Some people seem indestructible, and Gordon Astall was one of them.
Strong, fit, and, seemingly, without a care in the world, Gordon asked to join the Torbay Gentlemen in 1974.
“If you can find a place for an old ’un, I’ll be happy to fill in when needed,” he said.
Here was an ex-international footballer asking to play in the South Devon League ‘but only if he didn’t take someone else’s place’.
If I was surprised that day, I shouldn’t have been.
As we got to know Gordon, we got to know a modest man without a shred of self-importance.
From the day we met him, he became ‘one of the lads’ and we all enjoyed his company.
If he got fouled by a village full-back, he grinned, got up, and shook his hand!
If he over-hit a corner kick, he would put his head in his hands and shout ‘sorry lads!’
In 1975, we played four matches in Gibraltar, and Gordon came along with us.
After our first match, we were all invited back to the Victoria Sports Club. Behind the bar, there was a notice asking for donations towards the formation of youth team.
Gordon saw it, and pointed it out to his fellow ex-pro, Harry Smith.
Unbeknown to any of us, Gordon and Harry were wonderful darts players.
From that moment on, for the rest of the trip, the pair took on all comers for a donation to the sports club. If you beat them, you could claim a pound!
The following nights, in the messes of HMS Fife and HMS Rooke, the fund mounted. By the time we left Gibraltar, they had not lost a single match, and had raised £165.
The club told us that the youth team would be launched the following week!
In the end, Gordon played more games for Torbay Gents than he did for Torquay United.
Among those matches was the 1975 Greenway Cup Final. Gordon was 48, and played on our right wing.
We beat Dartington Reserves that day, and, last month, one of the Dartington players, Rob Twitchen, wrote to me via this newspaper.
He wrote: “I remember playing against Torbay Gents in that final, and, afterwards, I scrawled a few notes in my match programme.”
When he came to Gordon’s name, he said that he had written: “Chatty, enthusiastic, loves the game, and great company.”
How many of us will earn an epitaph like that one... from an opponent?
Sleep tight Gordon... and thanks for the memories!