Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Lifeguard's desperate bid to save football fan after promenade fall

Published 13/06/2016

Flowers are left close to the scene where Darren Rodgers, from Ballymena, died after a fall in Nice
Flowers are left close to the scene where Darren Rodgers, from Ballymena, died after a fall in Nice
A banner is left in tribute to Darren Rodgers, from Ballymena, who died after a fall in Nice

A beach lifeguard raced to help after hearing the crash of a Northern Ireland football fan's fatal fall in France, a local restaurateur said.

The man was unable to save talented footballer Darren Rodgers, 24, after he went over a seaside promenade barrier and through the roof of the Castel Plage Restaurant in the south coast city of Nice, the outlet's manager added.

Thousands of supporters had descended on the area to watch their team's opening European Championship fixture against Poland on Sunday night.

But disappointment over defeat turned to tragedy after the victim from Ballymena in Co Antrim toppled 26ft (8m) from the Promenade des Anglais.

Castel Plage Restaurant manager Karim Abdelhafid said: "The lifeguard of the beach listened to a big noise. When he went over he saw a guy had fallen from the street."

He said emergency services arrived minutes later.

"But it was too late."

The accident happened at about 2am on Monday and Mr Rodgers was on his own at the time. The seafront was still busy with fans returned from the game and lifeguard cover had been arranged.

Mr Rodgers had been staying at a local campsite with friends since Thursday.

The electrician and keen footballer was top goalscorer at a former club. His current club was Braid United in Ballymena where he was known as Dardar and he missed out on becoming top scorer this season by a single goal.

A club official said: "(He was) a man who on and off the pitch would have done anything for you, always great craic and giving his all every game.

"We are not just losing a player, today we lose a friend and one of the best people I've ever known."

Club secretary Richard McClean added: "He was just a happy chappy and the life and soul of the party, always up to mischief but with not one bit of badness in him."

Mr Rodgers used to hide people's shin pads, his cheeky grin giving him away, but was conscientious about attending matches and training.

His family is said to be devastated. Travelling fans who describe themselves as one big family are expected to pay tribute during Thursday's clash with Ukraine with a minute's applause.

At the scene of the accident, d iners enjoyed cool drinks and sandwiches by the beach on Monday morning under the cafe's canopy.

But in a service area to one side a gaping hole was left in the straw and green plastic roofing after the victim's descent. A large metal ladder had been erected beside it.

The Green and White Army of supporters has captivated this city with its camaraderie.

Some tied white roses to the railings over which Mr Rodgers fell. Others fastened Northern Ireland banners.

One bouquet from the Ballymacash Northern Ireland supporters' club bore the message: "RIP wee man xxx.

"Thoughts and prayers with your family and friends."

Jody Wallace, a mechanic aged 34 from Ballyclare in Co Antrim, visited.

He said: "The Northern Ireland fans are like one big family.

"We came on the trip to enjoy ourselves and follow the football and I am just sad that he is not going home."

Stewart McDonald, from Ahoghill just outside Ballymena, spent several hours with him ahead of Sunday's game.

"Darren, like everybody else, was in really great form and was looking forward to the game.

"It is 30 years since we have qualified for a major tournament - Darren wasn't even born then - and he had been looking forward to the trip for months."

The promenade stretches for seven kilometres (4.3 miles) and is a magnet for tourists, joggers and cyclists. Stunned football fans, cyclists wearing lycra and tourists in summer dresses competed for space.

The section where the tragedy happened is at the eastern extremity, where it rises sharply from sea level, at Castel Plage, which is named after the vestiges of the Castle of Nice which towers over it.

Among those leading the tributes were Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster, who was at the Poland match, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who visits next week.

Team members used social media to convey their sympathy.

Gareth McAuley tweeted: "You think things are bad then learn one of your own loses his life last night."

Midfielder Steven Davis said: "So sad to wake up to the tragic news that a Northern Ireland fan has died in Nice."

Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish Football Association, expressed deep sadness.

The number of floral tributes grew throughout the day. A shirt left at the scene read: "RIP Dar Dar. You will sadly be missed. Braid United".

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph