The heartbroken father of a 24-year-old footballer who died suddenly during an amateur league game on Saturday has told how he and his family are struggling to believe the “big strapping 6ft 3ins fella who was never ill and fit as a fiddle” is gone.
David Ross said his son Stuart, a trainee accountant, lived at home in Islandmagee. He said his wife Janet is “devastated”.
“It has been quite a shock for us,” he said. “He was into fitness and went to the gym and swimming and got into the seconds team [Islandmagee II] this year. I wasn’t at the match. I got a call to say there was trouble.
“His girlfriend Claire was with him and said they knew as soon as he went down. The boys did first response on him and then the defibrillator and then an ambulance arrived and worked with him. He had treatment quickly.”
Stuart died suddenly during the amateur league game against Shankill United II 25 minutes into the match at Islandmagee’s Wilbourne Park ground.
Mr Ross, a father-of-two, described his son as “an easy going lad” and “a good big kid and there was never a cross word spoken”.
“He was going steady with Claire who just doted on him,” he added. “She is in bits too. They were going out for a year and it was young love. My wife is devastated because he was mummy’s boy. And my daughter Jenny, it is very tough.”
Mr Ross said he was hoping the “post-mortem will come up with an answer”.
Jenny said on behalf of the family she wanted to “thank the players, supporters, first responders, paramedics and staff at the Mater Hospital who tried so hard to help Stuart”.
“We would also like to thank our family and friends for their overwhelming support. He was much loved and will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him.”
Secretary of Islandmagee Football Club, Crawford Wilson, said the sudden death of “the young player was just so devastating and so unreal”.
“On our second team this year we took a different approach, so it is all made up of fellas who are all friends who all run about together, and to stand there yesterday and watch one of their friends dying in front of them has left everyone absolutely devastated.
“I wasn’t there. My son Alan manages the team and he rang me in an awful state asking me to please come home. By the time I arrived there the ambulance had taken him away.
“His last words were ‘Alan I’ve taken an awful pain in my leg and I’ll have to go off’.
“When he looked around again Stuart was lying on the ground. Stuart was my two sons’ best friend.”