Former Blackburn Rovers striker Alan Shearer has led tributes to former Burnley FC defender - and the man who gave him a shot at first-team football - Chris Nicholl following his death.

Nicholl, who played more than 500 games and managed 400 more, has died aged 77, his family has announced.

After starting his career at Turf Moor, centre-back Nicholl moved to Witton Albion and then FC Halifax Town and Luton Town, before moving to Aston Villa where he enjoyed the best moments of his playing career.

Making more than 200 appearances for Villa, he captained the Birmingham club to League Cup glory in 1977, scoring in the victory.

He then moved to Southampton, helping the Saints gain promotion to the top flight, before finishing his playing career at Grimsby Town.

He also made 51 appearances for Northern Ireland, scoring three goals and playing at the 1982 World Cup.

After retirement, he managed Southampton, giving the likes of Alan Shearer, Rod Wallace and Matt Le Tissier their shots in the first team, and also coached Walsall and was an assistant for his country.

Lancashire Telegraph: Alan Shearer paid tribute to Chris NichollAlan Shearer paid tribute to Chris Nicholl (Image: Archive)

He was diagnosed with dementia, which he attributed to repeated heading of balls during his lengthy career, and is believed to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can only be diagnosed definitively after death.

The former central defender’s death was confirmed in a family statement on his daughter Cathy’s Facebook account.

It said: “It is with a heavy heart that we write this. Chris Nicholl (our dad) sadly passed away peacefully on Saturday evening in hospital.

“He fought a very long battle with CTE, caused by his dedication to football. Words can’t describe how much we’ll miss him.”

Nicholl appeared on documentary Dementia, Football and Me with Alan Shearer, and the ex-Rovers striker also paid tribute.

He said: “RIP Chris Nicholl. You believed in me and gave me my chance. Thank you.”

During the 2017 programme, Nicholl said: “I am brain-damaged from heading footballs. My memory is in trouble.

“Everyone forgets regular things, where your keys are. But when you forget where you live, that’s different.

“I’ve had that for the last four or five years, it is definitely getting worse. It bothers me.”

A tribute from Aston Villa said: “Aston Villa is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former player Chris Nicholl, who has died at the age of 77.

“The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Chris’ family and friends at this difficult time.

“A two-time promotion and League Cup winner, Chris Nicholl’s achievements in claret and blue will never be forgotten.

“He was a dominant figure at the heart of the Aston Villa defence for over five seasons, making 252 appearances and scoring 20 goals.

“Rest in peace, Chris.”

The Northern Irish FA added: “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Chris Nicholl. He played 51 times for us, including the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”