MOURNERS donned football shirts as they paid their last respects to a Black Cats fan who was “always in red and white”.
Darren Lark died suddenly just hours after returning home from watching the Tyne and Wear derby.
The 38-year-old, from Hylton Castle, suffered a suspected heart attack after an afternoon supporting the team he adored.
Dozens of family and friends sported team colours to welcome the funeral cortege as it arrived at Sunderland Crematorium yesterday after passing the Stadium of Light.
The hearse was draped with Sunderland flags and the coffin decorated with Black Cats’ scarves. Floral tributes included a red and white football and “Larky” and “SAFC” spelled out in team colours.
The service opened to the familiar strains of Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights. Thirty-eight red and white balloons, representing Darren’s age, were also released at Sunderland Crematorium and a tribute appeared in last week’s matchday programme.
“He was such a massive fan,” said fiancée Suzanne Hull, 29. “He loved Sunderland and was always in red and white.
“Football was such an important part of his life and we really wanted to celebrate that at the funeral.”
The fast-food manager had been watching the dramatic 1-1 draw on television on March 4 at a city pub shortly before he died.
After seeing the Sunderland AFC 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 a suspected heart attack.
The former Castle View School pupil died wearing his beloved red and white replica shirt from 1973, when Sunderland beat Leeds United 1-0 in a historic FA Cup final.
“We’ve had so much support from people,” said Suzanne. “There have been so many messages left on internet football forums, both Sunderland and Newcastle.
“They have all been so positive. We really appreciate all of them.”
Although a coroner is expected to determine the exact cause of death in the coming weeks, Darren had previously suffered heart and lung problems.