This is the full eulogy that was given by Peter Barron at today’s funeral service for James Charlton...

I wanted to start by saying that it’s an honour to be asked by James’s family to deliver this tribute on their behalf today.

Naturally, the church is filled with great sadness – but it should also be filled with enormous pride in what James achieved and everything he stood for: compassion, kindness, care, empathy – and an infectious sense of fun.

In nearly 40 years as a journalist in this area, I honestly can’t remember a bigger outpouring of affection and respect than there’s been for James over the past couple of weeks. It’s been quite extraordinary – just like he was – and I know it’s brought his loved ones a great deal of comfort to know how much he was loved and admired.

Having spoken to James’s family over the past few days, and read the tributes that have flooded in, I could honestly have written a book – but I can only scratch the surface and try to do justice to a truly special young man.

It’s the fervent wish of Steve and Carol, his mum and dad – along with Katherine and Robert, his sister and brother – that we remember the good times, and the joy and laughter James brought into so many lives. So, this is a brief insight into why James was so special…

LIKE his siblings, James was born in Middlesbrough, but his passionate love affair with Darlington Football Club began as a babe in arms when his parents took him to Wembley to see The Third Division play-off final against Plymouth in 1996. It began with a defeat. Plymouth won 1-0. James was a mere six months old but the roller-coaster ride with The Quakers had already begun – and I’ll return to that shortly…

Right from being a toddler, it was already clear that James had special qualities – an intelligence, maturity, and leadership skills way, way beyond his years.

By the time he was three, he knew all the European capitals and was regularly tested by family and friends, who were desperate to catch him out but never could.

He was only five or so when he developed an encyclopedic knowledge of The London Underground. He could easily have been the youngest ever contestant on Mastermind with “The Tube” as his specialist subject.

He once even turned the house into a map of the London Underground – printing off scores of sheets of paper and sticking them to the walls and doors. By the time you’d gone through the front door and into the lounge, you’d already travelled from King’s Cross to Piccadilly Circus!!!

There was the time Carole and Steve met Jenny Chapman on Darlington Station shortly after she’d been elected as the town’s MP. On hearing that Jenny was on her way to Westminster for the first time – a northerner in the capital – young James promptly gave her a detailed explanation of what line she needed, where she had to get off, how long it would take, and what it would cost.

It was an early example of what James carried with him throughout his life – a desire to look after people in need of help.

His obsession with the London Underground continued later in life when he shared a flat with his great friend, Cameron. They had a map of the rail network in their flat, and it was their ambition to visit every station. The Bakerloo line was James’s favourite. Pins showed which station each of them had been to – and James took great delight in always staying ahead of the game, despite the fact that Cameron was a Londoner.

James was one of life’s great organisers: always the banker at monopoly, or the quizmaster in games of Pointless at Christmas. He loved TV quiz shows and once, when he was little, he presented his own version of Deal or No Deal. He donned a smart suit and tie, fixed up a microphone, and went through the show Noel Edmonds-style, using 22 of his mum’s vast collection of shoeboxes as part of the set.

James also had an incredible ability to remember lines from any Gavin and Stacey episode or Alan Partridge script. He had a quote for every occasion.

Not surprisingly, one of his favourite Partridge quotes involved the London Underground…

“Go to London, I guarantee you’ll either be mugged or not appreciated. Catch the train to London, stopping at Rejection, Disappointment, Backstabbing Central and Shattered Dreams Parkway.”

James was a perfectionist. When he got it into his head that he was going to do something, he had to do it right. On a trip home from London, he decided out of the blue that he was going to make his whole family a Chinese meal. He promptly made Carol drive round every supermarket in the area, looking for a whole duck, and then he made her buy a deep-fat fryer. It was only ever used that once – but the meal was absolutely perfect!...

JAMES enjoyed going for lessons at New Blackwell Lawn Tennis Club in his younger days – that’s where I first really got to know him. But, in all honesty, he didn’t play much tennis. He just liked chatting – whether it was with children or adults. His coach Derek Edwards was even moved to phone his parents one evening to ask if they really wanted to continue paying for lessons – because James wasn’t hitting many balls.

I spoke to Derek a few days ago and he said: “It didn’t matter who you put James with – they could be 10 times better or 10 times worse – he treated everyone just the same. He was different in the nicest possible way.”

Indeed, one of the loveliest things about James is that status didn’t matter one jot. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you were from, you could be James’s friend. Celebrity didn’t faze him – for example, on trips home to the North-East he struck up a rapport with Paralympic legend Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. They had conversations…He helped her…She remembered him…They became train buddies...

HOWEVER, when it came to sport, nothing could ever compete with James’s passion for football. He was blessed with one of the sport’s most famous surnames, but it wasn’t Manchester United or Leeds for him – he was destined to follow in the footsteps of his long-suffering parents in giving his heart to Darlington. And, in the years following that fateful visit to Wembley as a baby, he grew to become a Quakers’ superfan.

You name it, James would do anything for The Quakers, and he put in a man-of-the-match performance when the club famously went into administration in 2012. He organised bucket collections, sold memorabilia on a market stall, swept litter from the terraces, cleaned the dressing room after matches, and never stopped fighting the club’s corner when others were giving up hope.

Former Quakers manager Martin Gray said this: “Every football club needs a James Charlton.”

James’s liking for being in charge led to him becoming a respected referee. He started on the road to qualifying at 15 and officiated for years in youth leagues on Teesside. He carried on refereeing after moving to study Biomedical Science at university in London, and served in the Camden and Islington Youth Leagues, where he was also fixtures secretary and referees’ secretary.

His dedication to refereeing went much deeper than his love of the game. He considered it important, recognising the social value of what he was doing in keeping young people – from diverse backgrounds – off the streets. He even had the honour – TWICE - of being asked to officiate at a world youth football tournament in Minneapolis.

But no matter how far he travelled, it was always his beloved Darlington that he’d be rooting for. His incredible efforts on behalf of the club were recognised nine years ago when James was deservedly named the town’s Young Citizen of the Year.

I compered the awards that night and it gave me huge pleasure to announce his name as the winner because I was well aware of the impact he’d had on his club and his local community. I interviewed him in front of the audience, and he could have talked all night about the Quakers. I’d anticipated this, so I brought a red card out of my pocket and sent him off. But James had the last laugh when he politely but firmly questioned whether it was really a red card offence before breaking into that familiar, cheeky, cheerful smile.

It was a wonderful testament to 26-year-old James that Darlington Football Club stopped the January 29 match against Kettering in the 26th minute while players and fans united in a minute’s applause. That kind of thing doesn’t happen very often – unless you’re special.

There was a further tribute when James’s favourite song was played over the tannoy. It’s not every day that a football crowd feels naturally inclined to show their appreciation for Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up – but they did that day.

And the respect wasn’t just shown here in Darlington. Players from Camden and Islington Youth Football League in London also held a minute’s applause before their recent matches. 

Oh yes, James really, really loved football. And how ironic it is that Father Gordon Ryan was supposed to be leading today’s service only to have had to pull out due to injury. James would have loved the fact that Father David Russell has been called off the bench as a sub...

AS a lifelong Quakers’ fan, I suppose James had plenty of experience of sticking up for the underdog…And, in the midst of all the inevitable sadness of the past fortnight, the core theme that’s emerged from the countless tributes that have been paid to him, has been how much he cared for others. He was just an incredibly thoughtful and compassionate human being.

When he was at St Augustine’s Primary School, he went on a trip to Senegal with his mum who sponsors a child out there. James wanted to bring back gifts for his classmates and his brilliant teacher, Julie Humphrey. He decided to buy them all traditional shell necklaces that were being sold at a street-market. James was expected to barter to get a good price, so he asked the woman running the stall how much the necklaces cost. He then proceeded to barter her upwards because he didn’t think she was asking anywhere near enough.

When Carol told him that the idea was to barter the price down, he replied: “I know, Mum, but she’s got children to feed!”

Whether he was volunteering at St Teresa’s Hospice, or administering first aid for St John Ambulance, or serving as a student ambassador at university, or making his way to France to help refugees with a charity in Calais…James just cared.

WHAT has also become very clear at this extremely sad time is just what a close family James was privileged to be part of.

He either phoned or Facetimed Carol at least once a day and that close connection continued right to the end. He often said how much he loved his family, and they told him the same.

There are so many happy memories that will never fade…

James loved his musical theatre and music in general. His favourite musical was Billy Elliott – there’s another underdog – and he saw the show several times with his mum.

Steve also remembers how much he and James enjoyed spending time together, seeing bands in London.

James was also incredibly close to Robert and Katherine. They just got on wonderfully well – great friends as well as loyal siblings.

Robert recalls the fun competitions he and James frequently had, naming Christmas Number Ones. It was the one thing where he could sometimes get the better of his little brother.

Katherine describes James as the best uncle her two children, Mary and George, could ever have hoped for. He was a fun uncle – always playing with his niece and nephew: taking them mountain-biking on holidays; always the first one up on Christmas morning, so he could play their new games with them.

The family are immensely grateful that they were able to be together for one last holiday at Gleneagles last summer, with Cameron along as a guest. The treasured pictures that came out of that holiday are full of laughter and that’s how the family – and all of us – should remember James…with that lovely, trademark smile that just made everyone feel better.

The values and principles that James held so dear are reflected in the charities being supported by any donations made in his memory today. If you wish to make a contribution, please go to Every penny will be used to improve lives – and that’s what he would have wanted. The family would also welcome you all at the parish centre after the service to share more memories of James...

AS I said at the beginning, you could easily write a book about James’s life. He crammed more into his 26 years than most people will ever manage – and that’s why pride should be the overwhelming emotion today.

Kind…caring…good-hearted…thoughtful…determined…competitive…funny…special…loved by so many…campaigner…volunteer extraordinaire…Darlington superfan…James Stephen Charlton, you played a blinder, son.

The Northern Echo: