Tributes paid to Northern Ireland soccer fan

Darren Rodgers (24) died after falling from a promenade onto a rocky beach in Nice

Tributes have been paid to the Northern Ireland soccer fan who died in an accident in Nice on Monday.

Darren Rodgers (24), from Ballymena, Co Antrim, was on his own during the early hours of Monday morning when he fell about 8m from a promenade onto a rocky beach.

The incident occurred a couple of hours after Northern Ireland played Poland in Nice in the team's first match at Euro 2016.

DUP North Antrim MLA Paul Frew, who had spoken to Mr Rodgers on Sunday, described him as a “great lad with a big heart”.

“Darren played for Braid Utd,” Mr Frew wrote on Twitter. “Would have ran through a brick wall for his mates. Whole team is in shock, simply can’t believe it.”

Northern Ireland soccer star Kyle Lafferty tweeted: “Devastating news iv (sic) woke up to. My thoughts are with the young man’s family and friends. We’ve lost one of our own. RIP.”

Northern Ireland player Gareth McAuley tweeted: “You think things are bad then learn one of your own loses his life last night. Thoughts with family and friends.”

Midfielder Steven Davis tweeted: “So sad to wake up to the tragic news that a Northern Ireland fan has died in Nice, thoughts with his family and friends.”

Irish Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson said: “The thoughts of everyone at the association are with his family and friends at this time.”

A statement from First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “It was with great shock and sadness we learned this morning of the death of Darren Rodgers in Nice last night as the result of a tragic accident.

“The loss of a young life in these circumstances is truly heartbreaking and our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family at this extremely difficult time. This sad news is in stark contrast to the jovial carnival atmosphere just hours before at the [Northern Ireland] game against Poland. Our fans have been fine ambassadors for the place we all call home and we encourage everyone to keep safe.”

A statement from Mr Rodgers’s family thanked people for their support and requested complete privacy. A keen soccer player, Mr Rodgers was known as Dardar by his friends and clubmates.

A statement from Braid Utd soccer club said: “It is with great sadness that I am writing this post to tell of the passing of one of our players, Darren ‘Dardar’ Rodgers.

“A man who on and off the pitch would have done anything for you, always great craic and giving his all every game.

“We are not just losing a player, today we lose a friend and one of the best people I’ve ever known. RIP Darren, CABA.”

‘Tragic death’

PSNI Supt Nigel Goddard said he was informed of the "tragic" death by French police on Monday morning.

“It’s been confirmed this morning that a Northern Ireland supporter had been found dead. It appeared to be an accident as opposed to anything malicious,” he said.

“The young man appeared to have fallen from the quayside onto the rocky beach and died, presumably from the injuries from that fall,” he said.

Supt Goddard said, "We have been liaising with French authorities in Nice and local PSNI officers have been in touch locally with his family in Ballymena.

“We have also been in contact with Darren’s friends who travelled to Nice with him to offer our help and support to them at this very sad time.”

French police said that Mr Rodgers fell from the quayside at about 2am on Monday morning and that a number of people witnessed the apparent accident.

A beach lifeguard raced to help after hearing the crash of the fall, according to a local restaurateur.

“The lifeguard of the beach listened to a big noise. When he went over he saw a guy had fallen from the street,” said Castel Plage Restaurant manager Karim Abdelhafid.

He said emergency services arrived minutes later. “But it was too late.”

Additional reporting PA