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Family ‘utterly heartbroken’ as much-loved Whitstable youth football coach dies on flight home

A family have been left heartbroken after a much-loved dad collapsed and died on a long-haul flight home.

Software programmer Matt Milne, 43, from Whitstable, is believed to have suffered a deep vein blood clot in his leg and could not be revived, despite the efforts of off-duty paramedics on the plane.

Matt Milne, from Whitstable, and his wife Francesca
Matt Milne, from Whitstable, and his wife Francesca

Matt was under-14s team coach for the town’s football club – where he also ran the bar – and was hugely popular with young players.

Yesterday, his wife Francesca, also 43, said she and their children, Will, 13, and Annabel, 10, have been left devastated.

Speaking to KentOnline at the family home in The Oaze, Whitstable, she said: “Matt was just an amazing husband and dad.

“He had never had any health problems and was reasonably fit, so it has come as a huge shock.”

Francesca met Matt, who grew up in Canterbury, when they were freshers at Manchester University 25 years ago, and they were due to celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary this coming Sunday.

“He travelled overseas quite often with his work, especially before the pandemic, and was on his way home from Singapore when it happened, “ she said.

“I found out when a policeman arrived at our door at 8am on Saturday morning to tell me he had been taken ill from the plane at Heathrow and I needed to travel to Hillingdon Hospital. But when I got there, he was already gone.

“The doctors said he’d suffered a thrombosis during the flight which had travelled to his lung.”

Francesca, who works for the charity Red Zebra, says the family have been inundated with hundreds of messages of sympathy and support.

She said: “My heart is totally utterly broken and Will and Annabel are devastated. We will all miss Matt every second of every day for the rest of our lives. He had the biggest heart in the entire world and was loved so much by the three of us, his parents, all his family and his friends.”

Matt Milne and wife Francesca enjoying a trip away together
Matt Milne and wife Francesca enjoying a trip away together

One friend said: “Words can’t describe how much Matt is missed. He had the biggest heart and he truly loved you all so much, that love will go on forever in all of our hearts.”

“Matt was an absolute legend – one of the nicest, funniest guys. I'll miss him terribly,” said another.

And a former colleague described it as “the most devastating news”, adding: “Matt was truly loved and respected by everyone who worked with him at SysMech and it was an honour to have called him a friend.”

Speaking yesterday to KentOnline, Francesca said: “We knew that Matt was a lovely, kind and caring man but never realised quite how special he was to so many other people, so that is a real comfort to us and we thank everyone for their kindness.

“It was his kind and caring nature which first attracted him to me when we met at uni. We would just talk for hours about everything.

“He just had a gift for putting people at ease and was so approachable and keen to help but was also fun to be around.

“His children were his world. He wasn’t an especially big football fan, but when Will started playing for the under-8s, he got involved with the club volunteering and it went from there.

“I got involved too as club secretary and then Annabel started playing for the girls’ team so it became a huge part of our lives.”

“His children were his world...”

In a tribute on the Whitstable Town FC website, Steve Clayton writes: “It is with the deepest sadness and heaviest of hearts that we inform you of the sudden and unexpected passing of Matt Milne on Saturday, September 30.

“Matt was a beloved son, husband, father, and friend, and his loss has shocked us all. During this challenging time, our thoughts and condolences go out to his wife, Fran, and two children, Will and Annabel.

“Matt played an integral role in the club's operations, managing the U14s team, which he led for several years across different age groups, as the club's volunteer bar manager and our resident tech expert, among other responsibilities. He was always eager to assist anyone, and his warm smile was contagious.

“Despite the long and often late board meetings, he was always supportive and patient, with Fran as a director and club secretary. Something that the partners and spouses of grassroots football directors and committee members can relate to and appreciate.

“Matt's passing is a tremendous loss to his loved ones, friends and colleagues, and he will be dearly missed.”

Following news of his death, his team cancelled a match they were due to play the following day. This Sunday, the girls’ team will hold a minute’s applause for Matt.

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