Family of young Northern Ireland fan who died in France fall told they will 'never walk alone'
A clergyman said the family of a young Northern Ireland fan, who died in tragic circumstances while following the side at the Euro16 finals in France, will "never walk alone".
Rev Mark McConnell was speaking at a 'Funeral Service and Service of Thanksgiving for the Life Of' Darren Rodgers (24), an electrician from Meadowvale in Ballymena, which was attended by hundreds of people in the town on Saturday.
St Patrick's Church of Ireland was packed to capacity and the congregation included Ballymena-based football commentator Jackie Fullerton.
Darren - known as 'Dar Dar' to his friends - died earlier this month after falling at a beach front in the French city of Nice where he had gone to follow his heroes and tragically he was laid to rest just hours before Northern Ireland took on Wales in the last 16 of the tournament.
Rev McConnell said Darren was a fan of Liverpool and one of their best known anthems is 'You'll Never Walk Alone' which he said was a suitable theme for his funeral remarks to his dad Paul and mum Jacqueline as the community rallies round them.
Rev McConnell said the family had been "walking through a storm" since getting the terrible news that Darren had died in an accident in Nice. He said it was something nobody could have foreseen or wish on anybody.
The minister said hundreds of sympathy cards had been sent to the family and the packed church was a sign that the community wished to comfort them after Darren's life was cut short.
Rev McConnell also revealed the family was able to find out from security footage at the Nice promenade "where Darren had his tragic accident, that he was not alone."
He added: "There were folks there right beside him as his life ended. There were folks who leapt off a bench and ran down from that promenade and onto those rocks and even though we may never maybe find out who those dear friends were it is a comfort to know that Darren was not alone."
The minister added: "It is so sad that on a trip of a lifetime to follow the Green and White Army on their adventures in France that Darren's life was cut tragically short. It is into this life-changing shocking loss of young life that we try somehow to find crumbs of comfort."
He said when Darren saved up his money to go to France he never would have thought what the consequences would have been.
He said people had no idea the decision-making process going through Darren's mind as he walked along the Promenade in Nice and stood at railings.
"We don't know what decisions he made that led to him over-balancing and his life ending. Sometimes the most small and random decisions have the biggest impact in our lives".
Rev McConnell said the song 'You'll Never Walk Alone' talks about a better future, somehow.
The minister said Darren was well-liked.
"Many of you will know him as good fun. He had a horde of friends who saw him as a bit of a joker, good fun to be about, and a real firm friend."
And he told how Darren played a prank on his mum by ringing from France by pretending to have lost his passport which prompted frantic phone calls to the Foreign Office from his mother.
There was laughter when the minister said the sort of thing Darren would have done would have done would have been to creep up beside them in church and poke them in the side.
Rev McConnell said the congregation would all have their memories of Darren from nursery school and primary school at Ballykeel; Cambridge House Grammar or perhaps his primary school football team from which he had kept photos of the time he won the local schools cup with them.
Darren also played for the Carniny youth football club, Demesne Strollers, Wakehurst Strollers and lately Braid United FC in Ballymena.
He said Darren trained as an electrician and had a polite good nature at work.
And he said his parents could not have paid a better tribute to their son when they simply said: "He never gave us any bother".
He said Darren was known at the church through Sunday School and Church Lads' Brigade at St Patrick's.
Darren had been a member of the Church Lads' Brigade for 20 years and members of the organisation, along with his football team, Braid United, held a poignant guard of honour as his coffin was borne from the church.
The coffin had a single family wreath on top which simply said 'With love from mum and dad and family circle'.
His grieving father Paul broke down in the church grounds as he helped to carry his son's coffin and was comforted by family and friends.
The congregation included Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister and Ballymena TUV councillor Tim Gaston. Like Darren, Mr Gaston had been in France supporting the team.
Some of those present wore Northern Ireland jerseys and one was wearing a tee-shirt of George Best playing for his country.
At nearby Ballymena Services Club a Northern Ireland football flag flew at half mast on an official flag pole.
Afterwards, Darren's interment took place at Ballee Cemetery, Ballymena.