Matt Ratana: Beloved coach honoured by friends, colleagues at East Grinstead Rugby Club in emotional ceremony

An emotional ceremony has been held in memory of slain Kiwi sergeant Matiu (Matt) Ratana at the rugby club he "revolutionised" with his passion and drive, according to his friends and colleagues.

Ratana was killed in the early hours of Friday (local time) at the Croydon Custody Centre in south London when a handcuffed, 23-year-old suspect reportedly shot him five times, before turning the gun on himself.

Alongside his job as a custody officer in the London Metropolitan Police, Ratana, 54, had served as the head coach of East Grinstead Rugby Club in West Sussex. 

Moments of silence were observed across the different teams Ratana coached at the club at the emotional memorial on Sunday. A New Zealand flag was flown at half-mast, with flowers, a helmet and a rugby jersey at its base. Ratana had touched the lives of so many, said Newshub Europe correspondent Lloyd Burr, and the "outpouring of grief" was tangible.

Speaking to Burr following the ceremony, a close friend and associate of Ratana, Ryan Morlen, said the 54-year-old was "a great mate, on and off the pitch".

"Rugby was his life," said Morlen, the club's assistant head coach.

The two met about five years ago, Morlen said, and due to their close working relationship, had spoken everyday for the past six months.

"He would be involved in everything within this club... he's an irreplaceable bloke, such a great bloke. We will pull together as a club and make things work, but it will never be the same without Matt."

Ratana would frequently talk about his love of rugby and New Zealand, Morlen said, and was incredibly passionate.

"Losing him is unbelievably tough... at the moment it doesn't feel real. I still hear his voice in the videos I've got and see pictures of Matt, it's hard.

"He's touched a lot of people."

Matt Ratana.
Matt Ratana. Photo credit: Facebook

First team captain Jack Andrews said Ratana, who was born in Hawke's Bay and attended school in Palmerston North, had "revolutionised" the club with his Kiwi 'can do' values and "Southern Hemisphere" style of play.

He says Ratana had been the "perfect leader" to transform East Grinstead Rugby Club after a difficult period of poor management.

"He left a big imprint on me personally... he was an inspiration to so many people," Andrews said.

"He's the perfect leader, he led by example... he never asked anything from anybody except their best. He got behind you no matter what - he didn't care about your race, your gender. He was about building you as a better person, and rugby first."

Like Morlen, Andrews said the club would rally together as "a family" and make things work following the loss of their beloved coach - but the void left behind would be impossible to fill.

"We don't feel like we'll be able to fill his boots... there's no head coach this year from here [on]," Andrews said.

"He was a mentor and a friend above everything else. Everybody here has been shaken to the [core] about how lucky we are to have met this guy... he'll be incredibly missed."

Top left: Ryan Morlen; Top right: East Grinstead mourners; Bottom left: Jack Andrews; Bottom right; Joanne Gillam.
Top left: Ryan Morlen; Top right: East Grinstead mourners; Bottom left: Jack Andrews; Bottom right; Joanne Gillam. Photo credit: Newshub

Joanne Gillam said Ratana's style of training was accepting and inclusive, and everyone was welcome on the field.

An Aucklander originally, Gillam - who also works as a coach - has lived in the UK for more than 20 years.

"I came along to a few of his training sessions, and they were very inspirational, very welcoming. It didn't matter whether I was a woman or not. And recently he was found to be playing on the women's side," she said.

"His smile was just incredible. He changed the club at a really difficult time, we had some trouble with the management prior. Matt stepped in and just brought some warmth."

The 23-year-old suspect remains in hospital in a critical condition, the Met Police said in an update over the weekend. Due to his condition, officials have not been able to speak to him about the shooting.

Another man has been arrested on suspicion of supplying the gun used to shoot Ratana, marking the latest development in the investigation into his death. Four locations of interest have been established and searched as part of the inquiry, which was launched on Friday, and the gun in question has been recovered.

Over the weekend, officials gathered to lay a wreath at the National Police Memorial in London.

"His passion for the game, his passion towards people, a really likeable bloke," Morlen said.

"Certainly irreplaceable. You won't find another Matt Ratana."