A BLACK Cats fan died suddenly just hours after returning home from watching the Tyne and Wear derby.
Darren Lark, 38, suffered a suspect heart attack following an afternoon watching the team he loved.
Today, his devastated fiance told how the man she was planning to marry will continue to cheer on his beloved club “from the heavens”.
The 38-year-old fast-food manager, from Hylton Castle, had spent the afternoon with family and friends, watching the dramatic 1-1 draw with arch-rivals Newcastle United on TV.
Having seen the Sunderland goalkeeper save a penalty, Darren turned to fellow fans and told them: “This is the best day of my life”.
He was later discovered in bed having suffered the suspected heart attack. He was wearing his red and white replica 1973 shirt.
Today, his partner of 11 years Suzanne Hull, 29, spoke of her shock at his unexpected death on Sunday and paid tribute to a supporter who loved his team “every minute of every day”.
“We still can’t believe what has happened,” she said. “We’re all still in shock. He came back to the house and went for a lie down in the bedroom. I went to look in on him a short time later and tried to wake him up, but I knew straight away something was wrong. I could tell he had gone.”
Darren, a former pupil at Castle View School, died wearing his beloved red and white replica shirt from 1973, when Sunderland beat Leeds United 1-0 in an historic FA Cup final.
“He was a big Sunderland fan, absolutely huge,” said Suzanne. “Everything had to be Sunderland related. He was always in red and white.
“He went to the home games and, before he had work commitments on a weekend, he’d go to the away games as well.
“He was born in 1973 and was wearing his replica shirt when he died.
“Nothing will stop him supporting his team.
“He’ll be cheering them now on from the heavens.”
In honour of the dedicated Black Cats fan, a specially arranged football-themed funeral ceremony will be held in the city next week.
“We’ve asked people to come in red and white,” said Suzanne. “Black has been banned. His coffin will also be carried through the gates at the Stadium of Light and his ashes will be scattered on the pitch.
“Thirty-eight red and white balloons, to represent his age, will be released and there will also be a tribute in a match-day programme.”
Although a coroner is expected to determine the exact cause of death in the coming weeks, Darren had previously suffered heart and lung problems.
“He suffered a heart attack about two years ago and had a rare lung condition, but he had been fine recently,” said Suzanne. “He seemed to be getting better and better.
“I saw him just before he went out to watch the game. He looked great. He looked perfect.
“There was no sign something like this would happen.
“It was just so unexpected.”
Darren’s funeral will take place at Sunderland Crematorium on Friday, March 16.