Tony Hopper, the former Carlisle United and Workington Reds footballer who waged a brave and inspirational fight against motor neurone disease, has died.

Tony, a father of three, passed away last night in the Eden Valley Hospice in Carlisle. He was 42.

His family issued a statement to the News & Star this morning.

It said: "Tony Hopper has lost his short fight against motor neurone disease.

"He passed away surrounded by his family at Eden Valley Hospice on October 9, 2018.

"Sue [Tony's wife] and the boys - Daniel, 11, Adam, nine and Jack, five - would like to thank everyone who contributed to the 'Hoppy Memories' fund which enabled them to make many happy memories together.

"The support from the whole community has been overwhelming since Tony's diagnosis in January 2017."

Funeral details will be made available in the coming days.

Former team-mates, coaches, fellow players and fans have been paying tribute today.

Tony's former youth coach at Carlisle, David Wilkes, said his heart went out to his family.

He added: "Tony was part of an outstanding group of Cumbrian players who came through at the same time and, when I think back, he was one of those lads who just gave everything.

"He was a solid lad, who had loads of heart and endeavour."

United first-team coach Paul Murray, who came through the youth ranks at a similar time to Tony, said: "Whatever Tony was doing, he was always smiling.

"He gave all he had and was the kind of lad who left everything on the pitch - the same approach he had fighting MND."

United's academy coach Darren Edmondson, who played alongside Tony at Carlisle and Workington and was his manager at the latter, said: "Every single word you would use to sum up a decent person would fit Tony - whether for his work, his family, as a person, every superlative you could use about being a top guy would fit Tony Hopper.

"He was the perfect gentleman, the guy everybody liked. There won't be a fan of Workington Reds or Carlisle United that won't remember him for something he did on a football field that went above and beyond."

Former Blues star Matt Jansen added: "So so sad to hear of the passing of my ex-@officialcufc team mate Tony Hopper. A great person who will be sorely missed. Prayers and thoughts with his family. #cruelworld"

Ex-United boss David McCreery, who gave Hopper his first-team debut at 16 in 1993, tweeted: "He was a shining light as a player and a person when I worked with him @officialcufc. Proud to have known such a warm hearted person. RIP Tony Hopper my thoughts are with the family at this awful time."

Former Blues and Reds goalkeeper and coach Tony Caig said Tony was "one of the best lads you could’ve ever met - proud to have been his team mate & room mate and above all else his friend. RIP Hoppy."

Tony and his family received huge support from the community after his diagnosis was made public, with donations helping them make lasting memories, including a trip to Disneyland.

Cumbrian Tony also started a fightback fund for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which has so far raised £45,676 for the charity, which will fund vital research and provide support for other MND sufferers.

Kathryn Sheldon, from the MND Association said: "We are deeply saddened by today's news and would like to send our deepest sympathy to Tony's family.

"We cannot express enough gratitude to Tony and everyone who got behind him.

"The Tony Hopper Fightback Fund raised almost £46,000, leaving a lasting legacy that will continue to provide vital support for local people affected by MND and their families.

"We are incredibly grateful to Tony, his family, friends and everyone who supported him."He also teamed up with the MND Association for an appeal which benefits the charity's north and west Cumbria group, which meant all the money raised through his campaign stays in this area to help others affected by the disease."

Eric Tiffin, the MND Association's north and west Cumbria group leader, said: "Tony was a lovely young man and his family were all lovely people too.

"What they have raised, in terms of awareness for MND in such a short space of time, is tremendous."