Team-mates paid their respects today to former Carrick Rangers footballer Gerard Thompson who took his own life on Tuesday.
There was standing room only at the Sacred Heart Church in north Belfast as the funeral mass for Gerard ‘Jerry’ Thompson (24) began with hundreds of friends and family in attendance.
Ex-team-mates from a number of football clubs, including Carrick Rangers, attended in their club livery and a number of mourners wore t-shirts bearing an image of the former full-back.
Local priest Fr Darach Mac Giolla Catháin said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Jerry’s family. In particular his parents Gerard and Leanne, sisters Chantelle and Aisling, grandmother Bernie and his girlfriend Samantha together with their son Thiago.
“I welcome Jerry’s many friends, especially those from the world of football. So many here today will know jerry from his footballing exploits and all the different teams he was associated with.
“His smile, his mischievousness, larger than life personality, his kindness, goodness and loving nature touched so many people.
“Important though football was to him, it is clear that family came first. He was so very good to his family, especially to his grannie Bernie. Taking her to hospital apointments, bringing her out to dinner or taking her to the cinema. He was, in her words, a wee star.
“For you Samantha, Jerry was the love of your life. You will make Jerry proud and be an amazing mum to Thiago. Let love continue to be your response in this situation.
“I know that so many of us are asking what he was struggling with that he thought was so great that it could not be overcome. It does not serve any purpose to torture ourselves with such questions, natural though they be.
“Rather we ask what can we as individuals do to ensure that we do not have to gather in such circumstances again.”
Following his death Carrick Rangers chairman Peter Clarke revealed the club would retire his number 21 jersey in a bid to better educate young footballers about mental health.
The former Cliftonville, Larne, Donegal Celtic, Portadown and Ards player had been due to start for Carrick Rangers against Glenavon last Tuesday night before the club announced news of his death.
The doting father had been looking forward to Christmas and had already picked out matching father-and-son tracksuits, according to his family.
Speaking from the family home in north Belfast, his mother Leanne Thompson (39) said the devastated family was still searching for answers.
She told the Belfast Telegraph. “He was just our hero, we’re just going to miss him something serious. He loved us, he loved his girlfriend and we just don’t understand why he did this.”
“He was doing so well in his football. He scored goals, he set goals up and that’s all my Gerard lived for was his football. It’s hard because we know that’s what he wanted, he got it and then he goes and does this. It was just like a split second, whatever it is came over his head and he was gone.”
Sharing her own tribute on social media, his partner Samantha Storey thanked the many offering their support to the family.
She said: “I just want to thank each and every person that has sent me a message I just can’t even get through to them all, this is all just one big dream and all we can do is be there for one another.
“All Jerry would want for our son is for me to be a strong mother and I will try my best to pull this all together for our baby boy I promise.”
Her brother Gerard Storey, who plays for Portsmouth FC, added: “You were loved and will be missed by everyone. I will do everything I can to look after Samantha and Thiago and help him become the footballer that you always wanted him to be.”
Devastated Carrick Rangers manager Niall Currie also paid tribute to his former full-back, adding: “Jerry was a special young man. He was unassuming, always smiling and had a wonderful personality as well as being a wonderful footballer.
“When he came to our club he was determined to give his best and he did that. It was a pleasure for all of us to have Jerry at Carrick Rangers.
“The level of performance that he had been delivering in recent weeks was sensational. Jerry will be a part of this club forever and our squad forever and part of me forever.
“We are all heartbroken, the players, committee and staff are heartbroken. He was part of our family and we are devastated to lose him.”