RELATIVES of the Newcastle United fans killed on Malaysian flight MH17 were given a warm welcome by Sunderland supporters at the game against Tottenham Hotspur.
Footballing rivalries were put aside at the Stadium of Light as the families of Liam Sweeney and John Alder, who died in the tragedy in July, were made guests of honour at the match, which ended 2-2.
Liam and John were on a flight to go and see their team play in New Zealand when the plane was shot down over Ukraine.
Before kick-off at the weekend’s encounter, Liam’s dad Barry and grandfather David were welcomed on to the pitch alongside a relative of John Alder’s, and presented with a red and white jersey with their relatives’ names on the back.
They met Sunderland legends Kevin Ball and Jimmy Montgomery, as well as Black Cats supporter Gary Ferguson, who set up a fund in memory of Liam and John following their deaths.
Gary originally wanted to raise £100 for a wreath in memory of the pair, but ended up raising £33,500.
The money raised is to be split between two North-East charities – the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Marie Curie Hospice, in Newcastle – in accordance with the wishes of the Sweeney and Alder families.
Barry, 52, said: “It’s been a strange day, but everybody has been tremendous.
“The way I look at it now, after what happened, is that there are more nice people in the world than horrible ones.
“We’ll continue our rivalries, Sunderland and Newcastle, because we both want to win.”
Barry, who cares for his wife Lesley, said he would now be putting rivalry aside more often after being given so much support by SAFC supporters.
He said he was happy to clap SAFC on to the pitch, but stopped short of cheering them on.
Barry added: “When they scored the first goal, I clapped, but I didn’t jump up and down.
“When Spurs went ahead, which they did twice, I didn’t clap. I was very gracious, I never thought I’d see the day.
“My New Year’s resolution was always to hate Sunderland because that was easy, but I’m not going to hate Sunderland anymore.
“Today Sunderland have been great. It’s been out of this world.”