Belfast Telegraph

Braid United's special tribute to Darren Rodgers who died on Euros trip

Heartbroken parents, family and friends to attend charity event

By Steven Beacom

A football club will remember and pay an emotional tribute tonight to talented player Darren Rodgers, who tragically died in France while supporting Northern Ireland at Euro 2016.

The accidental death of 24-year-old Darren in Nice in June, just hours after Michael O'Neill's team had played their first match at the tournament, became headline news around the world.

Tributes from stunned Northern Ireland players poured in for the young Ballymena man and there was applause from supporters in the 24th minute of the team's next game against Ukraine in Lyon.

Republic of Ireland followers in France also sang 'Stand up for the Ulsterman' during their match with Sweden in a striking display of solidarity.

For parents Jacqueline and Paul the heartbreak of losing their only child will never fade.

But they have taken comfort in how much their son was loved by his friends, in particular his team-mates at Braid United, who he played for every weekend in the Ballymena Saturday Morning League.

Since his untimely death, Braid United officials and players have kept Darren's memory alive with DR8 - he played in the number eight shirt - emblazoned beside the club badge on their new kit.

And tonight they will hold a special evening in his honour to raise money for a charity that helped the family in the difficult days that followed his passing.

The fundraising night, compered by Jackie Fullerton, will be in Ballymena's Adair Arms Hotel in aid of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, which brought Darren's body home from France.

It promises to be an emotional evening when family and friends will recall the popular young man nicknamed 'Dar Dar'.

Northern Ireland shirts, including one from captain Steven Davis, will be auctioned at the event which will be attended by Darren's mum and dad, other family members and those connected to local clubs.

Darren's best friend at the club, Stuart Smyth, said that Braid United had wanted to do something special since the tragedy in Nice.

"As soon as it happened we wanted to do something good for Darren's memory," said Stuart, who became pals with Darren at school and used to travel to football together. "We also wanted to do something for the charity because they were so good to Jackie and Paul.

"Darren was always so good to everyone else when he was here and now we are trying to do something special for him now that he's not.

"He was a great lad, always good craic. He was probably the best player in our team. He always gave everything.

"When Darren died a group of us were over in France and everyone was so shocked. It was devastating. We were close, but with the person he was, he was close to everyone in the team.

"I've known him from school and we went to Boys' Brigade together and I would go over to his family's house on Christmas night.

"He is always at the back of my mind. When I'm driving to football or coming home from it he will always pop into my head because we used to do that together.

"It's been really hard on his mum and dad. I have been over with Jackie and Paul and try to call over to them once a month or whenever I can to see how they are doing or if they need anything.

"All these months on it's still really hard to get used to and the truth is we are not used to it now."

Treasurer of Braid United Ian Young added: "Not one person had a bad word to say about Darren. He was a livewire, who gave out the banter and took it just as well.

"After Darren died the boys at the club got together at our pitch that night and we got together for every Northern Ireland game at the Euros at someone's house after that.

"We also got a new kit made. Darren always wore number eight so we have DR8 on our shirts. The new kit is dedicated to him as we want to keep his memory alive.

"I remember we were standing outside the church at the funeral and the tears were tripping down all of us.

"There was something really special about Darren. All the boys said that at the time and will always think that," added Ian.

"You couldn't not like Darren. He was that sort of boy. He was an only child and his mum and dad are a quiet wee couple and it hit everyone hard.

"Pre-season started late and to be honest for a week or two we didn't know what to do with ourselves. It was tough to get our heads around it but this season we are doing better than we thought.

"We aren't mentioning his name every Saturday before we go out, but in the back of the boys heads we really want to do it for him.

"We are proud of how the club came together and how they reacted to what was such a desperate time and how well they represented the club and Darren.

"We want to continue doing that and Saturday night is an opportunity to do it and raise money for the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, who were so good to Darren's family."

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