LONDON: Nobby Stiles, who has died at the age of 78, was the “heart and soul” of the England team which won the World Cup in 1966, his team-mate Sir Geoff Hurst has said.

Stiles’ family announced in a short statement that he had died on Friday after a long illness.

Holding midfielder Stiles was a key contributor to England’s World Cup success on home soil, keeping Portugal star Eusebio quiet in the semi-final.

Hurst, whose hat-trick sealed England’s famous 4-2 victory over West Germany in the final, paid a glowing tribute to his former team-mate.

“Hugely sad to hear Nobby has passed away,” he wrote on his official Twitter account.

“We were playing together way back for the U17s, U23s, and of course, for England, in fact, it was my first cap when Nobby scored, I think he was wearing No. 9! Great character, and the heart and soul of the team, he will be sorely missed.”

England manager Sir Alf Ramsey fought to keep Stiles in the side for the quarter-final match against Argentina after he came under pressure from the Football Association to drop him after a tackle on France’s Jacques Simon in the final group game. Stiles ultimately played every minute of England’s campaign.

As well as his national team success, Stiles was also part of the Manchester United side which became the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968, when they beat Benfica in the final at Wembley. He also won league titles with United in 1965 and 1967.

The club said in a statement: “We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles MBE.

“An integral part of our first-ever European Cup-winning side, Nobby was a titan of the club’s history, cherished for his heart and personality on and off the pitch. He will be sorely missed by us all.”

In total Stiles won 28 caps, the fewest of any of the World Cup-winning side.

England offered their condolences on Twitter. Their post read: “We’re incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles, a key member of our FIFA World Cup-winning squad, at the age of 78.

“All of our thoughts are with Nobby’s loved ones.”

The FA said a tribute would be paid to Stiles ahead of England’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland next month.

A tweet from the FIFA World Cup account read: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles. He played in every minute of England’s World Cup-winning campaign in 1966. His performance in the semi-final, especially, will never be forgotten. RIP Nobby.”

Stiles was born in Collyhurst, Manchester, in May 1942, during an air raid. He agreed apprentice terms with United in 1959, at a time when the club was still recovering from the Munich air disaster a year earlier in which eight players were killed.

He left United in 1971, going on to play for Middlesbrough and Preston. He later managed the Lilywhites between 1977 and 1981, before coaching Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps and then West Brom between 1985 and 1986.

He returned to United as a youth team coach under Sir Alex Ferguson in 1989 for a four-year stint.

Stiles suffered a series of health issues in later life, including a dementia diagnosis.

In 2010, after a mini-stroke, he decided to sell his medals in order to leave something to his family.

United bought them for £200,000 and the medals are now housed in the club’s museum.

Former England midfielder Peter Reid was one of the first to pay tribute to Stiles on social media. “Nobby Stiles RIP,” he tweeted, alongside a heart emoji.

Former England striker Gary Lineker paid tribute to Stiles, singling out the former Manchester United player’s heart.

“Saddened to hear that Nobby Stiles has passed away,” Lineker tweeted.

“Another of our 1966 World Cup winning heroes leaves us. He had a heart that was even bigger than the gap in his teeth. RIP Nobby.”