Brothers in Arms: documentary released on Burnley FC's relationship with Helmond Sport
A London-based documentary maker has produced a short film on the inspiring relationship between the fan-bases of Burnley FC and Dutch side Helmond Sport, which was kick-started in the mid-90s by a late Burnley expat and which has since blossomed into one of the most heartwarming tales in football.
Darran Wooller was born in Burnley in 1960. A Burnley Wood and Towneley High student, he left East Lancashire in the 1980s and emigrated to he Netherlands as a bright-eyed 20-year-old, settling in the charming city of Helmond outside of Eindhoven. Boasting a castle, a 1,000-year history, and a new English resident, Helmond welcomed Darran as one of their own.
A Clarets fan by birthright, Darran soon fell in love with the local football team, Helmond Sport and soon became a friendly and frequent face at the team's home games at the Stadion de Braak. Now a season-ticket holder with the Keuken Kampionen Divisie (second tier) side, Darran was well on his way to becoming an adopted Dutchman.
But the passion for Burnley FC never diminished.
In 1995, Darran - keen to introduce his new Dutch brothers to his beloved Clarets and his slice of East Lancashire - managed to cajole a group of Helmond Sport fans into making the pilgrimage across the England Channel to Turf Moor. Little did he know, he was starting what was to blossom into a regular footballing crusade for both sets of fans.
Following a tragically brief battle with cancer, Darran died at the age of 53 in 2014. Such was his gargantuan standing at both the football club and in the town of Helmond itself, the team's goalkeeper and manager both visited him in hospital and some 45 Dutch Helmond Sport fans were moved to make the trip to the UK for Darran's funeral following his service in Helmond.
Leaving behind a powerful legacy of cultural integration, international camaraderie, and love, Darran has nevertheless continued to live on in spirit through the relationship between the two fan-bases - a relationship he kick-started some 25 years ago and which shows little sign of slowing down, prompting documentary-maker Christopher Tew to join the Helmond Sport fans on their recent trip to Burnley to film a feature on the two supporter-bases.
Both of similar size and boasting proud industrial histories with strong ties to the textiles industry, Burnley and Helmond are happily suited friends, with the supporters of each club galvanising together under a Brothers in Arms mantra indelibly linking 'Helmond in the South and Burnley in the North'.
"I can't explain the camaraderie between the two groups of fans, I don't know what to say other than it's grown organically," Ian Chapman, who has been involved in numerous trips, has said to the Express. "Over there, they've got a really good community spirit that the club promotes - similar to Burnley.
"We've not lost our identity and roots as a cotton mill town and they've got the same - when we went out we stayed in a hotel that was a weaving mill," Ian added. "We share a love of the game and our clubs have that aura of belonging to the people: different lifestyles, but we all see things the same way.
"One or two lads have said we should get twinned with Helmond! I'm just so proud to have been a part of it."
Hundreds of fans now make regular cross-continental trips to see each other's home games, with those making the pilgrimage sporting shirts, half-and-half scarves, and personalised beer cans baring Darran's name. Helmond Sport also hold the annual indoor Darran Wooller Cup, aptly encapsulating the powerful legacy he left.
But the shared bond also goes deeper than football.
Over Christmas last year, a group of Helmond Sport fans travelled to the nearby Mierlo War Cemetery, lighting candles for every single one of the 665 allied WWII soldiers buried there. As well as a single Dutch soldier amongst the dead, the gravestone of one H. Halstead, a Harle Syke-born soldier who died in November 1944 at the age of just 34, is also located in the cemetery.
The two fan-bases' culture of Brothers in Arms has never been better encapsulated with Victoria Lister, Darran's sister, putting it best. "The strong relationship [between the two sets of fans] is fantastic," she said to the Express last year. "Darran would absolutely be in his element to know the two countries are brothers in arms."