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Only Geoff Dunford

Comments Off on Only Geoff Dunford 09 November 2017

Only Geoff Dunford

“You’ll be Pete,” I said to Geoff Dunford’s other son Matt at his father’s wake. “I’m Matt,” said Matt, who wasn’t Pete. I apologised profusely. “It happens all the time,” he smiled. “Especially with halfwits like you!” Of course, he didn’t say the last bit, but I would have forgiven him anything yesterday. My old friend Nick Day, Bristol Rovers matchday PA and up and coming radio presenter, had been fretting during the days leading to the funeral of his friend. “I hope we can do him justice,” he said. He needn’t have fretted.

I took the train to Keynsham where Geoff’s service, and celebration of his life, was being held. It was the most perfect late autumn day with the sun blazing through clear blue skies. I met with Nick, ex club secretary Roger Brinsford and his wife Liz and old pal John Malyckyj in a wine bar called The Wine Bar which was, of course, a pub. Breaking a lifetime’s habit, I had a coffee.

We arrived in the church very early, over an hour early, because we knew just how busy it would be. And it was. All around me I saw familiar faces. Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence, John Still, Gerry Francis, Darrell Clarke, Jamie Cureton, Phil Bater, Peter Aitken, Geoff Twentyman. Oh and Noel Edmonds. The list went on forever. Then we had four eulogies.

First up was Geoff’s son Pete. Nick Day had told me that Pete had been truly inspirational following his father’s death and before the service. Nick is not a man to exaggerate and so it proved as Pete delivered a tribute to his father which went from heartbreakingly sad to laugh-out-loud funny. Above all, the love both he and his family felt for the father, the husband and grandparent shone through. It was an incredible tour de force. His father would have been immensely proud of the role he played and of the brilliant speech he gave. I vowed to seek him out later and tell him just that.

Next up was Geoff and Sharon Dunford’s close friend, Ken Rees, the former TV presenter and journalist. A giant of a man in every sense, Ken spoke of their friendship together, how they had met and told some wonderful stories. To follow Pete took some doing. You had the impression that Ken had a good idea how to communicate. It was lovely.

Former Rovers manager John Ward was specially chosen by Geoff to speak about the football side. John was very modest, very humble, deeply moving and, again, very funny. He referred to the time when Geoff sacked him as manager, only for the two of them to sit down and enjoy tea and biscuits together!

And finally, Chris Jelf, a close friend and businessman. At first, Chris was very nervous but once he got into his stride, he painted a vivid picture of Geoff, businessman, football man and family man.

It was one of the longest services I had ever been to and it had to be. And strangely, the longer it went, the better it got. When perusing the order of service, I was intrigued to read an entry called POEM, Not today written and read by Alex Lovell, family friend (and BBC Points West presenter). Following another hymn, Alex stood at the front and read the poem. You could hear a pin drop as she spoke and you almost hear the sound of tears rolling down the cheeks of a hundred mourners as she finished. Sadly, I have been to been to far too many funerals over the years, but I have never heard anything like this. My words are not enough, although hers were. You had to be there.

The coffin left the church to Goodnight Irene and was taken to Haycombe for a private family committal.

After chatting with old friends outside the church, we headed to Geoff’s brilliant restaurant Aquila where the wake was held. And we were all thanked for coming along. Imagine that.

I have been asked on more than one occasion why I went yesterday. Although I was not always in full agreement with everything Geoff did, I met him a few years ago at the Beeches to have a chat about everything that had happened and, in my case, to apologise unreservedly for the bad blood. Apologies accepted, we got onto the main business of drinking coffee, eating biscuits and reminiscing. It was as if the bad old days had never happened. Ever since then, everything has been fine. In March 2017, Geoff made what turned out to be his final media appearance on Geoff Twentyman’s excellent Radio Bristol show. Another walk down Memory Lane, marred by the fact that Geoff did not sound at all well. On 21st October 2017, he lost a 20 year battle with cancer. I was surprised to find myself very upset. Many Gasheads who had disagreed and argued with Geoff over the years said they felt exactly the same. I thought about attending the funeral but initially dismissed the very idea. But Nick Day, Roger Brinsford and John Malyckyj had other ideas. We really were in it altogether at the turn of the Millennium, doing our bit along with others to try and save the club we loved, all with Geoff’s support. To hell with it, I would go. If anyone didn’t like it, well too bad. And I had to be there for Nick Day.

Nick is the best friend anyone could ever have. He is always there, without exception, when you need him. His generosity is infinite. His love and friendship is unconditional. He is a wise counsel, always the sharpest tool in the box and always thinks first of others, especially, though not solely, his family and friends. His acts of kindness are the stuff of legend.

It was Nick Day who offered to take the pressure of the Dunford family when Geoff died. He loved Geoff to bits and saw it as his duty to offer them comfort and support in their greatest time of need. He arranged the wonderful tribute to Geoff at the MK Dons game. Put simply, he gave it everything he had. As the family left the church, they all looked to Nick. Like Geoff Dunford, he is another Mr Bristol Rovers. I am proud and honoured to call him a friend. I know the Dunfords feel the same way.

Long after the sun had gone down, I left the wake and walked across Bristol Bridge, heading for my train, which I managed to miss. What a day it had been. Perhaps I had no real right to be there at the service or at the subsequent wake but the welcome of the family and friends felt otherwise. A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought about the day itself and all that had gone before it. As my later train trundled towards Bristol Parkway, I was suddenly aware that I was passing over a bridge that Geoff proudly pointed out was named after him. “Not many people can say they’ve got a bridge named after them, can they?” he grinned as we sat in his office at the Beeches. The bridge had been daubed in paint with the words ‘Dunford Must Go!” I still giggle at that one. Only Geoff Dunford.

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