IT was desperately sad to hear of the passing of John Herbert last week – and our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

Big John was a popular character and that was illustrated by the tributes that poured out on Facebook and social media last week.

Although a lot of people got to know John because of the types of job he did, they got to like him because of who he was.

He had a natural quick wit, and a patter that was honed across the butcher’s counter.

Big John was among that first group of vocal Saints speccies who began to gather beneath the temporary TV gantry in 1984.

With crowds much smaller then, you got to know people around you pretty well and a strong bond grew among that group.

John was always witty, forthright but never sour company when we knocked about in the Nelson in the late 80s.

And he had a way of pulling a wind-up, too.

Back then middleweight Ian ‘Ashy’ Chantler, as game a boxer there was, worked the door at the busy Bridge Street pub.

When Nigel Benn, who had knocked out his first 10 opponents as a pro, wanted another victim Ashy gamely put his hand up. He was never one to shirk a fight and tried to go in there and fight fire with fire. Alas, it was over after 16 seconds, with the Dark Destroyer claiming KO number 11.

A week later we were all supping in our usual spot next to the pool table. As last bell rang Ashy - back on door duty - came round asking for glasses, when John piped up. “Hey, I hope we’ve got more than 16 seconds.”

A few of us winced, but Ashy just grinned - and took it in good spirit.

John had that way with people - he made you smile a warm smile. So much so, that for all those who will be crammed into St Helens Crematorium next Monday afternoon, there will be many more at home or at work who can't get there saying their own private farewells.

And all of them will be grateful for having had the privilege of knowing him, but cursing that he has gone too soon.