SINGAPORE - A fantastic coach who never thought twice about going out of his way to help his players. This was the common refrain among those paying tribute to former S-League footballer and coach Darren Stewart, who died on Thursday (Oct 18).
On social media, the Australian national team - he played for the Socceroos three times - expressed their grief at his passing, as did numerous Singaporean players.
Stewart, 52, had lived in Singapore since 1999, when he signed for Balestier Central from Malaysian side Johor FA.
He forged a reputation as a tough-as-nails defender, and, after hanging up his boots in 2001, he made a successful transition into coaching. He led three local clubs, Gombak United (2009-2011), Balestier Khalsa (2012-2013) and Woodlands Wellington (2014) as head coach.
Defender Jaslee Hatta, who was Stewart's captain at Gombak and Balestier, said: "He was a great mentor and a fantastic coach.
"In terms of man management and how he looked after the players on and off the field... He was a special guy."
Jaslee, a former national player, said that Stewart's ability to get the best out of his players often allowed them to punch above their weight.
Under the Australian's guidance, Balestier won their first professional trophy - the 2013 League Cup.
"We didn't have fantastic individual players, but when we went out on the field, we would play our hearts out for him," said Jaslee, who retired in 2014.
National goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam also played for Stewart at both Gombak and Balestier.
He recalled how supportive the coach was when he picked up a serious knee injury in 2010.
"I was just 22 then and it was such a bad injury that I thought of giving up football," said Zaiful, who is currently with the Lions squad preparing for the AFF Suzuki Cup.
"But Daz visited me after my operation and told me not to (give up), telling me about how he bounced back from two bad knee injuries himself."
"Even when I was at home after the operation, he often called me to offer words of encouragement."
Jaslee said Stewart's support for his players often went above and beyond what a regular coach would offer.
He recalled an occasion at Gombak when a number of players' salaries did not arrive on time. With Hari Raya approaching, Stewart helped them tide through the period with his own money.
"If any player had any sort of financial problem and approached him, he would help without thinking twice," said Jaslee.
Former Geylang United head coach Scott O' Donell, who had Stewart as his assistant in 2004 and 2005, said: "I will miss him greatly.
"I don't think he realised how well-respected he was as a person and a coach. He always put his players first, and would do anything for them.
"He has left us too soon."
Jaslee added that discussions for a memorial game, featuring players who played under the Australian, have begun, and hoped to share details soon.
Stewart's last major coaching job was with the Maldives national team in 2016, but he returned to Singapore last year and set up the Jets Sports FC private academy.
His wake will be held on Saturday (from noon) and Sunday at Block 89 Geylang Bahru Industrial Estate, #01-2738.
Stewart, who was divorced, is survived by his son and daughter.