'Memories of my family keep me strong'

THE family of tragic mother and daughter Jo and Natasha Coombs have paid tribute to their memory at a tribute football match.

Elliot Furniss

HUNDREDS of people gathered at a football ground yesterday to pay tribute to a mother and daughter who died in tragic circumstances last year.

A specially-arranged charity football match was held in Brantham in memory of Natasha Coombs, 17, and Joanne Coombs, 40, who lost their lives within a matter of weeks of each other.

Friends and family watched and even played in the match between Harwich and Parkeston and Brantham to raise thousands of pounds for charity.

Joanne's mother Wendy Clackett said it had been a “brilliant turnout” for such an emotional day.

She said: “It's been fantastic. We're really, really pleased with the good turnout and never expected it. The whole family owes its thanks to the organisers.”

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The match took place at Brantham Football and Social Club and in the programme notes Gary Coombs, Joanne's husband of 23 years and Natasha's father, paid tribute to his lost loved ones.

Mr Coombs, who played for Harwich and Parkeston in his younger years, said his love for his wife and daughter was “unconditional and had no boundaries” and thanked event organiser Sharon Martin.

He said: “Joanne and Natasha made an enormous impact in so many ways on the lives of many people. They would be there for others, no matter.

“The many hundreds of cards and letters I received with comforting words and fond memories is testament to this.”

Mr Coombs, from Dovercourt, said it “goes without saying” that his life would simply never be the same again.

He added: “My life was so enriched and blessed to have been with Joanne for 23 years and to have been the father of an adorable and beautiful daughter, Natasha.

“Now, not a single moment goes by without them both being on my mind, though as time very slowly creeps by my thoughts are bringing me strands of joy as I recall some of the many wonderful memories shared together as a very close-knit family.

“These moments will keep me strong as I continue through this journey without them. The memories will never fade, but just keep the bond of love between us as strong as ever.”

Before the kick-off, spectators and players braved the wintry condition to hold a minutes' applause to commemorate Joanne and Natasha while throughout the afternoon, fundraisers held a raffle and ran refreshment stalls.

Among those lining up for the teams were Mark and Martin Clackett - Joanne's brothers - and Steve, Paul, Darren and Mark Coombs - Natasha's cousins.

Mrs Martin, 48, whose daughter Bethany was a close friend of Natasha from her childhood years growing up in Brantham, said she was overwhelmed by the turnout after previously fearing that the months of planning would be ruined by the weather.

She said: “We just felt that we needed to do something for the family. We didn't want to have a minute's silence, we wanted it to be a celebration rather than a sad day.”

Natasha, a former East Bergholt High School pupil, died when she was hit by a train last August after returning from a night out with friends.

Her parents made an emotional appeal for information on her whereabouts in the agonising two-week wait between her disappearance and the discovery of her body.

Grief-stricken Joanne then took her own life at the same spot near Manningtree Station just a few weeks later.

Money raised during yesterday's game will go towards paying for a bench to be placed at the sports ground, where Natasha spent much of her childhood playing with her friends, while the rest will be given to St Helena Hospice in Colchester.

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