Date: 23rd October 2017 at 6:28pm
Written by:

TO spend an hour in the company of Geoff Dunford was like riding a football rollercoaster powered by an undying love for Bristol Rovers.

Geoff contacted me just after he resigned from the board, saying he wanted to set the record straight about his 25 years working behind the scenes at the club, first as a director and for a number of key years in our history as chairman.

He had read my blog Frankie Prince`s Bovver Boots in the Bristol Post and thought I was just the man for the job.

It was going to be one hell of a challenge, though. Geoff wanted to tell it like it was – warts and all. He was going to hand over the minutes of every boardroom meeting he had attended and also wanted me to talk to every former Bristol Rovers manager with whom he had worked.

Yikes! He invited me down to Bristol to discuss the proposals and give him an idea of what I would like in return, and we duly met at Aquila, the popular Italian restaurant which his son Peter owns in Baldwin Street.

Not only that but he put me up for the night at The Beeches, the hotel and Conference Centre he ran with wife Sharon on the outskirts of the city and a place which has been temporary home for many a new signing.

I learned more about the Gas in my meeting with Geoff than I had in my 47 years as a dedicated fan. Geoff had an endless catalogue of stories to tell and if we had ever got the project off the ground I reckon it would have been a real page turner.

Some of his favourite tales had me in stitches. This is a man who had to deal with some of football`s biggest personalities – in fact, he was their boss and it wasn`t an easy task.

When he had first come onto the board he told me a great story about how he and his fellow directors gathered in the boardroom at Eastville for their last meeting before they were forced to quit the old ground.

They decided they would have to take everything they owned and set up afresh at Twerton Park – nothing was to be left behind. For a while there was a deep silence as they all thought about the things they possessed.

Eventually they came to the conclusion there was only one thing they owned outright – the boardroom carpet. So Geoff and his fellow directors got on their knees, ripped it out, rolled it up and took it away.

The era of Ragbag Rovers had begun.

Geoff, dad Denis and other loyal Gasheads managed to keep the club going through many threats to its existence.

Then came the glorious time when Gerry Francis turned things around and Rovers were pushing for promotion in 1990.

On one day Geoff turned up to see Gerry in the grounds of the Keynsham chocolate factory where they trained. He walked into the temporary hut which doubled as the manager`s office and immediately could see Gerry wasn`t happy.

He wanted money and he wanted it badly, but Rovers were skint and Geoff had to turn him down. He then sat and watched Gerry clear all his possessions from the desk and walk out with his bag tucked under his arm, without looking back.

“I thought ‘what the hell have I done`,” said Geoff. “The fans call him God and I`ve just let him walk out of the club!”

Fortunately, Gerry returned an hour later, they shook hands and went on to claim promotion, beating Bristol City 3-0 at Twerton in that famous match on May 2, 1990 to snatch the title from their arch rivals.

My favourite story, though, was when Geoff had to tell Big Malcolm Allison things weren`t working. Ringing up big Mal he imparted the news that he was being sacked as Rovers manager.

Malcolm growled: “If I was a younger man I would come down there and knock your block off`!”

Quick as a flash, Geoff replied: “If you were a younger man, we wouldn`t be having this conversation, Mal!”

That was Geoff. He had a way of talking to everyone, big name or smallest fan, and through it all his love for the Blue and White quarters shone through.

One thing many won`t know is that during the summer, Geoff had another passion. He and his great friend the TV entertainer Noel Edmonds owned a red London bus which they had fitted out with all mod cons including a fully stocked bar, and they used to drive down to the south of France in it, Cliff Richard style!

Our project never did get off the ground mainly, I imagine, because illness set in and Geoff had other priorities. I know he was dictating his memories into a machine though and he said things were going well. I hope someone finds those notes one day.

The Dunford Diaries would make a fascinating read.

RIP Geoff, you will be sorely missed. My condolences to all your family and friends.

Nick Rippington is a national newspaper journalist based in London. He is also award-winning author of UK gangland fiction thrillers Crossing The Whitewash and Spark Out

Crossing the Whitewash – HERE
Spark Out –HERE


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