Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders official in poignant return to Scotland after his father died at match in Forfar

By Graham Luney

A football fan is preparing to make an emotional return to Scotland for the first time since his father died during a match there.

William Whiteside, known as Billy and a lifelong supporter of Crusaders FC, collapsed on the terraces of Station Park in Forfar during a game against Cove Rangers in the Irn Bru Cup in October.

This weekend his son, Crusaders treasurer Tommy Whiteside, is heading back to Scotland for the first time since the tragedy.

Billy, who was 73 and had followed the Crues since 1949 when he attended games with his father Thomas, suffered a heart attack. The incident was witnessed by Tommy and his son Matthew.

Billy, who had travelled across Europe to follow his team, was given immediate treatment but died on the way to hospital.

Tommy, Billy's daughter Elizabeth, second wife Jackie and grandchildren Robert, Ellen, Anna, Matthew and Sophie were devastated and Tommy stayed in Scotland for a few days while the Crusaders party travelled home after their 3-0 victory.

The Crues went on to defeat Dundee United 2-1 in the next round of the tournament on November 11, and this Sunday they face Inverness in the semi-final.

Tommy and Matthew are travelling to Scotland again, comforted by memories of a man who died as he lived - following Crusaders.

"Matthew, who turned 11 in December, was a mascot at the match and I was bringing him off the pitch when I saw my dad fall down," explained Tommy.

"He was standing on the terrace but after he fell I ran to him and turned him over. There was a doctor beside me, a Crusaders supporter called Thomas McCabe, and I called to him for help. He turned him over and another board member, John Alexander, got club doctor David McCracken and they cut his shirt open.

"The brother-in-law of another friend of mine, Alan Cairns, is a doctor and he was there so there were three doctors on him right away, and paramedics.

"They put the defibrillator on him and it got his heart going, but it was weak."

Tommy's son, who was by his side, was taken away by a friend.

He added: "The game had kicked off and was then stopped. My dad was taken into the ambulance and our chairman Stephen Bell asked me did I want the game to go on, and I said: 'Play the game Stevie', before going into the ambulance.

"After 10 or 15 minutes they pulled it over and said: 'He's gone'. Before the ambulance had left, I said to David: 'Davy, I think my daddy's gone'. And he said: 'I think you're right, Tommy'. My phone was going mad and I wanted to speak to my sister Elizabeth, because I wanted her to hear the news from me."

Tommy stayed in Scotland while the team took Matthew home.

He added: "We had travelled to Scotland early that morning and my dad wasn't meant to be at my house until 6.30am. He knocked my door at 5.50am and was like a two-year-old looking forward to getting away. He was slagging off the players on the way over and couldn't have been in better form. But when I turned him over on that terrace I knew he was dead.

"That night I was in an awful state, but I'm forever grateful to Alan and his family.

"For two months after the incident Matthew had nightmares and he was worried I was going to die. Thankfully he's much better now. When we played Dundee United it was too raw and I couldn't face it, but I can do it now and Matthew wants to go and he's Crusaders daft; I won't stop him."

Billy, who was a distant cousin of former Northern Ireland and Manchester United star Norman Whiteside, was an electrician and docker and in his later years became a publican, running the Swiss Chalet in Glengormley and the Mount Inn in Belfast before relocating to Portaferry in 1998 to landlord McNamara's bar.

"We have those memories of travelling across Europe together, which are special," said Tommy, who lost his mum Margaret at the age of 47 in 1994.

"My dad had cancer in the years before he died and that possibly weakened his heart.

"The messages we got from different clubs were very comforting. Linfield manager David Healy phoned me and passed on his condolences, and even after we beat them at Seaview he came over and gave me a big hug.

"Crusaders paid for the repatriation. Chairman Stephen Bell said: 'We brought him there, we will bring him home'.

"Cove Rangers are sending me a match shirt from that day and I will get it framed and put it up at the club. My dad was held in high esteem and it's comforting to know that. He died doing what he loved."

Belfast Telegraph

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