Whilst I can't profess to have any real emotional connection to Ugo Ehiogu, for some reason the news that he had tragically passed away this morning at the very young age of 44 shook me to my core when I heard it. I mean, forty-four?! It's absolutely no age, that.
This is a man that trained, worked hard and dieted as an athlete for the majority of his life, but sadly his heart gave out and he suffered cardiac arrest whilst at Tottenham Hotspur's training facility yesterday, before passing tragically this morning with his family around him.
It's just completely awful, and I can't imagine how his family and friends are feeling right now. I sympathise with anyone that has to deal with a sudden death to a loved one - there's absolutely nothing that can prepare you for that happening and quite how you react to such news is perhaps one the most testing things that life can throw at you.
Ehiogu's standing in the game of football is of course immense, as seen by the outpouring of heartfelt messages across social media this morning from his peers and supporters of the clubs that he came into touch with over the years.
He has been noted as a brilliant person both off and on the pitch, and his links to Wearside go beyond football - away from the game, following his retirement, he set up his own music label and signed local band Little Comets, helping them on their path to getting noticed within the industry.
The world has lost a kind, good soul in @UgoEhiogu. All thoughts with your family. A sad day indeed.— Little Comets (@littlecomets) 21 April 2017
When I was a kid I can remember getting Ugo as a shiny in a packet of Panini stickers. I recall finding his name hilarious. I remember him playing in games against us for Middlesbrough over the years, but in general I remember Ugo Ehiogu best as a solid Premier League defender that even managed a handful of appearances for England - he had, all things considered, a very good career in football and perhaps could have gone on to achieve even more had he not been blighted by injuries during his peak years.
When I first heard the news this morning I thought that I'd read up on Ehiogu's career briefly, and whether or not he had any sort of links or ties with Sunderland. And, funnily enough, I found a story from the Sunderland Echo dated to the summer of 2000 which claimed that Peter Reid had tabled a £5m bid for the defender after he had handed in a transfer request at his then club Aston Villa. It was very possible that Ugo Ehiogu could have left Aston Villa to be a Wearsider rather than a Teesider.
At the time we were on our search for Steve Bould's long-term replacement and Peter Reid had earmarked a sizeable portion of his transfer budget for a central defender that would help us to sustain our momentum as a club challenging for a spot in Europe's elite. We instead opted for the bulk and power of Chelsea's Emmerson Thome, who arrived at the club on the 31st of August 2000 for a fee just short of the £5m we were prepared to pay for Ehiogu earlier in the summer. Thome's stint at the club was short, playing only 44 Premier League games in an injury hit three year spell on Wearside.
Ehiogu's career at Middlesbrough, however, lasted almost seven years. And despite suffering numerous injury problems himself, he managed to play for England, win a League Cup and play as part of the side that got to a UEFA Cup final whilst a Boro player.
It just makes you think what might have been had things gone differently.
I hope that all Sunderland supporters attending next Wednesday's game against Middlesbrough at the Riverside take full part in the likely celebrations of Ehiogu's life before the game kicks off. I can't possibly speak on behalf of his family but you just know that they'll appreciate it, and right now the best that we as fans can do is show them how much he was respected within the game of football.
So, a very sad day indeed. Football and society in general has clearly lost a very special person that, over his short life, managed to forge bonds and relationships with a whole host of people in various walks of life.
And it's another reminder that life is short, precious and we must constantly remind ourselves to not take things for granted, to live each day like it's our last and tell the people close to us just how much we love them.