When the news began to break that a Malaysian flight has crashed, with hundreds on board, many of us had the same reaction “not another one”. A flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur had crashed in Ukraine. Happening only months after MH370 had vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The political situation across Europe began to escalate quickly, with accusations relating to what caused the crash.
The names and faces of those killed began to appear on television screens across the world. What many of us in the North East of England quickly came to realise was it had taken two of our own!
The rivalry between Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United FC is legendary. Two cities within a short distance mean the supporters of both clubs meet every day as work colleagues, classmates and family! In some ways, this should make it a friendly rivalry. However, the pride and passion of people from the North East mean the rivalry is fierce. It sometimes manifests in actions that are wrong and violent. The banter between the supporters harsh, sometimes relentless. The thought of the smugness of opposition supporters after your team has suffered a bad result is often worse than the result itself.
“The lads” is a North East phrase used to describe friends, colleagues, your team’s players – it is often a term of affection. This last fortnight, it has meant John Alder and Liam Sweeney. Travelling together, on their way to see Newcastle’s pre-season tour in New Zealand. They were on flight MH17. Newcastle supporters began laying tributes to Liam Sweeney and John Alder at St James Park. Supporters of other clubs did the same. In amongst the sea of black and white, were flashes of red, blue and the red and white stripes of Sunderland.
The story of the lads travelling across the world to see their team, only to be killed in horrific circumstances like these struck a chord with many Sunderland supporters. Sunderland supporter Gary Ferguson posted a message on a Sunderland supporters message board “Ready to go”, asking if fellow Sunderland supporters would be interested in donating a small amount of no more than £5 each, for a floral tribute, several supportive messages were left and a donation page was setup. The original target was £100. Several hundred pounds were raised later that night and the next morning. A number of messages were left on twitter. Others donated and posted on social media. Thousands were raised in a matter of hours, mainly from Sunderland supporters. Other campaigns were setup by Newcastle supporters to raise funds for floral tributes and other activities. Newcastle supporters logged on to the Sunderland message board to say thank you. Rivalry as usual had been suspended. As one Sunderland supporter so aptly put it “we’ve lost two of our own!”
Thousands of football supporters, predominantly Sunderland supporters, but supporters from far and wide, including Shakhtar Donetsk supporters from Ukraine.
7 days after the donation page was setup, 3,013 people have donated a fantastic £32,115. £200 was spent on the floral tribute. The remaining money will be split equally between the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle. Liam Sweeney’s mam suffers from cancer.
This week has shown that the North East is more like a family than we sometimes realise ourselves. We argue, we disagree and we do that on an epic scale. We also come together in times of need, hardship and grief – we do that on an epic scale too.
Sincere condolences to the family and friends of John Alder and Liam Sweeney.
You can donate at the following link: