Absent Newcastle fans remembered

A Newcastle United shirt signed by players who arrived in Dunedin yesterday will be given to the family of a football follower who died on the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine on Friday.

Avid autograph hunter Ben Buist donned the famous black and white colours and joined the dozens of supporters eager to catch a glimpse of the English Premier League stars when they arrived at Dunedin International Airport yesterday.

He also had another Newcastle shirt for players to sign which he planned to give to the family of Rob Ayley (29), of Otaki, who died on flight MH17, ''because he was a football fan''.

The flight also claimed the lives of two Newcastle United fans, Liam Sweeney (28), and John Alder (60), who were on their way to Dunedin for tomorrow night's pre-season friendly against Sydney FC at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Mr Alder, who is believed to have missed only one match since 1973, was well known for his matchday attire, which led to the affectionate nickname of ''The Undertaker''.

Players would pay their respects by wearing black armbands for tomorrow night's clash, with wreaths expected to be laid on their seats.

A minute's silence would also be observed before the match, with a minute's applause scheduled for the 28th and 60th minutes to represent the fans' ages.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew told media that despite the long distance the trip had been a ''smooth journey''.

Players looked impressed by the welcome from the King's and Queen's High Schools' kapa haka group, and ''it was a great welcome and we thank them for that''.

''It is fantastic for us as a football club to come here and show our fans in this part of the world that we are prepared to come here and play, and we are looking forward to what we think will be a great challenge.''

Destined to be a Newcastle fan was 1-year-old Ella Appleton, who recently returned from a trip to her mother's former home last week.

''She has no choice but to support Newcastle,'' proud mum Judith Appleton (34) said.

''I used to have a season ticket at St James' Park, so this is just amazing they are here.''

The public is welcome at the teams' training sessions today:

Newcastle United at Forsyth Barr Stadium, access via Gate F, from 10.30am to noon and Sydney FC at Forrester Park, from 10.30am to noon.

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