invicta in November 2004 from Dartford. Originally an apprentice at Gillingham, Paul then made his name at then Conference club Welling United. He joined Margate during the 1995/96 season and soon established himself as the club’s leading goalscorer as he was a member of Chris Kinnear’s side which won promotion from the Dr Martens League Southern Division and then won the Premier Division in 2000-01.  After recovering from some serious ankle and knee injuries he joined Dartford during the 2002-03 season and subsequently had a spell with Dover Athletic before returning to Tommy Sampson’s Darts. He also had a spell on loan at Invicta midway through the 1995-96 season.

 In total he made 24 appearances for Invicta, with a further three as substitute, scoring four goals.

Folkestone Invicta club officials were meeting on Wednesday morning. The club is due to play at home to Heybridge Swifts in the Ryman Premier League on Saturday afternoon.

Keith Masters, chief executive of the Kent Football Association added: "Folkestone Invicta have expressed a desire that they don't want to replay the game, they've conceeded it to Margate. So what we've agreed is Margate will play Dover Athletic and that will be played at Cheriton Road, Folkestone, May Day Bank Holiday, May 2nd.

"Whilst it will still be the John Ullmann Kent Senior Cup Final it will also be played as a memorial to Paul Sykes, and we've all agreed that the net proceeds from the game will be donated to his young family to try and assist them through this difficult time."