Two Newcastle United fans who died in the MH17 disaster were today being remembered, on the first anniversary of the tragedy.
Liam Sweeney, 28, from Westerhope, Newcastle, and John Alder, 63, from Low Fell, Gateshead, were among the 298 people who died when the Malaysia Airways flight was brought down in a suspected missile attack over Ukraine.
The pair were on their way to watch Newcastle United play in a pre-season friendly in New Zealand and, one year on, they will be remembered along with their fellow passengers.
John Alder was an avid Newcastle fan who had missed just one game, home and away, in 40 years.
Now, thanks to a generous gesture from a friend, his seat at St James’s Park will remain filled by fellow fans who knew him and attended games alongside him.
The friend, who does not wish to be named, asked John’s family if he could take over John’s Platinum Club Bond in exchange for a £5,000 donation to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
I think he’d be happy to know that his seat at St James’s was being used - especially that it’s being used by people he knew from going to the football.Joyce Robbins, sister of MH17 victim John Alder
They agreed, and the donation will be added to the £26,000 raised by the sale of John’s collection of Newcastle United memorabilia, by auctioneers Anderson and Garland.
His sister Joyce Robbins said: “John was the very first Platinum Club Member, which says a lot about how devoted he was to Newcastle United.
“My brother was an extremely private man, and he would have been so uncomfortable with all the publicity about him in the last year.
“I think he’d be happy to know that his seat at St James’s was being used though. And especially that it’s being used by people he knew from going to the football.
“It’s a very personal way for his friends to pay tribute to him, and I think he might like that. We’re very grateful to John’s friend for his generous gesture.”
Colleagues and customers at Morrisons’ Killingworth, where Liam Sweeney worked for 12 years, have also generously contributed to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation through fundraising.
His dad Barry and store manager Adrian Farrage presented £6,150 to the charity last week.
Fans of Sunderland and Newcastle United joined together to contribute to a fund in their memory, which raised £33,000 for the Foundation and Marie Curie Cancer Care.
Joyce added: “The last year has been a roller coaster really. It’s difficult to explain. Sometimes I’ve felt like we were living someone else’s life.
“We’ve had so much to do and become so involved with John’s life, even though he wasn’t here, that it’s been like walking in his shoes. We became his representative.
“It’s been very difficult, and extremely painful at times, but we’ve had fantastic support from so many people, from football fans, Newcastle United, and so many strangers, too many to name.
“And by helping the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation we feel like we’re doing something positive. It’s been a focus on something good in a bad situation, and that’s really made a difference for us all.
“At every Newcastle game last year, home and away, there’s been applause on 17 minutes to remember John and Liam.
“We can’t believe that’s gone on for an entire season, and really appreciate the thought.
“It’s not something we imagine will continue into this season, certainly not all around the ground, and I’m sure John of all people would be most happy if fans were concentrating on football and supporting his team.”
Sir Bobby’s widow, Lady Elsie Robson, joined Joyce at John’s seat at St James’s Park, and said: “It’s impossible to understand what John and Liam’s family and friends have been through in the past year.
“To lose someone you love is desperately hard, but to lose someone in such cruel circumstances is unimaginable.
“We’re very grateful to everyone who has supported the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and other wonderful charities in John and Liam’s names.
“The money raised will go on to help other people in their time of great need, and we hope both John and Liam would share their families’ pride at that.”
The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation funds projects within the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that directly benefit patients from across the North East and Cumbria - and which contribute significantly to international efforts and research into fighting cancer.
For more information, or to donate, visit the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation website HERE.