Many years ago, before the technological revolution rendered the practice obsolete, it was club policy to issue members with a fixture card on receipt of their subscription. At the front of the card, before the fixtures themselves, would be found the names and addresses of the club officers. Every such card from the early 1970’s would include under the title of the Publicity Secretary, or Press Secretary as it later became known, one G.C.Sawyer of Lascelles Gardens, Ashingdon, Rochford (Tel 544434 or similar). As was pointed out a few days ago, Geoff was indubitably the longest holder of any committee post in the club’s history, with his duties in the above role, until circumstances recently changed things, stretching well over four decades, and very nearly five.
Geoff’s family moved to Rochford when he was a very young man and he was educated in Rochford. In spite of the presumed proximity of the fledgling Rochford Hundred club, the fledgling Geoff opted to join the Old Westcliffians RFC in the late 1960’s, and remained a major part of the club until last Monday.
His father was a journalist of some renown and Geoff was to follow in his footsteps, writing both locally and nationally for a large number of organs over a long career. It was only natural that he should become Publicity Secretary at the club, but few could have foreseen that it was a position that he would fill until he was well past retirement age.
Geoff was also a faithful member of the senior playing club, playing in the front row generally for the A or the Extra A teams, or indeed for any side which was looking for a player, such was his enthusiasm. It is easy to lose count of the number of props with whom he faithfully hooked but their name was legion. Geoff was actually quite a good front row player, who took a great deal of shifting, while perhaps lacking a little pace around the field.
Geoff took the club’s result reporting very seriously in those bygone days. Things were different then – rather than an exclusive 1st XV report, all five, or occasionally six, or very occasionally seven, senior sides would have their own piece in The Evening Echo and The Southend Standard before the latter organ ceased to be worth reading on the sports front.
Geoff’s method of obtaining the said reports was unvarying. The skipper in question, or skipper’s representative, would be collared at the bar by Geoff, pint in hand, who would then demonstrate his fine command of shorthand to the admiration of his victim. This practice would often happen quite late in the evening, by which time the interviewee was either half-cut or amnesic, or both, which led to some highly-entertaining if wildly-inaccurate pieces appearing for the delectation of the public the following Tuesday.
Geoff was particularly in his element on the occasions of the Annual Easter Rugby Festival, which was co-hosted by Southend RFC and ourselves, and which ultimately stretched for thirty seasons, at one time in dubitably being the largest of its kind in the world. Geoff took on the joint roles of Fixture Secretary and Publicity Secretary, encouraging sides from all over England and Wales to compete.
At the peak of its existence, the festival was attracting between twenty and thirty clubs, local or far-flung, including sides from France, Argentina and Belgium and the USA. A well-known saying states that if you can remember the sixties, then you weren’t there. The same could be applied to the Bacchanalian orgies which took place in the clubhouses at Priory Park and London Road on these occasions.
Geoff was also a keen, if unlikely, cricketer turning out frequently for the notorious Buxton’s XI and occasionally experiencing huge success with his leg-breaks.
Geoff never drove a car, and travelling between 1008 London Road and Rochford was hardly easy, but there is no record of Geoff having ever found it necessary to send his apologies for absence at any of the Committee Meetings which took place during his period of office.
It was often difficult to gauge how old Geoff was – he was one of those people who always looked exactly the same. The totally wild and unruly black beard and locks however gradually turned grey and then white. Geoff carried on playing well into his fifties but the march of time was unrelenting, causing a reluctant cessation of activities some years back. Geoff continued, however, to continue avidly to report the club’s results to the press.
By this time, we had reached the heights of Level 5 and this required reports to be phoned through to The Rugby Paper almost immediately the match was concluded. By this time, Geoff’s health was in serious decline, as a result of heart issues, and he felt it necessary finally to leave his childhood home, where he had stayed throughout nearly all of his life caring for his mother, and enter sheltered accommodation in Rochford.
Still game to the end, Geoff would continue to travel to away matches complete with his Zimmerframe, either via a lift or on the team coach, until it became impossible for him to ascend the stairs. At least the newest clubhouse, which opened in December 2019, was equipped with a lift so that Geoff could at least have the benefit of a few visits to the new abode, before all action ceased last March.
Geoff was a mild and eccentric man and often, as is almost universally the case in this ghastly club, the recipient of prolonged banter from the membership. It would however be true to say that this banter, even from the most evil of members, was never anything but affectionate, such was the genuine love and esteem in which Geoff was held in a place where he had been part of the furniture for over fifty years.
Geoff was admitted to Southend Hospital a few weeks ago on a heart-related issue. He later tested positive for Covid and was discharged and instructed to self-isolate at home. He passed away last Monday 22 March at the age of sixty-nine. Among the tributes that have been paid to Geoff since then, more than one senior member of the club questioned how it could have been that Geoff was never awarded an Honorary Life Membership. In retrospect, that is a question which certainly deserves an answer, but it is difficult to find one.