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United in grief: Bereaved fathers conquer Ben Lomond in honour of children

James Deveney and Craig Ferguson put their Old Firm rivalry aside for the charity challenge.

United in Grief: James and Craig embraced following their charity climb.
United in Grief: James and Craig embraced following their charity climb. United in Grief / cropped

Two fathers who lost their children to sudden illnesses put their Old Firm rivalry to one side to conquer a mountain together.

James Deveney and Craig Ferguson shared an emotional embrace after scaling Ben Lomond in memory of their children Aston and Ashleigh.

The bereaved fathers decided to tackle the Munro to raise money for the British Heart Foundation and SUDEP Action, charities which mean a lot to the two families following the deaths of their children.

James' daughter Ashleigh was 23 when she died. Contracting a virus, she suffered multiple heart attacks whilst working away from home, which led to her death in 2013.

Craig's son Aston died in his sleep aged 20, succumbing to a condition called sudden unexpected death in epilepsy [SUDEP] in 2014.

Ashleigh and Aston both died suddenly in their early 20s.
Ashleigh and Aston both died suddenly in their early 20s. United in Grief

"He had it since he was 11 and they said it was something he would grow out of," Craig explains.

"He was two years seizure free. I didn't know that [SUDEP] existed. It's a different kind of seizure, everything just shuts down.

"It's a like a form of adult cot death. I was speaking to him on the Friday night and on the Saturday he was gone."

Becoming friends in the worst of circumstances, the two fathers connected during bereavement counselling offered by Brightest Star, a charity based in Linwood, Renfrewshire, which runs a monthly support group for parents in the west of Scotland.

Craig completed the challenge on what would have been his son's 23rd birthday.
Craig completed the challenge on what would have been his son's 23rd birthday. United in Grief

"I remember the first night that James came in and when he told his story I thought, 'I remember reading about that in the paper'," explains Rangers fan Craig.

"We just clicked and started to sit together at meetings and it just went from there. There was a bit of banter about Rangers and Celtic.

"We were there for each other at our lowest points."

Regularly attending the support group, Craig and James would hear of other parents who had decided to tackle charity challenges in memory of their children.

Craig told his friend he wanted to contribute to the charity SUDEP Action to raise awareness of the condition which took his son's life.

"I said, 'I'm dying to do something but I'm just not ready'."

James joined the charity climb in memory of his daughter Ashleigh.
James joined the charity climb in memory of his daughter Ashleigh. United in Grief

To support his friend, Celtic fan James offered to join Craig in his quest to raise awareness, raising money in memory of his own daughter Ashleigh for the British Heart Foundation in the process.

They decided to climb Ben Lomond together on what would have been Aston's 23rd birthday.

Craig says it was a late decision to raise funds but James managed to arrange strips from their respective football clubs to wear, contacting the Celtic and Rangers charities.

The climb, dubbed United in Grief, saw the two friends scale the mountain on Saturday, with people along the way taking pictures of the two men in opposing team shirts raising money for charity.

Craig says: "If we were two guys who had ordinary clothes on nobody would have bothered us but people were stopping to take pictures and give us donations.

He added: "When we got to the summit, I joked to James that it was 1-0 to Rangers because I beat him."

Craig says the pair enjoyed a football joke following the climb.
Craig says the pair enjoyed a football joke following the climb. United in Grief

Initially planning to split their team target of £200 between the two charities, the powerful image of the pair embracing in rival colours was quickly spread by fans from both clubs, with donations to their respective causes now totalling more than £700.

Craig says: "We thought we'll do this, even if we got £200 or £300, we will be happy. We never expected this.

"But it just goes to show you. My daughter said, 'Oh my god Dad, you're viral, you're on Twitter."

He laughs: "I said I cannae help it."

Fans from both football clubs have sent pictures of the pair viral online.
Fans from both football clubs have sent pictures of the pair viral online. United in Grief

Since completing the challenge, the pair have been inundated with messages of support and fan pages for both Celtic and Rangers have commended their efforts.

Craig adds: "I had to stop reading some of the comments [online], people were getting in touch offering us meals and saying we should be invited on to the pitches at the start of the season."

The pair have raised hundreds for charity after their challenge went viral.
The pair have raised hundreds for charity after their challenge went viral. United in Grief

A spokeswoman for Celtic FC said: "This is a remarkable achievement. We were delighted to support James and Craig's sponsored walk to honour the memory of their children and raise funds for two very deserving charities."

Rangers FC were approached for comment.

To support James and Craig's United in Grief charity walk, you can head to their JustGiving page here.

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