Jonny Little death rocks Belfast football club - fourth tragedy in just six years
Woodvale FC stunned as mother of 23-year-old mourns loss of her 'pride and joy'
A Belfast community football team has been struck by tragedy for a fourth time.
Supporters of Woodvale FC were left stunned after the sudden death of Jonny Little at the weekend, just weeks after another player lost his life.
Mr Little celebrated a family occasion hours before he was found dead at his home at around 9.30am on Saturday.
The 23-year-old is the fourth member of the club to have taken their own life in recent years.
Three weeks ago, teammate Craig Faulkner (28) also died suddenly.
Fellow player David Hawthorne passed away in 2014, and coach David McCullough in 2010.
Mr Little, a former pupil of Belfast Boys' Model School, was an only child.
He is survived by his mother, Elaine, who is in her 40s and is said to be bereft at the loss of "her pride and joy".
Woodvale FC manager Frank McAllister said the team, which has been around for 26 years, was in a state of shock.
"This is the fourth death of one of our team members in six years," he added. "When I heard the news, I just felt numb.
"Jonny had played football for me since he was six years old. He had been to all the tournaments in England and Spain and had done the Foyle Cup.
"He just loved football. He was a tenacious player and he was always great fun."
Mr Little worked in security and was also a part-time barman at the Leopold & Heather Street Social Club, where he worked at the weekends.
His teammates said he was someone who "loved banter", was always game for a laugh and loved attending the football club's social events.
"He had such an infectious laugh," explained Mr McAllister. "The boys would wind Jonny up, and if they didn't he would start the banter off. He was always smiling and very friendly.
"He was once known as Woodvale's hardest man after the club set up a competition assault course where he had to do all sorts of things like walk over stones barefoot and eat disgusting things while the team threw water bombs at him. He won £100 for it and would enter every year for the fun.
"Jonny was always smiling and always laughing, but sadly it was a mask that was hiding his demons."
Prior to his death, Mr Little was feeling low after a period of unemployment and confided in Mr McAllister, with whom he had a strong bond.
The manager said his condition improved over the past six months after he got himself back into work and reassured everyone that he was doing okay.
"He was kind-hearted guy - he'd have helped anyone out," added Mr McAllister.
"When we opened a Portakabin, we needed people to help staff it, and he would be there every day to help out despite not getting paid.
"He would have done anything for the team, that's the sort of person he was, and he will be sadly missed.
"On behalf of the club, I would like to offer our sincerest condolences to Jonny's family at this sad time."
DUP MLA William Humphrey, who knew Mr Little from when he was a young boy, expressed shock at the death and offered his condolences to the family.
"I'm so very sorry to hear that young Jonny Little has passed away," he said.
"Many years ago, Jonny was one of my Scouts. He was a great character and a real nice lad."
In honour of Mr Little, the committee of Woodvale FC covered his funeral costs and a minute's silence was held at the Shankill United versus Distillery FC game on Saturday.
Prayers will be said at his home on Wednesday followed by a service at Welcome Evangelical Church. His remains will be interred at Roselawn Cemetery.
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