Football's fans united as Rio Ferdinand's wife loses battle with cancer
Former Northern Ireland football manager Lawrie Sanchez is one of many in the football world who passed on his condolences to former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand, whose wife died from cancer.
He said: "I know what he is going through".
The ex-international team boss lost his wife Heather to breast cancer at the age of 38 in 1998, and said such a loss was "devastating".
Rio Ferdinand's wife passed away on Friday at hospital in London and on Saturday the former Old Trafford defender, now at Queens Park Rangers, issued an emotional statement saying he had lost his "soul-mate".
Last night Mr Sanchez said: "I know what he is going through probably more than most people.
"It is devastating that someone of that age with her life ahead of her has died. I have been there myself and it seems very unfair."
Football fans across Northern Ireland united in sympathy for Ferdinand, whose wife Rebecca Ellison (34) passed away at a hospital in London.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and appeared to be free of the disease.
But a scan earlier this year revealed it had returned and spread to her bones.
In Northern Ireland and across the water, sympathy was expressed by football fans including locally-born fanatical Man United supporter, TV host Eamonn Holmes.
He tweeted on Saturday: "Such sad news to wake up to...the Death of @rioferdy5's wife Rebecca after a short fight with cancer. Condolences."
Holmes also praised Man Utd fans who chanted Rio's name and applauded for his late wife during United's game against West Brom.
Another Northern Ireland TV celebrity, Christine Bleakley, said she and her football player partner Frank Lampard were sending 'love and prayers' to Rio Ferdinand and his family.
The Northern Ireland-based Queens Park Rangers supporters club tweeted: "QPR visit Anfield today but our thoughts are with Rio Ferdinand whose wife Rebecca sadly passed away last night."
Ferdinand released the following statement on Saturday: "My soul-mate slipped away last night.
"Rebecca, my wonderful wife, passed away peacefully after a short battle with cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
"She was a fantastic loving mother to our three beautiful children.
"She will be missed as a wife, sister, aunt, daughter and granddaughter.
"She will live on in our memory, as a guide and inspiration.
"Myself, my parents Janice and Julian, along with Rebecca's parents Lesley and Stephen, would like to thank our families, friends and my club colleagues who have rallied around in these desperate days, weeks and months.
"I would also like to express my gratitude for the dedication and expertise of the staff led by Professors Johnstone and Clarke at the Royal Marsden.
"Their valiant efforts to prolong Rebecca's all-too-short life will not be forgotten.
"Our grief, as a family, is total. We would appreciate being allowed to mourn privately."
Queens Park Rangers Football Club said the thoughts of the club were with Rio and his family at "this immensely difficult time".
David Beckham, who played alongside Rio Ferdinand for Manchester United and England, is among thousands of people who have sent their condolences to his family.
Writing on his Facebook page, former England captain Beckham said yesterday: 'Victoria & I are very sad to hear about the passing of Rebecca Ferdinand. Our thoughts are with Rio, their children and Rebecca's family at this time.'