Jason Francis: Hundreds turn out to remember Shropshire sportsman and partner Alice Robinson
More than 1,000 people gathered at a charity rugby tournament to remember a young couple who died within hours of each other.
The event in Bridgnorth raised more than £16,000 for the family of popular sportsman Jason Francis and his partner Alice Robinson, who died a day apart in separate incidents in Australia last week.
Mr Francis, aged 29 and originally from Bridgnorth, died after he was hit by a vehicle in Perth on December 22 while heartbroken Miss Robinson, a hockey player, was found dead less than 24 hours later.
Miss Robinson's mother said she could not bear to live without him.
Yesterday friends, family members and local residents gathered at Bridgnorth Rugby Club for an afternoon of rugby in honour of the couple.
Organisers at the club, where Mr Francis once played, said they were pleased with the amazing show of support from the community after around 1,200 supporters turned up on Saturday afternoon.
Around 100 players also attended from various nearby teams, including Newport Salop Rugby Club and the town's Oldbury Wells and Bridgnorth Endowed schools.
Event organiser Ian George said: "It's just been absolutely amazing so far. It's testament really to the type of people Jason and Alice were.
"It's not that surprising that so many people have come out. It's just so sad they're not here to see it for themselves.
"If this tragedy had happened to someone else Jason would have been the first to get on the pitch to play. Anywhere there was ball sport Jason would be there to play."
Mr Francis, who had served in the RAF, was also a keen cricketer and played football for Market Drayton Town during a successful period for the club between 2005 and 2010.
In Western Australia, where Mr Francis and Miss Robinson moved around a year ago, he played rugby for Perth-based Cottesloe Rugby Club.
Mr George said so many people had wanted to take part in Saturday's tournament it was difficult finding a place for all the players.
"Looking at the crowd I'd say we've got at least 1,200 here and people are still arriving in a steady stream.
"Both sets of parents have come and Jason's dad Steve started the first match by tossing the coin. It's fantastic that they've been able to make it."
He added that Mr Francis had successfully applied for a four-year visa to stay in Australia shortly before tragedy struck.
Among the Bridgnorth residents at the event was mother-of-three Jordan Clarke, 28, who said: "I've come with will a big group from Bridgnorth Cricket & Hockey Club.
"We all knew Jason because he played at the club and supported everything that went on there.
"He was a really big character and was always happy.
"We've come to support the families and help to raise some money. We can't be in Australia, but we can be here."
Floor layer Lez Evans, 53, added: "I'm here to support the families.
"I've know Jason's dad and his uncle over the years and we've played together. You can see from the large attendance that this is a large family network.
"I also played cricket with Jason and coming here is all I can do. I was devastated when I heard what happened. It's not something that you expect."
Fran Burley, 54, a nurse, of Goodwood Avenue, said: "I didn't know the couple, but we heard about what happened on the news and on social media and we thought we'd come the support the match. It's an amazing turn out.
"Bridgnorth is like that. People rally round in times of difficulty."
Jenny Stretton, 65, a sports therapist, also from Bridgnorth said: "I have worked with Jason's mum Sheila and she always spoke about what he was doing. She was so proud of him.
"He always had a smile on his face."
It is not yet known how much the event raised, but businesses in Bridgnorth and Newport Rugby Club, where Mr Francis had links, supplied raffle prizes to help boost the fundraising effort.
Meanwhile an Australian fundraiser set up by Cottesloe Rugby Club has received more than $39,000 in donations - the equivalent of more than £22,000.
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