GLOBAL icon David Beckham is set to pay a private tribute to the family of Stuart Underwood – the man who put him on the road to footballing stardom.

Mr Underwood, who lived in Dorset and had been a popular figure on the local non-league football scene, died yesterday following a long battle with cancer.

Affectionately known as ‘Sarge’ due to his no-nonsense approach to football training, he had coached at Southern League outfit Wimborne and Wessex Premier clubs Christchurch and Bournemouth Poppies.

He honed the talents of former Manchester United and England star Beckham for nine years after putting an advertisement in the Walthamstow Guardian seeking players for an under-eight team, Ridgeway Rovers.

Despite signing for United as a 14-year-old, Beckham continued playing for Underwood’s all-conquering Rovers in the London Essex Youth Football League until he moved to Manchester permanently two years later.

When contacted by the Daily Echo today, a spokesperson for XIX Entertainment, Beckham’s representatives, confirmed the Paris St Germain star would be speaking directly to the family to pass on his condolences.

A statement posted on the Bournemouth Poppies website described Mr Underwood as “a true giant in the world of football”, adding he would “always be remembered within the local football scene for his knowledge of the game and the stories he told”.

Christchurch manager Graham Kemp said: “Stu helped me massively in my first two seasons at Christchurch. He had the respect of all the players and his old school training sessions were legendary. You were in trouble if you mucked around. We will all miss him. He was a true gentleman.”

Mick Ryan, who was chairman at Christchurch during Mr Underwood’s time at Hurn Bridge, said: “I am so glad I took the chance to say my goodbyes to Stuart a couple of days ago. Even with Stu being so very poorly, he still asked about us at Christchurch FC.

“He was a warm and gentle giant of a man. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered, not only by me and others at Christchurch, Poppies and Wimborne, but also by so many other players.

“My thoughts are currently for his caring wife Betty, family and friends, especially Tony Brown from our club, who was a close mate of Stu.”

Mr Underwood’s funeral will be held at Christchurch Priory on Tuesday, March 26 at 1.30pm with the congregation going back to Hurn Bridge.