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NI Hospice was close to heart of tragic football fan Archie Rainey, having cared for his wife and then later his partner. He raised money for it when alive... and five months after his death, he'll do so again

Family and friends will gather tomorrow night for a charity event in memory of popular Green and White Army supporter who passed away at Euros

By Ivan Little

In life he was once a very public face of the Northern Ireland Hospice, who'd cared for two of the closest people to him after they were stricken with cancer 10 years apart. But now, in death, popular Belfast football fan Robert 'Archie' Rainey is helping to repay the charity for its kindness and dedication.

It's expected that thousands of pounds will be raised tomorrow night at a fundraiser in memory of 63-year-old Archie, a fanatical member of the Green and White Army who died in Lyon in June as he cheered on his heroes in the European Championships.

Medics tried in vain to save the former British karate champion after he fell ill during Northern Ireland's 2-0 win over Ukraine.

But now his heartbroken family, friends and workmates are uniting to remember electrician Archie in the way he would have wanted... with a special night in a Belfast city centre bar, with all the proceeds going to the hospice.

Archie's links to the charity go back years. His son Mark explained: "My mum Jennifer died from cancer in the hospice and the staff there were fantastic to her and to my father, me and my brothers, Michael and Steven."

Archie single-handedly brought up his sons, who were 17, 12 and seven at the time of their mum's death, working seven days a week to provide for them, but such was his deep appreciation for what the hospice did for his wife that he always managed to find time to raise money for it.

Mark, a retail manager at the Abbeycentre, said: "My dad was a strong character and no matter what happened, he never let life get on top of him. He had a real vigour and spirit."

But, by a horrible twist of fate, in 2007 - 10 years after Mrs Rainey's death - Archie's new partner June was also diagnosed with cancer and she passed away in the hospice, too, but not before she showed astonishing courage to complete a sponsored walk.

The hospice said that although June was desperately ill, she amazed all as she walked the length of a corridor in the building and raised thousands of pounds for it in the process.

Archie was obviously racked with grief, but he agreed to participate in a campaign to help increase the profile of the hospice and its annual sponsored walk in 2008.

His face appeared on a poster bearing the slogan: 'Who are you walking for?'. Alongside it was a summary of June's inspirational story.

Tomorrow's hospice fundraiser will take place in the Dark Horse in the Cathedral Quarter. And the early support for it has already underlined the esteem in which Archie was held within the many strands of his varied life.

Archie's colleagues from Thales - the former Shorts missile systems factory at Castlereagh - have held collections for their workmate, and management and his trade union have also made sizeable donations.

Archie's sons see tomorrow's event as a way of not only paying tribute to their father, but also as a means of raising as much money as possible for a cause that he was so passionate about.

"We want hope to come out of heartache," said Mark, who described his dad as a fun-loving joker in the pack, who was always on hand to help anyone who needed it.

Archie travelled far and wide in support of Northern Ireland with his companions, who called themselves the Worldwide NI Supporters Club, but they weren't actually a supporters club at all.

"They were just a bunch of friends, who styled themselves the 'Puffin Patrol' after the birds who frequent Rathlin Island," said Mark.

"They had puffin badges on their banners and scarves. It was all part of their banter when they were anywhere with Northern Ireland. They loved something silly to laugh about."

Billy Hamilton, a Northern Ireland hero from the 1982 World Cup in Spain, has also been a 'member' of the Worldwide NISC.

But there was another side to Archie Rainey. He was a karate coach who used his sport to unite divided communities in north Belfast, where he ran a club for over 20 years.

Archie was a one-time British champion, who passed on his skills to young people and adults. His three sons were all champions, too, and Mark says the family home is filled with trophies and medals they've won.

But friends of Archie say he was a humble man who refused to brag about the sporting prowess that took him to the karate world championships, or about his cross-community efforts.

Yet he had more reason than most to harbour grudges, having been caught up in two separate terrorist attacks.

Indeed, he still had a bullet embedded in a bone in his arm after he was wounded during an IRA ambush on soldiers as he and his wife went home on a bus. Archie was later blown up in a terror attack on the Club Bar in the university area of Belfast.

"But there was no bitterness in his heart - none," said Mark, who raised more than £1,000 for the French Red Cross on a Just Giving Page in the wake of the terrorist attack that killed 86 people in Nice a short time after Archie and thousands of other Northern Ireland fans had been there.

One of Archie's best friends, Jim Rainey (no relation), will compere tomorrow's fundraiser, using a microphone rather than the megaphone he famously employed to encourage Northern Ireland fans to kick out sectarianism at Windsor Park in the wake of loyalist death threats against Neil Lennon, who was forced to quit the international scene.

Jim and Archie grew up together in the Ballysillan area and they were photographed side-by-side just hours before the Lyon tragedy.

They also shared another passion as well as their country's football team - music.

They were both in the audience at the Ulster Hall in Belfast for Led Zeppelin's famous 1971 gig when the band showcased Stairway To Heaven for the first time.

"He was also at the Whitla Hall to see Jimi Hendrix (left) play back in the 1970s, and he was a massive Rory Gallagher fan as well," explained Mark.

One of his favourite modern day groups - Keep 'Er Lit - will be playing at the Dark Horse, where Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here will be in their repertoire. The song was played at Archie's funeral.

Mark says he and his brothers have been lifted by all the tributes to their father that they received in person and online.

Northern Ireland players wore black armbands and supporters chanted Archie's name during the Germany match in France.

Archie was the second Northern Ireland fan to die during the Euros. Darren Rodgers, who was 24, passed away after a fall in Nice just hours after watching his team play Poland a few days earlier. Fans also rallied round his relatives.

Mark says everyone in the Rainey family, including four grandchildren, still miss Archie.

But they take comfort from the fact that he was at a big family gathering just weeks before his death.

"I was married in Sorrento in Italy at the end of April and everyone was there, including a lot of my dad's Northern Ireland football fans. We all have precious memories of a wonderful time with him," said Mark, whose last conversation with his father was in a phone call the night before the Ukraine game.

The chat was almost drowned out by the sound of singing among the Northern Ireland fans. However, Mark was able to hear his father telling him: "I'm having the time of my life."

A few years earlier Archie had been hospitalised after an illness. "He said it wasn't rock 'n' roll being in a hospital," said Mark. "And he told us not to let him die in one.

"He said he wanted to go out with a bang."

The hospice fundraiser in memory of Archie Rainey will be held in the Dark Horse pub, Hill Street, Belfast, starting at 8pm tomorrow

Belfast Telegraph


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