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Northern Ireland players plan tribute to fan who died in fall

Flowers and a banner are left close to the scene where Darren Rodgers, from Ballymena died after a fall in Nice, France. Picture by Michael McHugh, Press Association
Kenny Archer, Michael McHugh and Lesley-Anne McKeown

NORTHERN Ireland's players may wear black armbands and observe a minute's silence on Thursday in their match against Ukraine for a young supporter who died after a fall at the tournament.

Darren Rodgers (24), from Ballymena in Co Antrim, toppled 26ft over a barrier from a promenade in the south coast city of Nice.

Mr Rodgers was on his own at the time of the accident which happened at about 2am.

A French National Police spokesman said: "It seems it was drink. He was walking and went over the barrier, because he was drinking he crossed the barrier and fell eight metres."

Family and friends paid tribute to Mr Rodgers, a former pupil of Cambridge House Grammar, on social media describing him as a "gentleman" who had "simply wanted to go to France to support his country like everyone else".

Friend Stewart McDonald, from Ahoghill just outside Ballymena, spent several hours with him ahead of Sunday's game against Poland, which Northern Ireland lost 1-0.

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."

It is understood Mr Rodgers had been travelling with a group of friends who arrived in Nice last Thursday and was staying at a campsite nearby.

At his family home, a neat bungalow on the edge of Ballymena, a family member said she did not want to speak about the tragedy.

Mr McDonald said fans from everywhere had been affected.

"His death has touched absolutely every fan. It is just so sad and so tragic," he added.

"Darren, like everybody else, was in really great form and was looking forward to the game.

"It is 30 years since we have qualified for a major tournament - Darren wasn't even born then - and he had been looking forward to the trip for months."

Republic of Ireland fans at the Fanzone at Titanic slipway paid tribute on Monday night to the young 24 year-old fan with a round of applause in the 24th minute.

The Irish Football Association has said it will decide later in the week what form Thursday's tribute will take.

It has also been suggested there will be a minute's applause by supporters at the game in memory of Mr Rodgers.

Patrick Nelson, IFA chief executive, said: "The young lad came out to watch some games of football, part of a huge movement from Northern Ireland, a very joyous movement, and it’s a tragedy for his family and his friends."

Mr Nelson added: "We’re going to take our cue from Darren’s family as to what else we do. An IFA staff member is ready to go down to Nice if the family want that."

Among those leading the tributes have been First Minister Arlene Foster, who was at the match, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

In a joint statement they said: "This sad news is in stark contrast to the jovial carnival atmosphere just hours before at the game against Poland. Our fans have been fine ambassadors for the place we all call home and we encourage everyone to keep safe."

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Audrey Wales, said the entire community sympathised with the family.

"The loss of such a young life during a time of great celebration for Northern Ireland is tragic," she said.

"The people of Ballymena are deeply shocked and saddened by this news. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this sad time."

A keen footballer, Mr Rodgers was on the books of Braid United FC, and was a former player with Wakehurst.

A section of straw roof under the barriers where Mr Rodgers fell was missing and part of a plastic roof was damaged.

Staff at the Castel Restaurant which he fell into said a lifeguard on the beach heard the noise and went to his aid.

Floral tributes have been left at the scene.

Northern Ireland players have also conveyed their sympathy, with Gareth McAuley tweeting: "You think things are bad then learn one of your own loses his life last night. Thoughts with the family and friends."

Midfielder and captain Steven Davis said: "So sad to wake up to the tragic news that a Northern Ireland fan has died in Nice, thoughts with family and friends."

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said news of the tragedy "really does put things in perspective."

He said: "My message to the supporters is make sure you look after each other while you are out here. Please enjoy yourselves and have a great time but please be careful. Take care of each other.

"Having spoken to the players we certainly want to do something to mark the tragedy and pay our respects. All through the campaign and even more so here, the fans have been a huge part of everything that has gone well for Northern Ireland."

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