CLARETS cult hero Billy Ingham - affectionately known as the Ginger Pele - has died following a long battle with illness.

The tenacious midfielder, who played 266 times for Burnley between 1972 and 1980, scoring 31 goals, died on Saturday, aged 57.

Yesterday tributes poured in from Clarets legends who played alongside Billy at the peak of his football career.

And messages of support were sent to the Northumberland born player’s family, including his widow, Diane.

According to those who played with Billy, he was a versatile player, who could fill a number of midfield roles.

He etched his way into Burnley folklore when he scored an individual winning goal against Chelsea at Turf Moor in April 1977.

Former winger Leighton James said he shared digs with Billy for five years when the pair played for Burnley.

He said: “I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about Billy. He was a great bloke and a real top man who would do anything for you.

“He was a very good professional and a very good player, better than he was given credit for.

“It’s a tragedy and a sad loss. I’ve lost a good friend and a man that I had nothing but the utmost love and respect for.

“Burnley will be a a sad town, certainly amongst the football fraternity, this week.”

Billy was admitted to hospital last year due to illness and was given the last rites. Despite returning home he never fully recovered.

Ex-Burnley forward Pete Noble, who said he was shocked to hear the news, also paid tribute to Billy.

He said: “Billy came from the North East like me and he was a right nice lad and a great little player as well.

“He was one of the players who loved playing football and loved helping people. He wasn’t appreciated as much as he should have been.”

After ending his footbball career at Bradford FC, Billy returned to Burnley to work as a driver for BCN buses.

A spokesman for Burnley FC said: “Burnley Football Club is saddened to learn of the death of former midfielder Billy Ingham.

“The thoughts of everyone at Turf Moor are with Billy's family and friends at this very sad time.”