FOOTBALL Federation Australian chief executive David Gallop has paid tribute to "one of the genuine heroes of our game" after the death of much-loved Hunter soccer administrator, referee and teacher Bill Turner.
Turner died on Friday at the age of 83 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
In keeping with his wishes, Turner was buried after a service attended by his immediate family yesterday before news was released of his passing.
Turner's son, Geoff, said his father told close family of his illness only a few weeks ago.
Turner is famous in the footballing community for the under-15 schools knockouts, which he helped create in 1979 and which carry his name.
The Bill Turner Cup for boys and Bill Turner Trophy for girls began as Hunter competitions, but have spread to take in school teams from north Queensland to Melbourne.
More than 800 teams now compete in the annual knockout and it is recognised as one of the biggest soccer competitions in the world.
Turner remained heavily involved in its administration until only a few weeks before his death.
"He was still, at 83, driving out to matches to watch as many games as he could around the local area," Geoff Turner said.
"And he always tried to encourage, congratulate or commiserate with the players.
"He started the competition because he believed that all kids should have a chance to play.
"The Bill Turner Cup gave all schoolchildren an opportunity to compete, whereas before there were only competitions for state schools or older students."
Gallop led tributes yesterday for Turner, who was inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame in 2001.
"Bill Turner was one of the great pioneers of youth football in Australia and made a prodigious contribution to the game," Gallop said.
"Bill had a vision to develop school football and never lost his drive over four decades. He worked tirelessly for the game he loved, and gave opportunities to so many players and coaches, well beyond his home patch in the Hunter Valley.
"On behalf of the Australian football community, I send condolences to Bill's loved ones and I salute one of the genuine heroes of our game."
Northern NSW Football chairman Bill Walker said Turner was a legendary figure in the Hunter.
"Bill has provided many years of unfaltering service to his much-loved game of football and has gained the respect of the football community both young and old as a result," Walker said.
Turner, a former international referee, is a life member of NNSWF and the region's referees' association.
An award in his name is given to the leading sports administrator from Northern NSW each year.
Men of Football secretary Brett Gemmell said Turner was highly respected among the region's past champions.
"Bill is a true icon of Hunter football," Gemmell said.
"His promotion of junior football in the region through the Bill Turner Cup highlighted the talents of players like Pete and Howard Tredinnick, Michael Boogaard, Malcolm McClelland, Brett Cowburn and Craig Johnston to name a few.
"His influence will be missed by many."
Turner was also a revered teacher, mentor, singer and choirmaster.
He spent 29 years as a teacher at Lake Macquarie High School, formerly Booragul High School, which named one of its sports houses after him.
A Facebook page set up by colleagues and students to recognise Turner was inundated with tributes.
"He just had a great knack of helping people and inspiring them," said Geoff Turner, who described his dad as a fiercely loyal and encouraging family man.