The football world is in mourning after the sudden death of World Cup-winning hero Alan Ball.

Ball, who was in the 1966 side that famously beat West Germany, suffered a heart attack as he tackled a fire in the garden of his Warsash home in Hampshire. He was 61.

Just hours before his death, he had watched Manchester United beat AC Milan 3-2 on the television and talked with his son enthusiastically about the game.

He was found in his garden at 12.15am on Wednesday and police said there were no suspicious circumstances.

Ball's son Jimmy, 31, and daughters Mandy Byrne, 39, and Keely Allan, 35, said the world of football had lost a great person and they hoped he was at peace.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, said they were saddened by the news, while leading the tributes from the football community was World Cup winning goalscorer Sir Geoff Hurst, who said the other members of the 1966 team were "totally devastated".

His son Jimmy said his father missed his wife Lesley terribly after she died from cancer three years ago and added: "I hope they are together now."

The couple were married for over 36 years. Mr Ball said: "We are extremely proud of him and we hope he is peaceful and with our mother, wherever they may be."

"From what we can gather, our father was at his compost heap which caught alight. Whilst trying to fight the fire, he suffered a fatal heart attack," he explained.

"I would like him to be known as a nice man with a passion for football. He had a big heart and was very generous," he added.

Sir Geoff Hurst said: "He was the youngest

Sir Bobby Charlton said he was "shocked and saddened" by the death of his World Cup team-mate.

The former Manchester United midfielder said: "He was probably the best player that day and if it had not been for his impact the result could have been totally different. He did not appear to have a nerve in his body, and he was an inspiration to us all."

Ball won 72 caps for his country in a 10-year career. He also played for a string of top clubs, including Everton and Arsenal. Afterwards he took management jobs at Manchester City, Southampton and Portsmouth.

In later years he was a regular on the guest speaker circuit and a keen golfer.