A keen amateur footballer "died doing something he loved" when he collapsed and later died during a football game at the weekend.

James "Jimmy Sparks" Bennion, 38, is believed to have suffered a heart attack while on the pitch in Tuakau on Saturday afternoon.

Teammates, supporters and friends rushed to his aid, while emergency services were called to the scene. Bennion was flown to Auckland City Hospital in a critical condition, but later died.

His death came almost exactly a month after the death of his father in Fiji.


Bennion - also known as James Narayan - was originally from the Pacific island nation.

His sister Jessie Singh and a cousin live in New Zealand, with most of his family - including his mum - still in Fiji.

Singh described her brother as "everyone's favourite".

"He got along well with everybody and the kids all adored him. He will be sadly missed by everyone," she told the Herald.

"We will all miss him, I don't know how else to put it."

She said "the whole of Tuakau" knew him, adding: "I am really grateful that he had friends which are more like family to him in Tuakau.

"Words cannot describe how thankful we are at this time that they are supporting us going through this, it just means a lot to us."

Best friend and Tuakau Soccer Club member Tim McMillan said Bennion "died doing something he loved".

"He truly loved it," McMillan said, describing Bennion as a dedicated member of the "Tuakau soccer family" since joining the club in 2009.

"He just about bled Tuakau soccer club."

Bennion notched up 150 consecutive games playing for Tuakau Wanderers, before hanging up his boots last year to play for the Old Boys team. He also played golden oldies rugby.

James Bennion, 38, playing for his Tuakau Soccer Club team. Photo / supplied
James Bennion, 38, playing for his Tuakau Soccer Club team. Photo / supplied

Bennion - an electrician by trade - was described as a friendly "all-round bloke" who was "always willing to help people".

"The amount of work he did at my house and everybody else's houses, building and sparky work, and fundraising for soccer teams and rugby teams," said McMillan.

Collapse 'out of the blue'

Bennion collapsed on the pitch with about 20 minutes of the game left to go, said McMillan, who was on the sidelines and saw what happened.

"He kind of sat down almost, like half way to sit down, then just sort of lay down on the ground," he said.

"My first initial thought - because he's a bit of a prankster - was he was laying down to say 'oh I'm tired', but then we saw his leg starting to twitch."

Within seconds people were at his side, performing first aid and calling emergency services, McMillan said. He praised the 111 operator, the Fire Service, ambulance and Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crews who came to Bennion's aid, saying they were "absolutely amazing", professional and caring.

But the news of his death hit hard, McMillan said, describing Bennion as a best mate and like an uncle to his two daughters.

"If I was going to be pretty honest here, there would be quite a few swear words in amongst a sentence about how I felt," he said.

Medics suspect Bennion suffered a heart attack, which McMillan said was "out of the blue", with no previous health problems.

Referencing the recent death of his friend's father, McMillan said "a broken heart" may have contributed to Bennion's death.

Messages flood in on social media

Tributes to the well-liked football player have been posted on social media, with some family members changing their Facebook profile pictures to one of Bennion.

A post on the Papakura City FC Facebook page said Tuakau football had lost one of its strongest players.

"He played his heart out every weekend and sadly during a match [on Saturday] he suffered a heart attack on the field amongst his mates," Robert Hatton said.

Papakura FC said it was "very sorry" to hear of the loss of Bennion.

"Our sincere sympathies are with you and your members at this saddest of times."

Waiuku Association Football Club posted a statement saying: "At this time Waiuku AFC would like to pass on its condolences to the family of James Bennion and the Tuakau Football family. Rest easy Jimmy."

Fellow Tuakau Soccer Club teammate Prinay Prasad said: "You were they [sic] for me always . . . I love you brooo 4eva n always."

Tuakau Netball Club also paid tribute, saying Bennion would be "sorely missed".

He was a "good friend" to the club, it said, and the players would wear black armbands at their game this weekend in his honour.

On behalf of the Tuakau Netball Club we would like to pass on our deepest sympathies to the Tuakau Soccer Club for the...

Posted by Tuakau Netball Club on Sunday, 14 May 2017

A post by Ursula Aitken, featuring a collage of photos of Bennion, said she was "cracking up at the memories".

"Shattered you've been taken so suddenly but a blessing to know you're finally with your whanau," she said.

Lila Tammy McMillan said Bennion had been "taken way too young and way too soon".

"You were part of the family and a friend to all," she said.

A spokesman for Auckland Football Federation declined to comment at this stage, saying the association was waiting for more information on the incident before making official comment.

• A service will be held at the Tuakau Cosmopolitan Club at 7pm tomorrow, and a bank account has been set up to raise funds for James Bennion's funeral and repatriation to Fiji, where he will be buried alongside his father.

Donations can be paid into bank account: 03 0406 0648712 01