A HUGE hole has been left in the heart of local football with news that Derik Brooks, founder and president of Eastleigh FC, has passed away at the age of 94.

He died peacefully at home in Bitterne on Monday afternoon and leaves wife Marion, daughter Kay, two granddaughters and four great granddaughters.

Known as ‘Mr Eastleigh’, Derik founded the club as Swaythling Athletic in 1946 and stayed involved for an incredible 72 years.

During that time the club went from playing on Southampton Common to their current position, gracing the top flight of non-League football in the Vanarama National League.

Much loved by everyone at the Silverlake Stadium, Derik was made a Citizen of Honour by the Borough of Eastleigh in 2009.

Speaking in an interview with the Southern Daily Echo in 2015 about the incredible rise of Eastleigh FC, Brooks marvelled: “From Southampton Common to this!

“We used to play behind the Cowherds on pitches that were in a terrible state.

“We started in Southampton Junior Leagues One and Two, you couldn’t get much lower than that, so I feel like I’m walking on a cloud at the moment.

“It’s very difficult for me to take it all in.”

Derik, who grew up supporting Dulwich Hamlet, formed Swaythling Athletic when his work team at Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft was disbanded.

He made seven first-team appearances before fulfilling the roles of club secretary (22 years), treasurer (13 years), and general secretary (25 years).

The club moved to Walnut Avenue in Westfield, where the changing room was an air raid shelter, midway through its first season.

In 1957 they eventually moved to farmland that they named Ten Acres - what is now the Silverlake Stadium – before being renamed Eastleigh FC in 1980.

Former Eastleigh boss Paul Doswell's memories of Derik stretch way back to his days as a youth player.

He remembers him as a disciplinarian who, in his later years, became something of a modern-day innovator, backing Doswell’s plans to change Eastleigh from a members’ club to a limited company in the early/mid 2000s and laying the foundations for the success the Spitfires enjoy today.

“I knew Derik very well and spent many an afternoon round his flat in Bitterne having tea and cake with him and Marion,” said Doswell.

“I remember playing for Eastleigh’s under-18s as a 16-year-old and he was quite a stern man back then, who almost frightened you.

“He didn’t like the kids going on the pitch and he had a megaphone telling them to get off!

“I remember being petrified of being late turning up for the team coach – and I was the manager by then!” he smiled.

“Derik taught us all discipline and the older you get, the more you respect that.”

Unlike some of his generation, however, Derik was not stuck in his ways. Far from it.

“He backed me massively when we were changing the club. He saw the vision and was a huge part of it,” said Doswell, now boss of Sutton United.

“He must have been in his late 70s at the time, so it was quite a big decision for him when a lot of his generation might have been thinking that it wasn’t the right thing to do.

“He was an innovator and, without him, Eastleigh FC would probably not have changed into the model it is today.

“Without Derik’s help, it might never have got off the ground.”

In these days when the word ‘legend’ is bandied about all too freely, Roger Sherwood, a former Eastleigh manager and chairman, says Derik fully deserved that accolade.

“He was a great man and, without him, there would never have been an Eastleigh Football Club,” he said. “No one had a bad word to say about him.

“There are problems at any club when people want to go in different directions, but Derik was there all the way through. He saw Eastleigh through good times and bad and Marion was always with him.

“He was a fantastic person and I have great memories of him.

“Derik was always there to support you and give you help and advice when you needed it . Without him I wouldn’t have achieved what I did in football – and there’s a lot of people who can say the same.

“Derik was quite a small man with a very big heart and he would do anything for the club.

“That’s what you call a legend!”

A club statement said: “Eastleigh Football Club are saddened to announce that club founder, Mr Derik Brooks, passed away on Monday afternoon at the age of 94.

“Derik was one of the founding members of what was then Swaythling Athletic and moved the club to the current Ten Acres site in 1957.

"He remained involved, in many differing roles until his passing.

"He had a huge impact on the club’s progress and The Spitfires remained close to Derik’s heart throughout his life.

“Derik will be sadly missed by everybody connected to the club, and our sincere condolences go to his wife Marion, his family and close friends.

“A tribute to Derik will be held before Saturday’s game against Hartlepool United at The Silverlake.”