Ballymena football fan dies suddenly during home match
Footballers have joined hundreds of fans in an outpouring of grief after a lifelong Ballymena United fan died during an Irish Cup match.
Tommy Mathews (80), from the Glenwherry area, fell ill at the back of the stands inside the Showgrounds stadium just before half-time on Saturday afternoon.
A fellow spectator alerted staff who safely moved Mr Matthews to the Des Allen suite where he was attended to by club doctor Brian Patterson.
Former club doctor Steven McCurdy, two off-duty paramedics and a St John's Ambulance team also assisted desperate attempts to save the elderly man, but were unsuccessful.
"They tried their best and had access to the club's defibrillator, which was used, but sadly it was all in vain," a club spokesperson said. "His death comes as a great shock because as far as we could tell he was a healthy man, it all happened very quickly."
Mr Matthews, who supported Ballymena United ever since he was a schoolboy, was one of the first fans to buy a ticket for the Co Antrim Shield final when they went on sale on Saturday.
The club spokesperson said he will be sadly missed, especially when Ballymena take on Crusaders FC in the cup final in just under two weeks time.
"Everyone at Ballymena United would like to extend their sympathy to this gentleman's family," he said.
"We hope it helps them in their grief to know that everything that could have been done to save him was done.
"People can become very uptight over a football game but this tragedy certainly puts things into perspective."
Most people attending Ballymena's fifth-round tie against Moyola Park were unaware of the unfolding incident.
But after the club's 4-0 victory, hundreds of football fans expressed shock on social media and offered condolences to Mr Matthews family circle.
"Such sad news," one Facebook user wrote. "There's something comforting in the knowledge that a diehard supporter of his club passed away moments after buying a ticket to see his beloved Sky Blues contest a cup final, with Ballymena in the lead in the match.
"There's no 'good' time to go but at least this gentleman spent his final moments in circumstances which would have given him joy. Rest easy sir, Sky Blue til the very end."
Club players including striker Johnny McMurray also expressed their shock.
"Horrible news ... Thoughts and prayers to the family and friends," he tweeted.
Defender Jim Ervin added: "Terrible news to hear tonight. Thoughts and prayers are with Tommy's friends and family. RIP."
Coleraine FC manager Oran Kearney wrote: "Rest in peace, Tommy."