Les Sealey dies, aged 43

 

English football suffered another tragedy yesterday with the death of the former Manchester United and West Ham goalkeeper Les Sealey, aged 43.

Recently the Portsmouth keeper Aaron Flahavan was killed in a car crash. Sealey died following a heart attack and yesterday tributes poured in from those who worked with the gregarious goalkeeper, who leaves a widow Elaine and two teenage sons, Joe and George, both trainee goalkeepers at Upton Park.

Sealey, who watched his children in action on Saturday, enjoyed his most successful spell at Old Trafford in the early 90s.

It included a shock call-up to replace Jim Leighton in the United team for the 1990 FA Cup final replay victory over Crystal Palace, and he retained his place next season and starred in the 1991 European Cup-Winners' Cup final victory against Barcelona.

Those wins marked the beginning of United's resurgence under Sir Alex Ferguson and yesterday he led the tributes.

"It is a terrible shock," he said. "He was an enthusiastic character and his personality got him through to the Cup final replay. I took a gamble replacing Jim Leighton but I knew Les could play the big stage. Everyone at United is saddened by the news."

Sealey's career spanned 22 years and 564 games, most of them for Coventry, Luton and United. After hanging up his gloves he became a goalkeeping coach and worked at West Ham until this summer.

West Ham's former manager Harry Redknapp said: "It's a massive blow to everyone who knew him. I spoke to Glenn Roeder this morning and the players are absolutely distraught.

"He was a great goalkeeping coach and he absolutely loved West Ham. He was irreplaceable - no-one could have worked as hard as he did for the football club, or brought the personality to it that he did.

Former Manchester United team-mate Paul Parker said he was "absolutely gutted" when he heard confirmation of the news that his old house-mate had passed away.

"Anyone who knew Les would tell you that he was an excitable person and always had a smile on his face. He was always full of life and a very funny man.

"One of the main things in his life was football - he could not stop talking football and everything about him was a different class."

Tottenham director of football David Pleat, who managed Sealey at Luton, said: "He was very popular and had a very good career in the early 1980s.

"At Luton, he really established himself and had some super years. You could never meet anyone with more enthusiasm than him.

"He told lots of jokes, and whenever anyone was down he was a great lifter of people."