Northern Ireland fan who died tragically at Euro 2016 was our hero say sons

The late Robert Rainey, who died in France supporting Northern Ireland at Euro 2016
The late Robert Rainey, who died in France supporting Northern Ireland at Euro 2016

The son of Robert ‘Archie’ Rainey, who died in Lyon while watching his beloved Northern Ireland team in action at Euro 2016, has opened up about the heroic life his father led.

Having lost two partners to cancer and been an innocent civilian caught up in two paramiltary attacks, Robert ‘Archie’ Rainey would have every excuse to be bitter.

However, the father-of-three, who died tragically during Northern Ireland’s famous victory over Ukraine in Lyon, was a ‘bridge-builder’ who worked seven days a week to provide for his boys.

His son Mark spoke to the News Letter about the night his father died in Lyon and revealed how the electrician from Ballysillan in north Belfast, worked tirelessly to bring communities together.

Most will have a read about the 64-year-old as an avid Northern Ireland fan, but his son explained there was so much more to his father, a man too modest to seek adulation.

When he was 42, Mr Rainey lost his wife Jennifer to cancer and when he found happiness again with partner June, she too was to die of the same illness.

Robert Rainey with his sons Michael, Mark and Stephen on Marks wedding day

Robert Rainey with his sons Michael, Mark and Stephen on Marks wedding day

For a large part of his life ‘Archie’ brought up his son’s Mark, 39, Michael, 35, and Stephen, 30, single-handedly.

During the Troubles he was shot on a bus in Andersonstown in the 1970s. The bus was hit in crossfire in an ambush on the Army.

He was also in the Club bar on University Road when it was targeted in a bomb attack.

His son Mark said: “Things like that could destroy a person, but dad never let life get him down.

He phoned me the night before the game in Lyon and held his phone up so I could hear the atmosphere. We could hardly hear each other. He said he’d phone me the following day. That was the last time I spoke to him.

Mark Rainey

“He never got sucked in to the bigotry. He only wanted to get involved in things that brought communities together.

“He worked seven days a week to provide for his three sons. He was a maintenance electrician with Thales and worked all the overtime he could to give us the best life possible.

“He was always a real character and a real joker. That’s what we’ll remember about him.

“Our father’s death was unexpected and traumatic and it’s been hard to come to terms with.

Robert Rainey in action during his days as a karate champion

Robert Rainey in action during his days as a karate champion

“But it’s hard to be sad when you have such a huge sense of pride in your father.”

Mr Rainey ran a karate club in Ballysillan Leisure Centre where he brought children from both sides of the community together to compete all over Ireland.

Mark said: “He was British title holder, but he never talked about himself. He’d be more comfortable talking about other people’s achievements.”

One of his former students, Paul McCormac, said: “This man would not judge anyone on the basis of religion or anything else. He was a very, very funny, jovial, caring, true gentleman – even when he would catch you with one of his deadly sidekicks, he would do it with a cheeky smile.”

Mark went on to talk about the night when he lost his ‘hero’ in Lyon.

Mr Rainey had gone on tour to France with the Green And White Army with several of his close friends and his brother Brian. He’d been all over the world with Northern Ireland, and had been looking forward to the Euros in France for a long time.

His son said: “He phoned me the night before the game in Lyon and held his phone up so I could hear the atmosphere. We could hardly hear each other. He said he’d phone me the following day. That was the last time I spoke to him.

“When I was watching the game the next day I was texting dad, asking him to give me a wave. When we scored I couldn’t believe it and I just imagined how happy he’d have been at the game.

“Not long after that I got a message telling me dad had taken ill. I couldn’t get through to anyone when I tried to call back. I was helpless.”

Mr Rainey eventually got speaking to friends of his father in Lyon and was given the sad news that his father had passed away.

The brothers got together to fathom the news and a day later they were on their way to France.

“We were out of our depth out there,” said Mark. “If it hadn’t been for the police, who got us flights and accommodation, I don’t know what we’d have done.

“One of the biggest sources of support was reading the messages about dad on Facebook. He’d obviously touched a lot of lives.

“A few years previously he hadn’t been well and was in hospital. After he came out he said, ‘I’ve had my full MOT, please don’t let me die in hospital, that’s not rock ‘n’ roll. I want to go out with a bang.”

Family and work colleagues have organised a fundraising night to honour the memory of the 64-year-old and raise funds for NI Hospice, where both his wife and partner received first-rate care.

It takes place in the Dark Horse on Thursday November 24 and will be compered by Northern Ireland stalwart Jim Rainey.

Donations can be made online via the Justgiving page