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Euro 2016: Michael O'Neill and Northern Ireland team 'devastated' after fan Darren Rodgers dies in Nice after fall from promenade onto rocky beach

By Claire Williamson

Michael O'Neill has paid tribute to the 24-year-old Northern Ireland fan who died after a fall in Nice.

>>Darren Rodgers applause tribute planned by Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland fans during Sweden and Ukraine match<<

It is understood Darren Rodgers from Ballymena died after an 8-metre fall from a barrier along the seafront.

Police said the young man was on his own at the time and died in hospital overnight.

It has been reported he fell from the promenade onto a rocky beach at Castle Plage on the Promenade des Anglais.

Superintendent Nigel Goddard is in charge of the PSNI operation in France and said the death was an accident and not in any way disorder related.

Thousands of fans flocked to the French city on Sunday to watch Northern Ireland's first Euro 2016 game against Poland.

It was the side's first major tournament in almost 30 years.

Darren was a former pupil of Cambridge House Grammar School in Ballymena and played for Braid United Football Club. Paying tribute they called him a man who "would have done anything for you".

His family are expected to travel out to France on Tuesday.

Darren had been travelling with a group of friends who arrived in Nice last Thursday and was staying at a campsite nearby.

Floral tributes along with Northern Ireland tops and flags have been left at the scene.

Michael O'Neill: 'Devastated'

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill said both he and the team were devastated.

He said: "To find out that someone so young had lost their life affects everyone really.

"Devastating news when we got up this morning having travelled back last night after the game to find out the news about young Darren Rodgers and the tragedy of him losing his life in Nice after the game

"It puts into perspective everything for the players but I know they were devastated to hear the news as well as we can only pass on our condolences and our sympathies to his family, friends and everyone connected to the boy.

"Hopefully come Thursday the team and supporters show their togetherness for Darren Rodgers and his family and I know it will be a fitting tribute," he said.

Stewart McDonald, from Ahoghill just outside Ballymena, spent several hours with him ahead of Sunday's game.

He said: "I have spoken with Darren's uncle this morning and they are just devastated. They cannot believe Darren won't be coming home."

Tributes paid to 'gentleman'

Tributes have been paid on the young man's Facebook page calling him a "gentleman".

One said: "Such a down to earth guy and would never walk pass without a chat. Terrible news to wake up to.

"All you wanted was to go to France and support your country like everyone else, rest easy."

First Minister Arlene Foster also paid tribute calling it "tremendously sad".

North Antrim DUP MLA Paul Frew who is in Nice with his son, Jake (18), said he was speaking to Darren only hours before his death.

“He plays football for Braid United with my son, I knew him very well.

“We understand that he fell from the Promenade on to the rocky beach and he hit his head but that’s all we know so far.

“We were speaking to him just yesterday. We are all in shock.

“Some of his football friends are out here with him so we are going to try and meet up with them and have a chat with them.

“We met him near the fan zone in the Old Town and had a chat with him and he was in good form and was with all the other Northern Ireland fans.

“There was a good crowd with him.

“My son is in shock, none of us can believe it.”


Superintendent Nigel Goddard said it was a "tragedy".

He told the BBC: "I was informed this morning by French counterparts of this tragic news.

"The processes are that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will make contact with this man's family and take it from there.

"I believe it was an accident - not in any way disorder related, obviously a personal tragedy.

"This was in the early hours, on his own.

"He had fallen from the promenade onto rocky beach."

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis led tributes from the team saying his thoughts were with the young man's family.

Tragic news. Thoughts are with his family

— Michael McGovern (@mcgov12) June 13, 2016

Fellow teammates Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas, Kyle Lafferty, Conor McLaughlin and Niall McGinn have all tweeted their respects to the fan.

'One of the best people I've ever known'

Darren's team, Braid United Football Club, paid tribute to him calling him one of the "best people" they knew.

It said: "It is with great sadness that I am writing this post to tell of the passing of one of our players, Darren 'Dardar' Rodgers.

"A man who on and off the pitch would have done anything for you, always great craic and giving his all every game.

"We are not just losing a player, today we lose a friend and one of the best people I've ever known."

IFA 'deep sadness'

In a statement chief executive of the IFA Patrick Nelson expressed their "deep sadness".

He said: "On behalf of the board, management, players and staff of the Irish Football Association, I would like to express my deep sadness at the tragic death of a Northern Ireland supporter in Nice in the early hours of this morning.

"The thoughts of everyone at the Association are with his family and friends at this time.”

'Tremendously sad news' - First Minister

First Minister Arlene Foster who was in Nice watching the match passed on her condolences to the family of the young man.

The DUP leader said: "The whole atmosphere was one of great excitement great joy.

"It is tremendously sad news to hear that a young fan has lost his life

"The details are only coming through  I want to express my deepest sympathy to the family back home in Northern Ireland.

"It's news that will come as a terrible shock. A man going out to have the trip of a lifetime and to be told this has happened is really shocking."

Darren's former football club Wakehurst have also paid tribute to him.

Dozens of Northern Ireland fans have been visiting the spot where the tragedy took place.

Elsewhere in the city, the mood among fans is subdued.

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