THE tributes that have poured in from all quarters following his sad passing on Friday underline how well-loved former Star rugby league writer Denis Whittle was.

Denis was a special character who managed to be both interesting to chat with - but at the same be interested in what you were up to.

If you ever stopped to chat with Denis, while he was mooching around town, every third person walking past would say hello to him.

And you could guarantee that in every conversation with any acquaintance was invariably followed by an invitation to his rugby room.

I got to know Denis when we were both supporters - a long, long time before either of us became sports writers. As a young fan in the late 70s I used to stand in the Knowsley Road paddock beside the away team’s dug out.

Denis, his wife Margaret, and their good friends Helen and John Kennedy, and Eric and Celia Ainsworth would form a gang of six just behind me.

Where I stood allowed me to earwig on their often cutting analysis of a team that had by then seen better days.

Eric was always the loudest - "Follow Gorley and you'll get a bagful!" he would implore.

But I admired the gang of six’s wit and warmth and their passion for the game - and their loyalty to the players who were doing their best, but would never be a Voll, a Duggie or a Vinty.

Our paths would cross again.

When I was exiled in Birmingham for 12 years, in the days before the internet, my mam would post me Denis’s articles from the Star - and good reading it was too as the fortunes of the club began to turn around.

Although I eventually replaced Denis on sport at the Star, and he really did not want to hang up his pen (and neither will I when that day comes) he never bore any hard feelings towards me.

We would often chat - and he would always take an interest in how the family was and say nice things about my late mother who he knew from St Thomas of Canterbury.

And of course, he had strong opinions and would often have a moan about the way that game he loved was going bemoaning "five drives and a kick".

So it is a sad farewell - a real end of an era.

But if there is one thing we can learn from Denis - not just as journalists - it is to speak with people, get to know them, be interested and do not live your life communicating by text and email!

Surely that is not so old school.