Dalian Atkinson: Footballers pay tribute to former Aston Villa player at funeral

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The Independent Online

Former stars from the football world joined mourners as emotional tributes were paid to ex-Aston Villa striker Dalian Atkinson at his funeral.

The 48-year-old died after being shot with a police Taser when officers were called to an incident in his home town of Telford, Shropshire, earlier this year.

Former Villa players Ugo Ehiogu, Steve Staunton, and Ian Taylor joined hundreds of mourners who gathered at the town's crematorium to see the striker laid to rest on Saturday.

It is weeks since Atkinson was fatally shot in the street where he had grown up, in an incident involving West Mercia Police officers, on August 15.

He died 90 minutes later, despite hospital doctors carrying out CPR for more than half an hour in a bid to save him.

In the humanist funeral service, celebrant Peter Mansell, said: “There was no one quite like Dalian, there never was before and there never will be again.”

He told how, as a youngster, Atkinson played football in the street in Meadow Close with his brothers and friends - the same road where he was shot by police years later.

As a schoolboy, Atkinson was spotted by talent scouts, leading to his apprenticeship at Ipswich Town FC.

Mr Mansell said: “He found sitting at a school desk boring, but excelled at football and athletics.”

He added that Atkinson, who also played for Sheffield Wednesday, loved the “playboy lifestyle”, was “energetic, cheeky and funny” but also “generous, caring and protective”.

Family man Atkinson was “an inspiration to his nieces and nephews” and often returned “for his mother's home cooking”.

Mr Mansell added: “A part of their world is gone.”

In her tribute, Atkinson's niece Josie said: “Inspiration is the word most appropriate to you, a figure I looked up to and still do.”

Another niece, Cleo, said: “You had such a charismatic soul and enriched everyone's lives with your intellect, insight and warmth, never failing to make people around you laugh.”

Concluding the service, mourners were told there was “only one song” left to play in Atkinson's memory and as they filed out, En Vogue's What A Man filled the air.

Outside, Villa fan Chris Jackson told how he had felt compelled to pay personal tribute to “tremendous” Atkinson.

He witnessed Atkinson lift the the Coca-Cola Cup with Villa after the striker hit the target in the memorable 3-1 victory over Manchester United in 1994.

Brian Little, who managed Villa from 1996, said he had seen the “softer side” of Atkinson, then struggling to return to form after injury problems.

He said: “It was a different side to what everybody saw of him.

“I had six months with the lad but when his move to Fenerbahce (in Turkey) came up he was buzzing, because it was a new challenge for him.”

Former player, and later assistant manager, Gordon Cowans and ex-striker Tommy Johnson also paid their respects.

Ugo Ehiogu, ex-Villa centre back, and now part of Tottenham Hotspur's youth set-up, said he last spoke to Atkinson in June.

He said: “He was a very understanding man.

“When I first came to Villa he took me under his wing, explained things to me and filled me with confidence.”

He added that the pair had arranged to meet before his death but “sadly it didn't happen”.

Ehiogu has backed the on-going investigation into the circumstances of Atkinson's death, and the use of force by police.

He said: “I don't know many details about his death.

“I still hope it will be looked into as to how - and the use of force has to be looked into, because a very valuable member of the community has been lost.”

Following the service, Atkinson was to be interred in private at nearby Hadley Cemetery.

Ahead of the funeral, Atkinson's sister, Elaine, expressed frustration at not knowing why “such force was used” by police when they confronted him in August.

Relatives said he was “not in his right mind” when he was shot with the Taser at about 1.30am.

His sister said: “Dalian was supposed to have been admitted to hospital for treatment on the day he died.

“We want to celebrate Dalian's life but the way that he died while he was so vulnerable casts such a dark shadow over everything.

“Every day is filled with agony and frustration because we still do not know what happened nor understand why such force was used on him.”

Two West Mercia officers are under criminal investigation and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is also investigating the retired striker's death.

Press Association