"Darran created this and he would have been proud": Helmond Sport fan lauds 'kind' Burnley expat
"Darran's Dutch got worse after every pint and so did our English," says Peter van der Els. "[But] at the end of each game-day we spoke the same language and we shared our love for Helmond and Helmond Sport. Darran was one of a kind."
Lucky to have known Darran Wooller well enough to be asked to one of his pall-bearers, 51-year-old Helmond Sport fan Peter, known as 'The Vender' to his friends, connected with the Burnley-born expat like few others, finding in him a true friend and someone with whom he shared a love of sport, a good laugh, and - later on - Burnley.
The story of Darran Wooller is well known: as a 20-year-old, the East Lancastrian set off for South Holland, moving to the city of Helmond where he arrived with an unrivalled love of football. Deprived of the ability to watch his beloved Clarets week-in, week-out by geography, Darran nevertheless soon latched on to the local team - Helmond Sport.
It was at the club that Darran made friendships that were to last him a lifetime. Unfortunately for all who knew him, that lifetime was tragically cut short when, in 2014, Darran died of cancer, leaving behind hundreds of friends and kick-starting a mutual bond of respect and camaraderie between Burnley and Helmond.
Since then, pilgrimages to the other set of supporters' home have become routine.
"Darran was genuine, kind, and fun to have around and I was proud to be asked to be one of the carriers of his coffin together with Ralf and Bob and other close relatives," said Peter. "We visited lots of Helmond Sport games during a time when we could go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. We always ended up in the away team’s pub with hardly any trouble.
"I’ve been a [Helmond] fan since as long as I can remember but I don’t exactly know at what age I saw my first game," said Peter, who has been going to the Stadion de Braak for over 40 years. "It’s a small club and I’m afraid it will stay that way for a long time; with nine clubs within a range of 50km, it’s hard to get enough money to grow bigger."
In that sense, Helmond is much like Burnley. Roughly flanked by the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Everton, and Leeds United, there are plenty of heavyweight football clubs not too far a drive away from Burnley. But regardless, Turf Moor is a church at which a very dedicated bunch congregate.
"The similarity between the clubs is there for sure, and that mostly applies to the supporters," explains Peter. "I believe Darran introduced the phrase: 'No one likes us, but we don’t care' in Helmond, and that’s exactly what it is. Everybody outside Helmond dislikes us, but we don’t give a rat’s ass. And I believe that’s the spirit as well in Burnley.
"On top of that, we like to have a few drinks and throw a party every once in a while - I see some similarities there as well," Peter adds. "The relationship has been there for decades [and] after Darran passed away, it exploded.
"What do I think of Burnley?" asks Peter, who has made his fair share of cross-Channel trips. "I love it! People in Burnley have the same attitude as we do: act normal, have fun, and respect each other. And people are the ones that make the town what it is.
"I guess you can say Darran created this, and he would have been proud," he adds, simply.