Montpellier football club founder Nicollin dies on 74th birthday


Montpellier (France) (AFP)

French industrialist Louis Nicollin, the iconic president of Montpellier and the Ligue 1 side's founding father, died Thursday as he celebrated his 74th birthday, the club announced on Twitter.

"It's with immense sadness that we have learnt of the death of of our president Louis Nicollin," tweeted the club.

Nicollin had fallen ill at a family dinner and died later in hospital.

"It's incredible as we were celebrating his birthday," said close friend and club adviser Robert Nouzaret.

"I joined him today to wish him happy birthday. I told him that he would celebrate many more -- I wished I had kept my mouth shut."

Nicknamed "Loulou", larger-than-life Nicollin, who made his fortune in the industrial cleaning and waste management business, created the modern Montpellier club in 1974 as Montpellier La Paillade.

The club went on to be officially known as Montpellier Herault Sport Club with its crowning moment coming in 2012 when they were crowned French league champions.

Colombian football legend Carlos Valderrama, who played for the club between 1988 and 1991, said Nicollin was like "a father" to him when he arrived in France.

"It's painful and sad," said Valderrama. "He was like a father because he gave me so much love and affection. He was a great man and someone who loved his players as if they were his own children."