THE Sunderland fan who set up a fund in aid of two Newcastle supporters killed in the MH17 airline disaster today said he has been overwhelmed by fans’ generosity.
Lifelong Magpies fan John Alder, 63, and Liam Sweeney, 28, were among the 298 people killed when their plane was reportedly shot down by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. The pair were on their way to watch their beloved team in a pre-season tour of New Zealand.
Sunderland-mad Gary Ferguson saw the deaths mentioned on the Black Cats fans’ Ready to Go messageboard and decided to set up a fund, despite his teams traditional rivalry with the Magpies.
Initially he hoped to raised £100 for flowers, but as of this morning the fund stood at £23,700
At the request of the families, the final total will be split between two cancer charities.
Gary, 48, said: “I just said wouldn’t it be nice if we could get a little floral tribute together.
“My mate’s wife is a florist, so I just rang her and asked how much it would cost to send a few flowers. I thought we might try to raise £100 and anything left over we could donate to a local charity.
“But it just went crackers. It has taken me by surprise – the phone has not stopped.
“This is not something I’m used to. I didn’t think when I started it that it would take off like this. It’s a bit overwhelming.”
Gary, from South Shields, has been supporting Sunderland all his life and started going to games in about 1979, where he has been a regular at home matches ever since – and knows how passionate the fans of both clubs are.
“Donations have come in from all over the world,” he said.
“Obviously we’ve had lots from Sunderland and Newcastle, but we’ve had them from as afar afield as Australia.”
“Liam’s step-mother has terminal cancer and goes to the Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle, so half the money is going to the hospice. And I was speaking to John’s sister Joyce, who told me John loved the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, so half the money is going there.”
The family of John Alder have thanked well-wishers for their kindness.
The family, who live in the County Durham area, have been helped by family liaison officers from Durham Police.
In a statement issued by the force, they said: “We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and wishes and incredibly generous gestures, particularly those who have been able to share personal memories of John.
“We are struggling to comprehend what has happened but we are touched and moved by your kind words, acts and the knowledge that so many people saw John for who he was: a kind, courteous man who was much loved as a son, brother, uncle and fan. Our thoughts are with Liam’s family and the families of the other passengers at this terrible time.”
A Northumbria Police spokesman on behalf of Liam Sweeney’s family said: “They wish to thank the public for their kind words, support and donations.”