Yesterday we said a final farewell to Rod Burge and Robins director & club secretary Paul Godfrey pays tribute.
Shortly after our last home game against Fleetwood, Cheltenham Town lost its longest serving director when Rod Burge passed away at the age of 70.
Rod joined the Board half a lifetime ago in 1982. Back then the Robins were in the Southern League Midland Division, four divisions below our current status. There was only one stand at the ground and rusty sheds above crumbling low terracing on the other three sides. The car park was known colloquially as the ‘cabbage patch’ and the only office was a small room behind the main bar. All the players were part-time, some weren’t paid at all and the average attendance the previous season was only 345 people.
When Cheltenham Town played at Wembley, won promotion to the Football League, played at the Millennium Stadium twice and reached the fifth round of the FA Cup it wasn’t by accident. We didn’t do it because a rich man was throwing loads of money at it; we didn’t do it because a foreign owner decided to buy into the English football experience for a couple of years; or because we had a huge fanbase of latent support waiting to flock through the turnstiles. We did it because local people like Rod Burge put in their hard work and applied the business skills from running their own companies, treating the club’s money like their own and making it one big happy family operation.
Rod was there every step of the way from Taunton to Tottenham and all points in between, volunteering for various jobs around the club with a combination of enthusiasm and an eye for detail. The other directors used to call him ‘The Ferret’ because he would often spot something in the accounts or in the day-to-day operations that others hadn’t seen or had brushed over in the haste to get things done. He wasn’t afraid to go against the grain and would argue his point vigorously, even if it meant going it alone. We used to say that Board meetings took twice as long when Rod was there.
Rod shared in some of the accounting work; took responsibility for the pitch; ran the club lottery; oversaw the ticketing; helped with the construction work and became licensee of the bars at various points during his 32 years of service. In these days when it seems many people don’t want to get out of bed unless there is something in it for them, the great thing about Rod was that he was always there, always reliable and always willing to give up his time and energy to help. If I needed to get some documents counter-signed in a hurry to bring in a new player I knew I could go round to Rod’s. Either at his business or at home he would be waiting with the offer of a cup of tea and usually with the question: “you had a look today?” This meant have you got any decent racing tips? Once we’d established that no as usual I hadn’t, Rod would enter into a discussion about events at the club, always with his own unique take on it. He was very shrewd and although it’s very easy in football to get carried away and let one’s enthusiasm take over, Rod always knew who was doing what and whether it was the right thing for the club. He was not often wrong.
My abiding memories of Rod are the laughs we had on away trips in the non-league days, particularly the FA Trophy run of 1997-98, and of frantically trying to get to grips with life in the Football League at a club run in those days by volunteers and part-timers. Yet despite all his commitment to the club and the enjoyment it brought, Rod was a great family man and always put his wife Terry, three sons and several grandchildren first, even though we can fully appreciate that it may not have seemed like it at the time!
As a club we all shared in some of the best experiences this great game of ours can give and Rod was right there in the middle of it, fag in one hand and a copy of the Racing Post in the other, and with a generosity of spirit that was infectious on everyone he came into contact with. While those of us that remain strive to re-create the glory times we all know we’ll never find another Rod Burge. They don’t make them like him anymore.