True blue: David Crozier's final day at beloved Windsor Park
David Crozier (85) followed Linfield man and boy until last Saturday, when he went to a derby match with Glentoran... and didn’t come home. His son, David jnr, tells Ivan Little that, if his dad could have picked a place to pass away, it would have been his beloved Windsor Park
Grieving Margaret Crozier put on her late husband’s favourite 30-year-old Linfield scarf on Wednesday night as she set off on an emotional pilgrimage to see her first-ever football match at the same stadium where her beloved spouse died while watching his last-ever game just four days earlier.
It was a painful, yet poignant evening for Mrs Crozier, her four children and four of her grandchildren as they sat in the same section of Windsor Park where 85-year-old David Crozier passed away as his lifelong heroes played their lifelong rivals, Glentoran, last Saturday.
Before the midweek match against Ballinamallard United, Margaret and her family were deeply moved as players and fans stood for a minute’s respectful silence for the football supporter they didn’t know. But they all knew it could have been their father, or grandfather, who went to a game, but never came home.
Many of the same supporters had averted their eyes on Saturday from the tragic scene which unfolded in the lower deck of Windsor Park’s North Stand as paramedics battled in vain to save Mr Crozier’s life.
His family were later told that, even if he’d had his aneurysm in a room full of doctors, they could have done nothing for him.
At Windsor, the Crozier family met St John Ambulance volunteers to thank them for their efforts to resuscitate the former van driver and lollipop man, who was for years a popular figure with youngsters at a Catholic primary school in south Belfast.
On Wednesday night, in the privacy of the temporary Linfield boardroom, club officials paid tribute to Mr Crozier and roped off a section of the ground for his loved ones to watch the League Cup game against the Fermanagh team who against the odds beat the Blues 1-0.
For the Crozier family the result wasn’t important, but Mr Crozier’s son, who’s also called David, says his father would have been disappointed with his team’s performance.
“And he wouldn’t have liked all the fuss over him,” adds David. “He would have been upset at the distress which had been caused to the fans around him at the Glens match.
“All he ever wanted to do was to watch the Blues. Apart from his family and his work, they were his life. He didn’t go out to bars and if he could have picked a place to pass away it would have been Windsor Park. We took some comfort from that amid all the heartbreak."
And in death as in life, it appeared that his father was still somehow pulling the strings during the week.
For as his family were deciding on which urn they wanted to put his ashes in after yesterday's cremation at Roselawn, Mrs Crozier suddenly picked one in the middle of the three she was shown by the funeral director.
"The undertaker gave a wee, wry smile and said the urn she had picked was from a range called ... Windsor," says David jnr, who cherishes his youthful memories of following Linfield with his dad, who also took his daughters Barbara, Alison and Melissa to a number of games in their younger days.
Thirty-seven-year-old David is the "baby" of the family, the only son who was never quite good enough as a player to realise his father's dreams that he might one day make the grade as a footballer. With Linfield, of course.
His dad, who was born in April 1930, was destined to be a Blueman. For his family lived in Donegall Avenue, only a throw-in away from Windsor Park and there was never any question about which football team he would follow.
Mr Crozier and his wife, who celebrated 52 years of marriage last month, lived for all of their married life in the Roden Street area, where there's a blue plaque on the old family home of the legendary Linfield and Northern Ireland centre-forward Joe Bambrick.
Mrs Crozier's father, Johnny Glenholmes, was an Irish cross-country international, but for his new son-in-law, no sport was ever in the running other than football. And Linfield, in particular.
"He never supported any teams across the water," says David. "And when, in later years, I became an Arsenal fan, I don't think he was too pleased.
"He always said Irish football was proper football, honest football. He had no time for fancy-Dan players in England, who rolled around the ground after they'd been tackled. He wanted to see men being men, playing football in the real way."
Even though attendances at Irish League matches today are only a fraction of what they were in Mr Crozier's youth, his passion for Linfield never dimmed.
He was a season ticket holder at Windsor Park and rarely missed a Linfield game, home or away. He revelled in watching players who were skilful with a touch of class about them, like pacey wingers who could beat opponents and cross the ball into the middle for the old-style centre forwards to score a bagful of goals.
Four-four-two didn't add up for him. And, in a bitter twist of fate, Bobby Braithwaite, who was one Linfield winger whom Mr Crozier would have admired during Linfield's clean sweep of all seven trophies in the Irish League in the 1961-62 season, died only a few days after him at his home in South Africa.
David says: "One of my father's all-time favourites was a winger called Billy Murray. He was part of the great Linfield teams of the Eighties under the management of Roy Coyle.
"That was an era I remember fondly, too. But I also recall how I put my foot in it with my father when I was a youngster watching the Blues in Bangor.
"The referee gave a free-kick against a Linfield player, but I wondered aloud how it could be a handball because our man was wearing gloves.
"The look my father gave me was priceless. Everyone around us was laughing, but dad smiled a smile which had 'Why on earth did you have to say that' written all over it."
Mr Crozier, an ex-soldier and Suez veteran, started his working life in civvy street as an orderly at Musgrave Park Hospital, but was a van driver for most of his career.
"One of his colleagues was a hero of mine, the Linfield striker Martin McGaughey, and I was chuffed when he brought me home a signed picture of him. I still have it," says David, whose mother and sisters used to accompany him and his father on their trips to Linfield games in towns like Ballymena and Coleraine.
"They used to come along in the car. They would go to the shops while we went to the matches. But it was still a family day out."
Last Saturday, Mr Crozier went on his own to Windsor Park to see the Blues playing the Glens. His son, who used to be a Linfield ball-boy, says his father mightn't have gone if the opponents had been anyone else.
"He really enjoyed the Big Two matches. He thought the atmosphere was electric and he always said they were good games, because anyone could win them."
There is, of course, no love lost between the Belfast clubs. And the animosity has boiled over into serious and well-documented violence in years gone by.
"But, for my father, after the final whistle was blown, that was that.
"The rivalry was over. He didn't allow any of us to say a bad word about any teams or any players. He never even swore at a game.
"And I never swore in front of him. He was a good-living man who always went to his church on a Sunday."
Mr Crozier died just before the end of the game last Saturday, which ended in a 1-1 draw and, though there were some unsavoury comments on social media, genuine football fans posted messages of sympathy and Glentoran Football Club placed a death notice in newspapers.
David says: "Every Irish League club and their supporters sent their condolences.
"And there were also messages from the likes of Joe Gormley, the ex-Cliftonville goalscorer, who's now in England, and even from Glentoran fans in Canada. It was touching that Linfield were so kind to us on Wednesday night.
"It meant a lot to my mother that the club her husband loved all his life replicated it back to us."
Mr Crozier didn't have a history of illness. After he retired from his driving job, he signed up to become a patrolman outside St Bride's Primary School in Derryvolgie Avenue off the Malone Road.
"He walked from his home to the school twice a day and he got on really well with all the children. And, of course, he joked with the ones who had rucksacks from Man United, Liverpool, or whoever."
"He used to tell them they should be supporting a good team like Linfield - even though I'm sure half the kids didn't know who on earth he was talking about," says David, who recalls how he bought his father a padded Linfield coat to keep him warm on winter Saturdays at Windsor Park.
"But he didn't wear it to the games. He wanted to keep it good. He didn't want it to get dirty, though he did wear it once in Paris."
He says his father used to sit with friends in the old South Stand at Windsor Park, where they'd dissect the action on the pitch in front of them, but they'd also reminisce about old games and old players.
David says his dad kept his emotions in check. "He wasn't a man who would shout at the players, or even at the referees, and whenever the Blues scored he wouldn't be jumping up and down in celebration. But you'd always see a smile spreading over his face."
Even though Mr Crozier only had eyes for Linfield, he did acquire a taste for watching football from around the world on satellite television in later life.
David says: "If there was a game on Sky, he would have found it and he would have watched Azerbaijan taking on Outer Mongolia."
But, for David Crozier, apparently, there was no one in the same league as Linfield.