AROUND 600 mourners attended the funeral on Friday of former Portadown soccer star David Mills who died in hospital after a serious assault in Ballynahinch the previous weekend.
The funeral service was at the rural Loughinisland Church of Ireland, which could accommodate just 200 of the mourners, with the rest having to brave the rain in the church grounds and in the adjoining churchyard.
Many of the footballers from the Portadown glory days of the early 1990s were there, along with manager Ronnie McFall - they included captain Brian Strain, Alfie Stewart, Joey Cunningham and Mickey Keenan, all of whom spoke in glowing terms of the 47-year-old father-of-two. He is survived by children Kelly and Ethan, mother Gwen and brother Alan.
David was a member of the first Portadown squad to win the Irish League (1990), and the following season they did the league and Irish Cup ‘double’ for the only time in the Ports’ history. He also played cricket, darts and golf in the South Down area, but Portadown fans will remember him best for his years at Shamrock Park. A minute’s silence was observed in his memory - and also in memory of former Portadown director Tom Dixon and Ballymena United official Noel Millar - at Shamrock Park on Saturday. Current players Kevin Braniff and Neil McCafferty carried a large photograph of David onto the pitch.
After the funeral, Brian Strain recalled he had played football with David Mills at various levels - in the Drumaness area, at Glentoran and at Portadown. “He was strong, a great midfield winner of the ball and a true team player,” said Brian. “He was a real friend, and his violent death is a terrible shock to us all. There was a great spirit in that team and David was one of the many who personified that spirit.”
Manager McFall commented that the funeral of one of his respected players from that golden era was hard to take. “His honesty was a real asset to the team. You could always depend on David to put everything he had into his play. There was no other way he could play the game,” he added.
Mickey Keenan said, “It was a really sad occasion, standing there is a rain-swept graveyard saying goodbye to a colleague we respected so much. It was good to meet my old mates from Portadown, but this was such a sad occasion and we all feel gutted by his death, especially in such circumstances.”
The funeral service was conducted by the Rector of Loughinisland, the Rev Stuart Burns, who gave an insight into David Mills’ dedication to his local community, by painting and decorating his home church and others within the diocese. “David’s life has been cut short in a shocking and dreadful way,” he added. “In a life well-lived such as David’s, it is the quality of his living that counted much more than the quantity.” Burial was in the adjoining churchyard.
On Tuesday of last week, a 30-year-old man, John Stanley Foster of the Carrigvale area of Dundrum, appeared at Newtownards Magistrates Court, where he was charged with the murder of David Mills.