Tributes have been paid to a ‘one in a million guy’ from Steyning who died on Sunday from a ‘short and aggressive’ disease – which affects just one in a million people a year.
Paul Croft, 57, was diagnosed with Sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) on January 19 and died just two weeks later at St Barnabas House hospice in Worthing.
The rare and fatal condition causes brain damage that worsens rapidly over time.
However, doctors before Christmas were certain the 57-year-old, who was known for coaching and playing for a number of Southern Combination League football teams across Sussex, was having a ‘nervous breakdown’.
But after a second trip to the doctors, the mystery illness was confirmed by students at the University of Edinburgh who flew over to give the harrowing prognosis, after doctors knew something was ‘desperately wrong’.
Paul lived with his wife Millie, 55, in Hills Road, and leaves behind his daughter Hannah, 26 and son, Nathan, 24, as well as Millie’s children, Lucy, 21, Ruby, 19 and Elliot, 18.
Millie said she has lost her ‘soul mate’ and the ‘love of her life’.
She said: “This was a short and aggressive illness and the chances of someone getting it is one in a million – but he was a one in a million guy.
“He was such a kind person and was always smiling and he didn’t have a bad bone in his body – he loved people and loved going out.”
Paul, known as Lobby, ‘lived and breathed’ for football and was known for coaching and playing across Shoreham, Selsey, Steyning, Arundel and Littlehampton.
He also ran the Fishersgate Flyers youth football club for ten years, when his son, Nathan was a member.
An active and avid traveller who went to the gym three times a week, Paul grew up in Wick, Littlehampton, before moving to Shoreham ten years ago, where he met his second wife, Millie.
They married five years ago and set up their own business, Steyning Village Taxis.
His brother Keith, 65, of Beacon Way, Littlehampton, said he was a ‘big character in the football world’ and had ‘a lot to live for’.
He said: “He was such an active and fit person. By the end, he looked like he could run a marathon physically but mentally it wasn’t him anymore.”
His cousin, Carl, 59, of Broadmark Avenue, in Rustington, said he was known for having a ‘great bond’ with players and was ‘very good at what he did’.
“He was an easy-going happy guy who wasn’t scared to speak his mind – he was popular and respected,” he added.
Paul’s funeral is on February 20 at Worthing Crematorium and donations are being split between St Barnabas House and a memorial bench, which is to be built in Steyning Cricket Club ground.
Donations can be made to HD Tribe funeral directors in Broadwater Road, Worthing.
The family praised the ‘impeccable’ care from St Barnabas and Worthing Hospital and thanked the staff for the ‘unbelievable treatment’ given to Paul.
“Staff did not know what they were dealing with because it was so unknown – but they were absolutely fantastic,” Millie added.
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