Hundreds say final farewell to 'local hero' dad
Hundreds of mourners turned out in force to pay an emotional final farewell to a much-loved 'gentle giant' dad.
Ronnie Howard's life was cruelly cut short at the age of just 31 after he died following a disturbance at the Prince Edward pub, in South Shields, on May 4.
His shocking death was met with a huge outpouring of grief - but friends, family and well-wishers who crammed into South Shields Crematorium for his funeral service today wwre urged to celebrate a life that was touched with love and happiness.
Family members of the dad-of-two, from Watson Avenue in the town, called on mourners to don football shirts in honour of the devoted Newcastle United supporter.
Their wish came true as scores of people swapped the traditional funeral black attire for the famous black and white of Newcastle United.
Many pals had RIP Ronnie and Big Ron 1 emblazoned on the back of their tops while the funeral procession was led into the crematorium to the iconic strains of Mark Knopfler's Local Hero, the anthem which plays Ronnie's Newcastle United favourites into battle at every home game at St James' Park.
Such was the impact that Ronnie had on so many lives, huge throngs of those who turned out in tribute had to listen to the service on a sound system from outside the building as the crematorium quickly filled to capacity.
Mourners were told that while they may shed a tear for the loss of a man who touched so many hearts, they should warmly remember his life with a smile and laughter whenever possible.
They were told that Ronnie was a hard-working family men, who always kept his friends on their toes with a gag or a wind-up.
He left Harton Comprehensive School at the age of 16 and went onto work with his dad and another friend called Ronnie - with the two launching a fleeting business under the name The Two Ronnies.
The bumper crowd of funeral-goers erupted into heart-felt applause as a poignant service concluded with a message for Ronnie's memory to be kept alive by the legacy of love and friendship he has left behind.
R Kelly's hit The World's Greatest and Rod Stewart's classic Maggie May were played as tearful mourners reflected on happy times spent with Ronnie.
The funeral service took place just a day before a man is due to appear in court accused of his murder.
Seven men were arrested in connection with the pub disturbance, with five appearing in court.
Michael Anthony Wilson, 35, of Hylton Avenue, South Shields, appeared at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court, last month charged with the murder of Ronnie Howard.
He is remanded in custody until a hearing at Newcastle Crown Court tomorrow.
David Wood, 28, of Sunderland Road; Anthony Kenrick, 33, of Centenary Avenue and Paul Haley, 26, of Ascot Gardens, all South Shields, were all charged with affray and assault occasioning actual bodily harm on Anthony Jefferson, who was in the pub with the deceased.
John Hayes, 58, of Moor Lane, South Shields, was charged with affray.
None of the men entered pleas, with all bailed until tomorrow's crown court date.