Sunderland supporter Gary Ferguson was touched by the story of John Alder and Liam Sweeney, two devoted Newcastle supporters who lost their lives in the Malaysian Airlines disaster.
John, 63, and Liam, 28, of were en-route to New Zealand to support Newcastle United during its pre-season tour.
They boarded Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in Amsterdam, which was bound for Kuala Lumpur, and were killed along with close to 300 other passengers when the plane was brought down over Ukraine.
Ferguson, the father of three children, decided to start an online donations page in the wake of the tragic event in the hopes that he could simply buy a bouquet of flowers to lay at St James’ Park on behalf of Black Cat supporters.
He was only expecting to raise around £100. But since the start of his online campaign, donations are now nearing £30,000.
The 48-year-old Sunderland fan told the Chronicle:
“I just said wouldn’t it be good if we could get a little floral tribute for the lads, so I started-up a thread and said; ‘look lets all throw a few fivers in’. At first I just wanted to raised £100 so we could buy a decent bouquet.
“I did think it would go above £100 and we would maybe get £500 or so. But straight away everyone was saying ‘I’m in.’
“I never imagined it would raise this much though.
“These were proper fans. They were going to New Zealand to support their team. That’s what really resonated with me and with everyone else.
“I’m a Sunderland season ticket holder and I never miss a home game, but these were real loyal supporters. People might be surprised with the rivalry, but I haven’t had any negative responses at all.”
Since the donations have surpassed Ferguson’s expectations, he has contacted friends of both the victim’s families and asked them to identify charities close to both of the individuals, so that the remaining money can be given to those organizations.
After buying the flowers, the Sunderland fan plans to give the rest of the money to the Marie Curie hospice, on behalf of Liam Sweeney’s family, and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in memory of John Alder.
The Tyne-Wear rivalry is one of the most heated in English football. But it’s gestures like these that put football conflicts into perspective and show supporters of each group in a positive light.