Sheffield United men’s head coach Paul Heckingbottom says the South Yorkshire club is “suffering” following the death of women’s player Maddy Cusack.
The 27-year-old was named vice-captain last month and had just started her sixth season with the Blades in the Women’s Championship. She was the club’s current longest-serving player when her death was announced earlier this week.
The Blades intend to pay tribute to Cusack, who also worked in the club’s marketing department, during this weekend’s Premier League game against Newcastle United.
Heckingbottom said: “First and foremost everyone’s thoughts are with Maddy’s friends and family, a lot of Maddy’s friends work at this football club.
“Maddy, especially in my time here, has been a big part of everything, a senior figure among the women’s team and the media team as well.
“Everyone would see her about all the time. It’s tough and we need to make sure everyone is OK at the club and we all support each other because it is sad, sad news.
“(Chief executive) Steve Betts called me yesterday and it knocked me back a bit, I’ll admit. As much as we are preparing for a huge, huge game and wanting to get on with everything, it has affected a lot of people.
“Maddy has been to so many people in the club, there are a lot of people suffering and feeling it, without a doubt.
“We look after everyone here, but first and foremost we are thinking of Maddy’s family. And we send them our best.”
Cusack’s picture will appear on the front of the club programme, players will wear black armbands, while discussions are ongoing over other possible tributes.
“There are plans and discussions going off for a tribute, we want to be very respectful to Maddy’s family as well and make sure they are heavily involved and understand what we want to do,” Heckingbottom added.
“As much as we want to show our respect and thoughts and how we are feeling we want to make sure her family lead on it.”
The Football Association is also in contact with the Blades over an appropriate tribute.
Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, said the organisation was offering its support to the club.
“On behalf of the FA, the Lionesses, the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship, our thoughts and deepest condolences are with Maddy’s family, friends, team-mates and everyone at Sheffield United,” Baroness Campbell said.
“Maddy also represented England at age-group level and we will pay tribute to her at an appropriate point.”
Billy Sharp, the former captain of United’s men’s team, also paid tribute to her on social media.
“Such a lovely girl. Enjoyed some amazing times with Maddy and the Blades. Such a sad loss. RIP Maddy,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out also said it was “deeply saddened” by the news of Cusack’s death.