Phoenix to pay tribute to fans killed on MH17

Last updated 12:24 26/07/2014
John Alder
TRIBUTE: Newcastle supporter John Alder died on the doomed MH17 flight.

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Family of one of the New Zealand-bound British football fans who died on MH17 have made a sombre journey to the Netherlands for the initial repatriation of bodies.

On Friday, 40 coffins were flown to Eindhoven, in southern Holland, carrying the as-yet unidentified remains of passengers of the doomed Malaysia Airlines.

The passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine eight days ago.

Among the grieving relatives of the 298 who died in the tragedy was Barry Sweeney, the father of Liam Sweeney.

The 28-year-old, along with fellow football fan, 60-year-old John Alder, were travelling to New Zealand to watch their beloved Newcastle United take part in the ''Football United'' tour; which tonight will see ''The Magpies'' play the Wellington Phoenix in Wellington.

Barry Sweeney described the repatriation as ''so moving''.

''The Dutch were tremendous in the way they handled everything,'' he told Britain's Mirror newspaper.

''The Netherlands Air Force were so professional. They brought the victims home with dignity and integrity, not like the rag-tag bunch of pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine.''

Families have been warned by officials in charge of the body identification operation that the process could take several months to complete.

''We just hope he's [Liam] here,'' Barry said.

Some 18,610km away, football fans and players will tonight pay tribute to Liam Sweeney and John Alder - and the 296 MH17 victims - at Westpac Stadium.

Two wreaths will be respectfully laid in the stadium seats that the duo had booked to watch Newcastle United play.

A minute's silence will be held before kickoff. A minute's applause will also be completed in the 28th and 60th minutes of the match.

''The minute's applause is to recognise each person . . . [28 and 60] are the age of the two guys,'' Kane Wintersgill, chairman of NZ Mags: Newcastle United FC Supporters In New Zealand, said.

Both the Newcastle United and Wellington Phoenix squads will also wear black arm bands as a sign of respect.

Two seats have also been reserved at the central Wellington bar were Newcastle United fans will converge on before and after last night's match.

Newcastle United bosses issued a statement eight days ago acknowledging John and Liam 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.

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

- Stuff

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