by Dayo Laniyan
Newcastle United started their Premier League season yesterday, but not without remembering the two fans who were missing from their seats.
There was a minute’s silence observed by the fans at St James’s Park as they paid to the two Newcastle United fans that lost their lives on Flight MH17.
28-year-old Liam Sweeney and 63-year-old John Alder were killed along with 296 other passengers when the Malaysian Airways flight MH17 they had boarded was shot down over Ukraine on 17th July.
The two were on a journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in order to see Newcastle play a pre-season tour in New Zealand.
Malcolm Pegg, a friend of both men and co-organiser of a memorial service held at St James’ Park days after their death, said that the tragedy had brought both the club and the fan base closer.
“The club have acted magnificently towards the lads and their families, there has always been a particularly special bond between Newcastle fans and their club and although that’s been tested in recent years, the death of John and Liam has really put things into context and brought us all closer.”
“Supporting Newcastle was in their blood, they were fans who, like many others, travelled thousands of miles to follow their club and I think that resonates with everyone in the football family. Sadly, they paid the ultimate price.”
From the Club itself, Managing Director Lee Charney said: “Our thoughts and our primary concern since the tragic events of 17th July have been focused on supporting the families of John and Liam in any way we can, and paying tribute to the two men in an appropriate and respectful way to reflect the sorrow felt not just from our supporters, staff, management and players but from the football community as a whole.”
There has also been support from arch-rivals Sunderland, with an online fundraising page set up by fans that have raised more than £33,000 for their neighbours. The fund was founded to raise £100 for a floral tribute to the two fans, with the rest being split between the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle in accordance with the wishes of the Sweeney and Alder families.
The creator of the fund, Gary Ferguson said: “We may be Sunderland fans, who traditionally have deep rivalry with Newcastle, but there are things far more important than football games.”
Other tributes includes the Alder Sweeney Memorial Garden to be created outside the Milburn Stand as a place to remember lost fans, and the Alder Sweeney Community Award will be launched, presented each year to those who make outstanding contributions to the community.