Football community mourns fans aboard MH17

NEIL REID
Last updated 12:33 20/07/2014
John Alder
John Alder
Liam Sweeney
Liam Sweeney

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Players will be wearing black armbands and wreaths will be laid in the stadium seats that two British victims of the MH17 tragedy had booked to watch their beloved Newcastle United in action in New Zealand.

John Alder, aged 60, and Liam Sweeney, 28, were on the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Alder - known affectionately by fellow fans as "The Undertaker" - and Sweeney were on their way to watch English Premier League side Newcastle United play Sydney FC in Dunedin on Tuesday night and then the Wellington Phoenix in the capital next Saturday night.

They were to have joined hundreds of other fans from the UK, and thousands of NZ-based Newcastle fans, in cheering on "The Magpies".

Wellington Phoenix General Manager David Dome said the club's thoughts were with the supporters' families, as well as the families of everyone on the aircraft.

"It is terrible that this should happen when John and Liam were setting out on an exciting adventure to support the club they loved," Dome said.

"I believe John has only missed one Newcastle United game since 1973 and he was coming all this way to keep that remarkable record intact."

Kane Wintersgill - chairman of NZ Mags: Newcastle United FC Supporters In New Zealand - said the pair would be honoured wherever the band of footballing fans went in New Zealand.

"We are trying to get the seat numbers of the two people so we can put some wreaths on the seats for them," he said.

Wintersgill said photos of the two would be shown on the big screens at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium and Wellington's Westpac Stadium before kickoff.

A minute's silence would be observed before kickoff on Tuesday.

A minute's applause was scheduled for the 29th and 60th minutes of the match.

"The minute's applause is to recognise each person . . . [29 and 60] are the age of the two guys," Wintersgill said.

"As soon as the game hits the 29th minute, all our section will stand up . . . there will be something on the screen to say there is a minute's applause. Then in the 60th minute, exactly the same will happen."

The mid-game minute's applause is a regular feature in the Premier League to honour club stalwarts who have passed away.

Sydney FC and Newcastle players will wear black armbands on Tuesday night.

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Newcastle fans - both those from the UK and New Zealand - will remember Alder and Sweeney at social gatherings during the "Football United" tour.

"We have decided to leave two empty seats . . . at our pub bases in Dunedin and Wellington," Wintersgill said.

Newcastle United bosses issued a statement acknowledging the two as dedicated and well-known fans.

It is understood that Alder had missed just one Newcastle home game since 1973. Sweeney was well known as a volunteer steward on supporters' buses to away games.

Newcastle United managing director Lee Charnley said the loss was "truly devastating news".

An area was set aside at the Sir Bobby Robson statue, at the club's St James' Park base, for fans to pay their respects to the pair.

- Sunday Star Times

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