Belfast Telegraph

Coach's moving tribute as family say final farewell to wheelchair footballer

By Angela Rainey

A disabled wheelchair footballer from north Belfast who died last week "will be a great miss to those who knew him and the whole team", his coach has said.

Leonard Tarr from Ballysillan died peacefully in the early hours of Monday aged 36.

Final respects were paid at his funeral service yesterday at Ballysillan Elim Church.

Known by many as "wee Leonard" or sometimes "Junior", he is survived by parents Leonard and Ellen and brother Jonathan.

Born with spina bifida, a condition that prevents the spinal cord and spine from developing properly, Leonard did not let his disability hold him back.

Fanatical about football, he was a big supporter of Linfield, Leeds United and Northern Ireland and would often wear shirts and caps emblazoned with the crest of his favourite teams.

While he loved watching matches, his real passion was playing.

He played for Trailblazers Powerchair Football Club in Belfast for over a year before moving to Lightning Powerchair Football Club, where he was a goalkeeper, and trained every Friday at Lagan Valley Leisureplex in Lisburn.

A former pupil of Fleming Fulton School in Belfast, Leonard was a volunteer at its Phab youth club every Monday and Thursday and was known as "a sociable and helpful person" who enjoyed encouraging others.

Describing him as a man who always had a smile and "enjoyed the banter", coach Jason Browning (22) fondly recalled his friend and team-mate, who he had known for over 10 years.

Mr Browning said: "When it came to football, Leonard's passion and enthusiasm was 100%.

"When he was well he was always at the club, and if he couldn't make it he would always get in touch.

"He was always a committed and reliable player who you could set your watch by.

"He was someone who just loved being part of the game and getting stuck in.

"Even at times when he might have struggled a little bit, he was always dedicated.

"He would always overcome and push forward. He always tried his best and gave his all - he had a fantastic attitude.

"Leonard could make any situation fun. He could take the banter when Leeds weren't doing so well and he could dish it out to me as a Glentoran fan when my team wasn't performing as well as Linfield.

"He really loved football and I know he would want to be remembered for his passion."

While always "up for the craic" and having a cheeky smile, Leonard could also be shy.

Mr Browning added: "He was very affable, but he would also be happy to be in the background.

"He would never overshadow anyone, but he would take his moment when it came.

"He knew everyone and everyone liked him. He will be a big miss to many - it won't be the same without him.

"Sometimes you don't realise how big an impact someone has on you until they're gone.

"I am just glad I had the pleasure of knowing him."

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