Today (Friday 17 July) is the anniversary of Malaysia Airways Flight MH17 being brought down, with the loss of everyone on board, in a suspected missile attack over Ukraine.
Liam Sweeney, 28 from Westerhope, and John Alder, 63 from Low Fell, were two of 298 people who tragically lost their lives that day.
The two football fans 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 and missed just one game, home and away, in 40 years.
Now, thanks to an extremely generous gesture from a friend, John’s seat at St James’ 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.
They kindly agreed and this follows magnificent support for the charity from John’s family who, with a great deal of help from Newcastle United and auctioneers Anderson and Garland, raised £26,000 by auctioning John’s extensive collection of football memorabilia.
Joyce Robbins, John’s sister, says: “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’ 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.
Barry Sweeney, Liam’s dad, and store manager Adrian Farrage presented £6,150 to the charity last week.
In addition, fans of Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United joined together to contribute to a fund in their memory, which raised £33,000 for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Marie Curie Cancer Care.
Joyce continues: “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.”
Joyce adds: “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.”
Lady Elsie Robson joined Joyce Robbins at John’s seat in St James’ Park and says: “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.”