THE man linked with replacing Nicola Cortese at Saints once left players and politicians involved with Blackburn Rovers singing his praises.

Totton-born John Williams, 64, spent 14 years at Blackburn before leaving in the wake of the Venky family takeover in February 2001.

Former Rovers goalkeeper Brad Freidel hailed the club’s former executive chairman as “a club great” - up there with Jack Walker, the man whose money helped Blackburn win the 1994/95 Premier League title.

“While John Williams was with Blackburn, he did an impeccable, flawless job and I honestly don’t think anyone could have duplicated what he has done over the past decade,” Friedel said.

“John will have to go down very, very high up in the club’s history. In fact, I would put him up there with the club greats and only a little bit under Jack Walker.

“John was Jack’s right-hand man and his contribution can never be forgotten.”

Former Blackburn captain Chris Samba said the players regularly went to Williams, who had a reputation as one of the most approachable chairmen in the game.

“Every time we have a problem, we speak to John,” Samba said at the time of Williams’ departure almost three years ago.

“Every time we have something in our heart, we can speak to John. But he has gone and it will be a bit empty without him.”

Even former Home Secretary Jack Straw, a local MP and lifelong Blackburn fan, paid tribute to Williams when he left Ewood Park.

“John Williams helped dig us out of the Championship and ensured that Blackburn survived for one of the longest periods we’ve had in the top flight of football with very limited resources,” Straw said.