YOUNG footballers will pay a touching tribute to a team-mate today as the family and friends of tragic Rhys Hewitt gather to say their final goodbyes.
There has been an outpouring of grief across Hartlepool since the popular teenager died, with hundreds of messages posted on social networking sites.
A tree near to the accident spot has been covered in flowers and tribute messages, with youngsters from English Martyrs School & Sixth Form College – where Rhys was a Year 10 student – and other schools across Hartlepool making regular visits.
Rhys’s funeral will take place at St Patrick’s Church, on Owton Manor Lane, Hartlepool, at 1pm today and pals from the Pools Youth football team were set to pay their own tributes by wearing their strips for the service.
Coach Gary Thomson said: “The boys have been impeccable over the last week since we heard about Rhys’s death.
“At our game last Sunday against Newton Aycliffe they all wore shirts with his name on.
“It was an extremely emotional occasion, but we thanked everyone who went along as well as the other team for their support.
“We had a minute’s silence before the game kicked off, then in the 14th minute the referee stopped the match and we had a minute’s applause.
“Rhys’s funeral will be another emotional occasion, but the young lads all want to do their own thing to pay tribute to him and they will all be wearing their football shirts.
“I can’t praise them enough for what they have done over the last week, for young kids to deal with something like this is difficult.”
The Rhys Hewitt Memorial Fund, which was set up by town woman Sandra Pearce, has so far raised over £3,000 in the last week from people who have pledged cash.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com