PLAYING football as a youngster led to the death of David Rock half a century later... because the field where he played was close to an asbestos factory, an inquest heard yesterday.

Former Forest Green Rovers footballer Mr Rock, known as 'Nick', of Kings Stanley, near Stroud, died in April this year from mesothelioma, an incurable lung cancer for which the only known cause is asbestos exposure. He was 62.

In most cases, victims of the disease have worked with asbestos at some time in their lives, but Mr Rock had no known working association with the deadly mineral fibre, the inquest was told.

However, he had played football as a lad in a field close to the Fibrecrete factory at Chalford, Stroud.

The Fibrecrete factory has been associated with many asbestos-related deaths of former workers.

There have been at least 10 inquests in the last decade on former Fibrecete workers killed by the same asbestos-specific cancer as Mr Rock.

In those cases verdicts of death from industrial disease have been recorded, but because Mr Rock had not worked with asbestos the Gloucestershire coroner Katy Skerrett said she was forced to a conclusion of natural causes.

"Although the condition, mesothelioma, is mostly associated with asbestos exposure, we have no evidence to suggest he was exposed during work and therefore I cannot record industrial disease," she said.

"This is the first case of this kind I have known where the exposure is attributed to playing in the vicinity of a factory during childhood."

Mr Rock lived in the Chalford area in his youth, the inquest was told. He would play football nearby with friends and also played for Chalford Football Club.

He went on to play in the 1982 FA Vase Wembley winning team for Forest Green Rovers.

Later he also became an accomplished rugby player.

The family had raised concerns that having prior knowledge of a person's historic asbestos exposure may help medical professionals recognise the condition early on, but Mrs Skerrett said in Mr Rock's case his condition had been diagnosed quite quickly.

With no cure available for the condition, just palliative care, knowing earlier would not have changed the outcome, she said.

"In all likelihood his condition was asbestos-related but it was not occupationally related so I cannot record it as an industrial-related disease," added Mrs Skerrett.

"This is the first case I have known of someone dying after being exposed from being in the vicinity of a factory rather than working in the factory and there is no evidence in front of me to suggest there is an ongoing risk," Mrs Skerrett concluded.

Tributes to Mr Rock at the time of his death in the Sue Ryder hospice at Leckhampton, Cheltenham, included one from old school friend Gary Wheeler, who now lives in Canada.

He said "I recall many great memories of Nick including his great talent as a rugby and soccer player and our school days at Marling. "

Another childhood friend, Ian David, said "He was a great sportsman and I remember our schooldays at Marling Grammar School playing rugby together. He was also a very talented soccer player. He was always friendly and polite and never had a bad word for anyone. "

Robin Shelley said "I knew Nick from school days and, later in life, from working alongside him for many years in Stroud. You could not wish to meet a nicer, more polite, gentleman.

"He always had time for everyone and was the first to make visitors welcome. Needless to say; he carried out his work in what I always regarded as an exemplary fashion."

And Christopher Helliwell added: "I played sport with Nick at Marling and having moved to Huddersfield, like he, moved sports from rugby to football and admired from afar his achievements. A truly great guy who will be sadly missed."

In funeral notices Mr Rock was described as a 'much-loved husband, son and brother.'