A HAMPSHIRE father is mourning today after it emerged his soldier son was one of four service personnel killed by a bomb blast in Iraq.

Corporal Ben Nowak, 27, had been a promising teenage footballer good enough to have trials with Southampton Football Club, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The Royal Marine was born in Speke, Merseyside, but was raised in Australia and holds dual nationality.

He returned to the UK aged 16 for trials with Saints, and remained on the club's books for some time but did not gain a contract.

The super-fit commando then decided to join the Royal Marines at the age of 18.

Cpl Nowak's father Jim Nowak, of Bridge Road, Bursledon, is a former Olympian who competed for Great Britain in the modern pentathlon at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

The former Royal Navy physical training instructor is currently understood to be on holiday in the US. A woman at his home said she had been in touch with the family but had been told not to make any statement until they returned.

Cpl Nowak was killed along with three colleagues during a patrol in the Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra city when a bomb exploded near their boat.

Fellow Marine Jason Hylton, 33, of Swadlincote, Derbyshire, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, 34, from Ipswich, Suffolk, and Warrant Officer Class 2 Lee Hopkins, 35, from Wellingborough, Northants, were the other personnel killed in the explosion. Cpl Nowak spent his time on leave mainly in Speke, living with his uncle and aunt, Michael and Valerie McEvatt. Grieving friends and relatives have been gathering in the McEvatt household since his death on Sunday.

Mr McEvatt, 48, said: "Ben was an extraordinary soldier and an extraordinary young man. Everyone who met him, their lives were touched by him.

"To Ben, being a Royal Marine was about more than just pay or a career. He was so proud of what he did and he was so proud of that uniform."

Asked how Cpl Nowak felt about the Iraq war, Mr McEvatt replied: "He was the ultimate professional. He didn't have a view on the war as such. His view was that his job was to serve and he would do that to the best of his ability."

Cpl Nowak's cousin, Daniel McEvatt, described the fallen soldier as being "like a brother to me" and spoke of how his football-loving cousin was proud of his sporting abilities.

He said: "He once nutmegged Matt Le Tissier, that was something he wouldn't let us forget!"

Cpl Nowak's mother Gillian Keary has flown from Australia with her husband, Phil Keary.

The fallen Marine's girlfriend of one year, Nicola Hindley, who is understood to live on Merseyside, was too upset to comment.