Fairfax Media football columnist Michael Cockerill has died at the age of 56.
Cockerill, a former Sydney Morning Herald chief football writer and Fox Sports commentator, had reported on football in Australia for more than three decades.
In 2011, he was inducted into the Football Federation of Australia Hall of Honour, for outstanding off-field contributions to football.
Cockerill died after an illness. His death was confirmed by Football Federation Australia shortly before the Socceroos faced Japan in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday night.
In a statement, Sydney Morning Herald editor Lisa Davies and The Age editor Alex Lavelle said Cockerill was a tireless champion of football in Australia.
“As a friend, which he was to many who worked with him in SMH sport and in the wider sports community, Michael was generous, funny and fiercely loyal. He will be sorely missed personally and professionally.”
Tributes have flowed for the “superb” journalist, with friends, colleagues and football players mourning his loss.
On Twitter, the Socceroos said they were “shocked and saddened” to learn of Cockerill’s passing.
We are shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Cockerill. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Vale.
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) August 31, 2017
Ray Gatt, the chief football writer for The Australian, lamented the loss of “a giant of journalism”.
Terrible news regarding Mike Cockerill. Wonderful journalist, great man. Superb football man. We’ve lost a giant of journalism.
— Ray Gatt (@Gatty54) August 31, 2017
SBS football commentator and former Sun-Herald columnist Craig Foster said Cockerill had been a “great servant to the game”.
Very sorry to hear about Mike Cockerill just now. Thoughts with his loved ones. Great servant to the game over many decades. Sad times
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) August 31, 2017
Robbie Fowler, a legendary former striker for Liverpool FC, said he was thinking of Cockerill’s friends and family.
— Robbie Fowler (@Robbie9Fowler) August 31, 2017
Fox Sports football commentator Robbie Slater had an emotional on-air tribute to the “greatly-respected” Cockerill, who he described as “a really top man”.
“It’s a shock, and football has lost a great contributor,” Slater said. “His family have lost a great man, and his friends have lost a great man.
“He’ll be sorely missed here at Fox, of course, but everywhere in the football world – and indeed sport – [he was] greatly-respected.
“He was a very, very special person to me. I’ve known him since I was 17, and it’s a huge shock. He was doing the FFA Cup only four weeks ago, and he’s been struck down. It happened very, very quickly.
“For Mike, the gravy train has stopped. That was a great saying we had, about the gravy train continuing on for us. It’s stopped for him, but he’ll never be forgotten.”
Slater said it shouldn’t be forgotten that Cockerill was “a very, very funny man” who always had a quip at the ready.
“I can’t believe it. I really can’t believe that it’s happened so quickly,” Slater said.
“The one thing he would want – and he’s not going to see it, but he’s going to see it from somewhere else – is he would love for the Socceroos to beat Japan tonight.”
Former Socceroos striker Josh Kennedy, also speaking on Fox Sports, said he remembered Cockerill as a “passionate” journalist who was always excited to talk about football.
“He’d be that passionate and excited to ask questions he would be answering the questions for me on the phone, as well,” Kennedy said.
Cockerill was convinced Australia needed to engage in Asian football years before the Socceroos and Matildas left Oceania and joined the Asian Football Confederation.
At the conclusion of the 2002 World Cup between Japan and South Korea, he wrote: “Watching hundreds of Japanese youths jumping off the Ebisubashi Bridge into what looked disturbingly like an open sewer in downtown Osaka the other night, something became blindingly obvious – we simply HAVE to be part of this.
“Not necessarily jumping into the Dotonbori River in what has become a ritual after each Japanese game at this World Cup, even on the night they were eliminated. No, we – as in Australia – have to become part of the Asian soccer revolution. And it is a revolution.”
At the time, the Oceania champion had half a place in the World Cup, via a playoff with the fifth-ranked South American team. Three years later, in 2005, Australia would move to the Asian confederation and their fate would be in their own hands.
In a column written on the night Australia qualified for the World Cup in November 2005, Cockerill said the Socceroos were a uniting force.
“In a multicultural nation in a fractured world, the Socceroos can bring together the sum of their parts: Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican. German, Lebanese, Polynesian, Croatian, Italian, Melanesian, Greek,” Cockerill wrote.
“It is a rich tapestry but last night they – and we – were one thing only. Australian”.
This article has been reposted with the permission of Fairfax Media.