Today brought the news that many of us had been dreading, the passing of Geoff Dunford, the former Bristol Rovers chairman. Although Geoff had been ill for some time, his death at the age of 66 will have come as a hammer blow to his family. To say he was loved by his family would represent the understatement of the century.
I was never a part of Geoff’s inner circle of friends. He knew me well enough to say hello and even during times of conflict at the club, he was unfailingly friendly and polite. During the boardroom split of 2006, I said some unkind things about him on the internet. I should have known better. Years later, Geoff invited me to the Beeches to have a chat over a cup of coffee. We had a frank and open exchange of views and, importantly, I apologised unreservedly for many of the things I had said. In view of today’s sad news, I am so glad I did that.
There is no doubt that for a long time, Geoff was a polarising figure at Bristol Rovers. He was blamed for when things went wrong and rarely thanked when things went right. He knew and understood how things worked at a football club and whilst he can’t have enjoyed the brickbats which were hurled his way, they seemed to bounce off him. And whatever you thought of Geoff Dunford, recognise this one simple fact: he devoted his life to Bristol Rovers Football Club.
Along with his legendary father, Denis Dunford, Geoff took the club to Twerton Park in 1986 and brought it back to Bristol a decade later. Not only that, Bristol Rovers now owned their own ground. The move to Bath was made out of necessity, the move back was an act of sheer brilliance. Without the Dunfords, the Rovers might no longer exist.
Although there were times when we disagreed, there were plenty more when we were on the same side. I remember the amazing ‘Gas Idol’ talent competition we held in the Centenary Suite when Geoff was on the judging panel, a benevolent Simon Cowell! Another time, a few of us visited an old friend who was managing Geoff’s hotel in Bath when the great man himself appeared. We spent an hilarious afternoon drinking Geoff’s best Rioja (well, he said it was his best!) and I had to be virtually poured on the train home afterwards! Here was a side of Geoff I had never previously seen. A great storyteller, of stories that were on occasions unrepeatable, always told with his customary twinkling eyes and bucket loads of humour.
I missed much of the revelry and banter when the football club further divided when Geoff passed the reins of power to Nick Higgs. I will not rake up the bad history of what happened during that period – what’s done is done – but I do believe that under Geoff Dunford Bristol Rovers would never have crashed into non league football. I am certain as I can be that he would have never allowed it to happen.
My thoughts and best wishes are with Geoff’s family tonight. I know what it is like to lose a parent – I have lost three, including a stepfather – and life is never the same again. It appears from reading something from his son Peter that Geoff returned home to spend his final days. I can imagine just how much that mattered to a family man such as Geoff. I’ll bet it meant the world.
One thing we can know for sure is that Geoff Dunford did it his way. He didn’t always get everything right, but who among us can honestly say that we did get everything right? He dies a legend at Bristol Rovers. No one could have given anymore. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose a little old third division football club might not represent much of a legacy, unless that is you are a passionate Gashead, like Geoff Dunford. Whatever happens next at the Rovers, we know that none of it would have been possible without Geoff.