TRIBUTES have poured in following the tragic death of a former Bala Town FC player.

Joel Darlington, who played football locally for Bala Town, Denbigh Town, Ruthin Town Youth and Llangynhafal, died earlier this week at the age of just 20.

Bala Town manager Colin Caton said: "It's such a sad loss for the community, which has been hit really hard with the devastating news.

"Joel was a really likeable lad with his time at Bala and he will be sadly missed by all.

"Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."

Denbigh Town FC joint-manager Dewi Llion said: "I'm gutted.

"Joel was such a nice lad, he was a loveable character in and around the dressing room.

"Talent wise, Joel was a match-winner - he could win a game on his own.

"He was so quick, strong and certainly knew where the goal was."

Llion was at Bala Town FC's Academy ahead of his role with Denbigh and he added: "I was so chuffed when I finally convinced him to re-sign for Bala after leaving Shrewsbury and he then deservedly signed for Colin (Caton's) first team.

"He joined us at Denbigh the following season.

"He'll be missed by so many people.

"My sincere condolences go to the family, they should be so proud of bringing up such a lovely boy."

Denbighshire Free Press:

A Bala Town FC statement said on Tuesday: "It is with great sadness this morning to hear of the sudden passing of Joel Darlington at the tender age of 20.

"Joel first played junior football for Ruthin before signing for (the) Bala Town Academy.

"He then went on to sign for Shrewsbury for four years before returning to Maes Tegid, signing for the first Team in January 2017.

"Joel also represented Wales at youth level and was the Academy’s top goalscorer during 2016/17.

"On behalf of Bala Town Football Club and Bala Town Academy we would like to express our deepest condolences to all of Joel’s family and friends.

"RIP Joel. Cysga’n dawel."

A Denbigh Town FC statement said: "(The) Denbigh Town FC committee were informed this evening of the sudden passing of youngster Joel Darlington who signed for Denbigh for the 2017/18 season and showed so much promise.

"This is such sad news.

"Joel was an extremely talented local footballer who signed for Denbigh in the summer of 2017 and we hoped would play for us for years to come.

"Our thoughts are very much with Joel's family and his friends."

Bala Town Academy administrator Andy Kelly said: "The news is a shock to everyone at the club.

"Joel was in the academy at a young age and went onto Shrewsbury before returning to our U-19s age group.

"All the players and coaching staff have fond memories of Joel as a larger than life character in the dressing rooms, and also an exceptional talent on the pitch.

"He was a pleasure for me to watch play and to coach during my time with him.

"From everyone at Bala Town academy, our thoughts and condolences go to his family and to all his friends."

As a mark of respect and remembrance to Joel, there will be a minute's silence before all Bala academy fixtures this Sunday.

Paying tribute, Ruthin Town Youth FC chairman Wynne Davies said: "It was with extreme sadness and shock that we at Ruthin Town Youth FC received the tragic news of Joel Darlington, our former player, having suddenly passed away.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

"Joel was an exceptionally gifted footballer.

"During his time with us as a youngster, he almost single-handedly won the league for his U-12 team, which as he got older led to him spending time at Shrewsbury Town and Manchester United amongst others.

"He had two great feet, and was equally comfortable dribbling and shooting with either foot.

"He was fit, strong, determined and extremely fast too. It's such a tragedy."

Striker Joel was also an important figure for Llangynhafal in the Summer League.

Joel netted 49 goals for Llangynhafal, topping 20 goals in a single season twice.

On Twitter, Llangynhafal FC said: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic news that a member of Llangynhafal FC has suddenly left us.

"Joel Darlington was a gifted footballer, but more importantly a deeply valued friend.

"Many of the lads have memories with Joel that will be cherished for a lifetime."

Tributes have also been delivered by other Summer League clubs, with Llandyrnog FC tweeting: "All at Llandyrnog FC send our deepest condolences to Joel's family, friends, the football club and the community at this sad time.

"Our thoughts are with you all."