A FOOTBALLER has opened up about the death of his soldier cousin in a Miami hit-and-run.
Darren Cole, 23, said he was left “changed as a person” by the tragic death of Shaun Cole, 22, in March this year – but revealed he had been unable to cry at his funeral.
Private Cole, from Edinburgh, died after suffering blunt force trauma to his head following a hit-and-run on the same street as his Miami hotel.
He had been visiting the city with friends for the Ultra music festival.
Speaking about the loss, Livingston defender Darren insisted the incident had left him determined to focus on his career and appreciate his privileged position in tribute to his cousin.
But he also admitted the reality of the loss – which he found out about at 1am on April 2 while staying at his gran’s house – had yet to sink in.
He said: “[My gran] got the call around 1am and came through to tell me. I thought I was dreaming. It’s strange but, still, I haven’t got myself physically upset about it once. It’s so raw and surreal.
“I’m still a young guy and before Shaun, I’d never suffered loss in my life. I had never been to a funeral before. His was my first ever. I didn’t know what to expect. I watched so many people crying but I just couldn’t. I don’t know why.
“Since it happened, it’s been clear that so many people loved Shaun. His death was completely out of the blue. He wasn’t just my cousin – he was like a brother to me.
“Before he flew to Miami, he came to see me. I remember him shaking my hand. Knowing that he’s gone now is a weird feeling.
“We’re the same age and we spent a lot of time together as kids.”
Darren revealed Shaun had been one of his biggest supporters when he began his career – even sending him messages of support while he was on tour in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.
And he insisted he was now determined to do his best to live up to his cousin’s expectations.
He said: “I’ll always think about him. My attitude has changed now and it’s mainly down to Shaun. He wanted me to be a footballer so much. He was always on my case – messaging me from a tour in Afghanistan or Sierra Leone.
“He’d tell me to do it for myself. He knew it can be a short career and he wanted me to be single-minded. Shaun was such a caring guy. When he’d come to my gran’s house, he’d be going through all the newspapers to see if I got a mention.
“We got on so well. He was just like me, a huge football fan. And as a soldier, he could be really disciplined. His death has definitely changed me as a person. I’m normally a laid-back character and I used to just take what I got in football.
“But not now. I’m 23 and I haven’t got long in this game. So I’m now determined to do the very best I can in my career. I’ve got ambition again. To play in England or abroad in the future.
“The manager here, Mark Burchill, believes in me. He was great after Shaun died. He had lost his dad to cancer and went through a horrible time. So he supported me.
“We had the Petrofac Cup Final a few days after it but I was always going to play. Shaun would have wanted me to.”
Pte Cole, an avid Hearts fan, had recently returned from a tour of Sierra Leone the month before his death, where he was helping in the fight against Ebola.
More than 600 family and friends turned out for his funeral at Colinton Parish Church in April, many of them wearing bright colours.
Devastated collegues paid tribute to “an immensely popular and much loved character” who would be “greatly missed”.