Footballers, whether they want to or not, whether it’s in their nature or otherwise, are conditioned to face the crowd. To be looked at, pored over, examined and scrutinised, as we please.

There are those who race to the cameras, play to the gallery, but the game rarely asks whether some would rather exist a little more quietly. The spotlight catches them all, sooner or later. Most learn to live with it, embrace it as best they can, accept it as part of the deal.

Tony Hopper plainly loved representing his clubs, Carlisle United originally, Workington Reds latterly. Although best known for hard work and commitment, it was not a career without its moments of raw passion.

Against Southend in 2001, for instance, when he hooked home an overhead kick and sped off behind the goal, to be embraced by fans, as ecstatic as if he had scored a Wembley winner.

Generally, though, he was not a man who pursued cheap limelight or acclaim. You can see it in photos when, for example, he was given a guard of honour upon his final appearance for Workington.

His face wears a full beam as he raises his hands in gratitude. His head, though, is tilted slightly downwards, a common mark of modesty, bashfulness even.

He was a doer rather than an ego, an honest pro rather than a demonstrative sort, and with this in mind it is quite incredible to think of the strength it must have taken to act as he did in much graver circumstances, when life presented its cruellest challenge.

Consider the courage required, first, to absorb a diagnosis of something as pitiless as motor neurone disease, and then decide that you want to approach the world with it, to talk about it, to be a reference point and a face of it.

There are people who believe footballers, no matter how skilful or revered, should never be described as heroes when there are more deserving cases. Let us not have that debate, though, about Tony Hopper, because he knocked it clean out of the park.

What, after all, is a hero? Is it someone who speaks up for the silent, who puts himself out there for others, who does something that might not come easily, whilst suffering himself, physically and emotionally - all because it might help?

Those confronting MND and other serious conditions quietly are no less brave for doing so that way. Every cause, though, needs a champion and the resilience found to be that man, to look out instead of in, however reluctantly, marks Tony Hopper as a hero.

The way he made his situation public, rather than entirely private, was, in terms of highlighting a disease that needs all the opponents it can get, a great victory, even if that word may not have been on many people’s lips this week.

In the language of Tony’s beloved profession, it was the volley into the top corner, the successful tackle, the cup final, the title, the medal. It is achievement that lasts, that can never be challenged or diluted.

Because of Tony’s profile, his popularity and his agreement to use these factors to promote the Motor Neurone Disease Association, nearly £46,000 has been raised in 19 months. It means, directly, that living with the condition may have become a small fraction more manageable to some. It means the distant day MND can be cured may be just a few millimetres closer.

It has also done something equally precious. A deeply devastating time has, as it always seems to in Cumbria, reinforced a sense of community. Wanting to do something for Tony, in his name, has brought the best out of a great many people.

As Sue, his wife, wrote in her beautiful tribute on Facebook on Wednesday night, “some people see you in their free time and some people free their time to see you.” So many people freed their time for or because of Tony Hopper. That is a special thing.

In his early months with MND, Tony again faced the crowds, at Borough Park and also at Brunton Park; first, at half-time during a United game against Portsmouth, and then in a charity match organised in his name. On both occasions Tony walked from the tunnel to applause and, a while later, returned towards it to ovations that few will forget and which left many tearful.

Again, at such incredibly raw, emotional moments, he looked up and he waved. He said thank-you, he acknowledged the hundreds or thousands of people who were looking his way. All the while knowing what fate – awful, bitter, tragic fate - had given him.

That, whichever way you regard it, is a man.

And this, one feels, is why Tony resonates so much, four days after his death. As a footballer, he gave the best of himself, whether Carlisle were glorious, as they were in the mid-1990s when all that local talent was in full bloom, or later, when things were less golden.

As a family man, and as a friend, those best qualified to speak for him have done so this week. One does not search for a bad word about someone at a time like this but even had one tried, regarding Tony Hopper, it would have been a pointless exercise.

As a figurehead for something broader, meanwhile - something not everyone can touch, something he will not have wished for in his worst nightmares but which he accepted and ran with - he became a giant of this area, a name that will endure, a humble, decent person who defied his own nature, when he could, because it was, when all was said and done, for the greater good.

A minute’s applause? Try a year of it, and then more. It is, you have to conclude, the very least a hero deserves.