Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Euro 2016: Northern Ireland players wear black armbands as tribute to fan Darren Rodgers killed in fall

By Liam Blackburn

Northern Ireland's players will wear black armbands in tonight's match against Ukraine in memory of Darren Rodgers, the 24-year-old from Ballymena who died in Nice following the side's game with Poland.

The Irish Football Association asked Uefa for a minute's silence prior to the game's kick-off, but the body was unable to grant the request.

Goalkeeper Michael McGovern insisted any disappointment Northern Ireland felt after defeat in their opener was replaced by sorrow following the death of the supporter from Co Antrim.

Darren died in Nice following the team's fixture with Poland on Sunday evening after falling over a seaside promenade barrier and through the roof of a restaurant on the French coast.

For a team in which ties with the community are particularly strong, the bad news hit the squad hard, with manager Michael O'Neill visibly emotional when he spoke about the incident on Monday.

The tragedy also ensured the 1-0 loss to Poland was put into context for a squad that had just made history by making the team's first European Championships final appearance.

"It puts things in perspective, it's very sad," McGovern said.

"Someone comes over here and supports us, and he was probably really looking forward to it and wanting to have a good time and then he doesn't come home.

"It's heartbreaking for his family and friends. Our thoughts are with his family and friends in Ballymena."

The news broke after a weekend in which Poland and Northern Ireland fans happily mingled together on the Cote d'Azur and in the Stade de Nice.

Those displays of unity were also evident in Paris on Monday night when, in the 24th minute of their match with Sweden, Republic of Ireland fans stood up, applauded and sang, "Stand up for the Ulsterman".

Northern Ireland fans are also planning a similar gesture tonight.

"That was really nice to see," said central defender Jonny Evans. "I hadn't seen it, but we were told about it.

"It shows from the Republic of Ireland fans the togetherness that's been in the tournament, especially towards Northern Ireland fans.

"I think as players we've been very proud of the way they've conducted themselves.

"Everyone I've spoken to speaks about how the atmosphere they've created has been unbelievable.

"The atmosphere that Northern Ireland and Polish fans created in Nice... there was no animosity between them. They got together, enjoyed it and made it more enjoyable for us, knowing our families were safe. You can go to the game and relax."

Belfast Telegraph