Hammers pay tribute to Mitchell Cole

Six West Ham United players joined thousands in honouring the memory of the late Mitchell Cole at a special Benefit Match at Stevenage on Tuesday.

Hammers Academy graduate Cole passed away in December 2012 of the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was just 27.

The late winger's brother-in-law Joe Cole played a central role in organising the Benefit Match at Mitchell's old club Stevenage FC between a Boro XI and a Cole XI.

Mark Noble, Matt Jarvis, Kevin Nolan, James Collins and Andy Carroll were all on target during an entertaining first half that saw the Cole XI - captained by the Hammers midfielder - recover from a goal down to take a 6-2 half-time lead. The game finished 7-4.

Cole said Mitchell would have been proud of the send-off he received and also thanked the players and supporters who turned out in his memory.

"I would like to thank all the fans who turned up, my team-mates and everyone at Stevenage Football Club," said the No26. "The guys who came tonight are all big names. It is a long season and I cannot thank the lads enough.

"It was a good send-off for Mitchell and we raised a lot of money for charity, which is the main thing. We all had a good night. I didn't manage to score but I will save that for the weekend!"

MITCHELL COLE BENEFIT MATCH FACEBOOK GALLERY

Cole said his brother-in-law was a fine player and that it was only his health issues that prevented him from being a Premier League star.

"I think Mitchell's ability was unquestioned. He was diagnosed with a heart condition at the age of 15 so it affected him from a young age. If he hadn't of had it, he would have been a top Premier League player.

"Anyone who worked with him will tell you he had a great left foot. He had a decent career in the lower leagues but he was doing it in second gear because he couldn't push his body as much as he wanted to.

"Technically, he had a great left foot, he was quick and he really was talented. The condition, affected him but he had a good career, he was a good family man and a great fella.

"We all loved him and it was great to see such a send-off for him."

Mitchell Cole

In a fitting tribute to Cole, 2,306 fans watched a thrilling, light-hearted match that featured many of his former team-mates from Stevenage, Grays Athletic, Southend United, Northampton Town and Oxford United - as well as Hammers stars Kevin Nolan, James Collins, Mark Noble, Matt Jarvis and Andy Carroll.

All proceeds from an enjoyable yet poignant evening will be split between the Cole family and its chosen charity, The Cardiomyopathy Association.

After a minute's applause accompanied by a chorus of 'Mitchell Cole' to the tune of Spandau Ballet's 'Gold', the game began in exciting fashion.

Carroll - playing up front alongside new partner Collins - had already shot narrowly wide before former Stevenage striker Chris Beardsley tapped the Boro XI in front on five minutes.

The Hammers contingent then took centre-stage. Cole hit the inside of the post, Carroll saw his header blocked and Collins blasted out of the stadium before the makeshift striker's header down was tapped in by Noble on 15 minutes.

The goals continued to flow as Jarvis and Nolan both produced outstanding first-time finishes before Charlton Athletic midfielder Lawrie Wilson pulled a goal back for the Boro XI amid applause to mark the No21 shirt worn by Cole.

On 24 minutes, it was 4-2 when Carroll whipped in a left-wing cross for Collins to volley home superbly before Jarvis got his second six minutes before half-time, rounding goalkeeper Ashley Bayes and slotting into the unguarded net.

Carroll became the fifth Hammer to hit the target two minutes before the break, slotting home after Bayes had parried Collins' first-time shot - a goal that led to chants of 'Sign him up!' from the Stevenage fans.

As agreed, the six West Ham players took their leave at half-time, but the goals kept coming after the break, with former Fulham striker Barry Hayles among the scorers as the Cole XI ran out 7-4 winners on an emotional and memorable evening for everyone concerned.

"Thanks again to all of your players and yourselves for coming along tonight and helping make it such a special night for Mitch," said Stevenage FC head of media and analysis Mitchell Jones. "We'll remember it for a very long time."

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