Euro 2016: Family 'devastated' at death of Northern Ireland fan in Nice promenade fall
THE family of a Northern Ireland football fan who died after a fall in France have been left devastated by the tragedy, friends have said.
Darren Rodgers (24) from Ballymena in Co Antrim, toppled 26ft (8m) over a barrier from a promenade in the south coast city of Nice.
The accident happened at about 2am on Monday and Mr Rodgers was on his own at the time.
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."
It is understood Mr Rodgers had been in France for the opening fixture of Northern Ireland's European Championship campaign against Poland.
He 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 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."
Fans are expected to pay tribute to Mr Rodgers during Thursday's clash against Ukraine with a minute's applause.
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 they were shocked and saddened by the death.
"The loss of a young life in these circumstances is truly heart-breaking and our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family at this extremely difficult time.
"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.
She said: "The loss of such a young life during a time of great celebration for Northern Ireland is tragic.
"The people of Ballymena are deeply shocked and saddened by this news and I know the community will join me in sending our deepest sympathies to Darren's family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this sad time."
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.
So sad to wake up to the tragic news that a Northern Ireland fan has died in Nice, thoughts with his family and friends.— Steven Davis (@StevenDavis8) 13 June 2016
Floral tributes have been left at the scene.
One message read: "RIP. Thoughts and prayers with your family and friends. Ballymacarrett Northern Ireland Supporters' Club."
Speaking from Nice, Jody Wallace (34) from Ballyclare, expressed condolences.
He said: "I just feel so sorry for his family and friends. He came out here to enjoy a bit of football and he's not going home.
"Northern Ireland fans are like one big family when we go to games."
Players have also used social media to convey their sympathy.
Gareth McAuley tweeted: "You think things are bad then learn one of your own loses his life last night. Thoughts with the family and friends."
Midfielder 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."
Meanwhile, Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish Football Association, said: "On behalf of the board, management, players and staff of the IFA, 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."