Belfast Telegraph

Ulster rugby fans at Ravenhill roar for Nevin Spence

BY MICHELLE SMYTH

Applause and tears filled Ravenhill rugby stadium last night as former Ulster player Nevin Spence was remembered with fondness ahead of the team's clash with Glasgow.

The emotional game, the first competitive home match of the season at the newly refurbished stadium, coincided with the anniversary of the tragic death of the 22-year-old Ulster centre.

A year ago on Sunday, Nevin lost his life alongside his father Noel and brother Graham in a slurry tank accident at their Hillsborough farm.

The minute-long applause grew louder with every second that passed as thousands of fans in a sea of black and red on the new stands blinked back tears while images of a smiling Nevin dominated the stadium's giant screens.

Ahead of the applause, a message boomed out across the stadium saying that the thoughts of everyone involved in Ulster Rugby will remain with the Spence family who "will never be forgotten".

Around the stands, the Ulster Rugby badge was displayed on hoardings with the slogan "from this ground legends are born" – an apt message for the evening, as the memory of Nevin has already become entrenched as a chapter in the club's story.

David Wallace, a season ticket-holder from Ballymena, said the tribute was very touching.

"It is hard to imagine it was a year ago. It is so tragic, I still feel for the family," he said.

Commenting on the new white, gun metal and red coloured stands at the Aquinas and Memorial ends of the grounds, David described the revamped stadium as "really spectacular".

"It has really brought the stadium into the 21st century. It's hard to imagine what it was like before," he said.

The supporter added that he cannot wait until the £14.7m redevelopment of the ground is completed.

Season ticket-holder, Michael Picken from Four Winds, said his daughter's boyfriend went to school with Nevin.

He described the tribute as "very moving and fitting", adding that the new-look stadium was "tremendous for Ulster rugby, a fantastic advert for Northern Ireland and and great place for visitors to come and play."

"The facilities are tremendous, it is a much more comfortable and attractive place to come and watch," he added.

"If they can maintain the atmosphere of the former stadium then it will be great."

Enjoying a few pints ahead of the match, Mervyn Lappin, William Pollin and Brian Peden said the atmosphere at the stadium was fantastic.

Their only complaint was that Ulster ultimately lost last night's game.

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