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Relatives, well-wishers and friends gathered outside the runway at VC Bird International Airport to bid their final respects to 26-year-old footballer Dashawn Taka Stanton, whose body was repatriated to St Thomas, Jamaica, on Saturday.

It was exactly 1.35pm when Caribbean Airlines flight 458 began its taxi on the tarmac then disappeared into clouds against the backdrop of wailing onlookers repeating a slogan coined since his death on August 26 – ‘Fly High Taka, Fly High’.

Thousands of viewers also watched online via the Jamaican Association in Antigua’s Facebook page to bid farewell to the footballer who played for various clubs in Antigua and Barbuda, as well as his homeland.

Outriders from the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda escorted the funeral directors from Barnes Funeral Homes accompanied by a mini-motorcade headed by the Jamaican Consulate to the airport.

“We are still in shock and saddened at the passing of our teammate, brother, friend and motivator Taka,’’ said manager of Aston Villa Football Club Neil Cochrane.

In trying to come to grips with his passing, Cochrane said, ‘’the questions – why now, why – resonate in our deliberations”.

He continued that “the thought about a new season without him leading the troops into battle is disheartening but as a club steeped in our belief of God, we are praying to him for support, comfort and guidance, not only for ourselves but also for his friends, family and loved ones. God knows best, sleep in peace Taka, we will meet again, we will play again, we will win together again.’’

A thanksgiving service was held to commemorate the life of the father-of-one at the Barnes Chapel in St John’s on Friday.

Well-wishers were given an opportunity to view his remains and pay tribute. A condolence book was also opened on his behalf for people to share how he had impacted their lives.

Rachel Browne, general manager of Hermitage Bay Hotel, the business Stanton played for in the Business League Football, remembered the young man’s “mannerism and determination”.

Tributes were also forthcoming from the football fraternity in Antigua and Barbuda, the Jamaican

Consulate and members of the community. Canon Simon Reid was the officiating minister.

Stanton died as a result of cardiac arrest, autonomic dysfunction and autoimmune encephalitis at Mount St John’s Medical Centre.

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