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Gordon Thompson a rougher, tougher Nadal

FOOTBALL by John Gillies

RAFAEL Nadal stood on one side of the court, Roger Federer on the other, and the umpire sat in his chair, raised above the tumult.

Gordon Thompson was Nadal . . . a rougher, tougher, Geordie type of Nadal.

Dad (Iain Gillies) was Federer . . . a rougher, tougher, Highland type of Federer.

I didn’t really have a chair.

It was the Chalmers Road Head Tennis Championship, and four decades on, the details are hazy.

First to 21 was the winner. Serving was by header from the back of the court. You could meet the ball on the full, or let it bounce, but once touched it mustn’t bounce again before you got it over the net.

The court was the strip of grass in our backyard between the house and the golf course. The net was a badminton net strung between two head-high waratahs.

Gordon shouldn’t have had a chance. He was a former rugby league professional; Dad was a former football pro.

But where head tennis was concerned, Dad was an artist compelled to control the ball before returning it.

Gordon was not.

Dad would serve; Gordon would rush the net and head it back on the full. Dad would scramble, control the ball, juggle it and set up the return. Gordon would retreat and wait. Back it would come, and back it would go with no frills. And so it went on, passionate artist against enthusiastic amateur.

All that was needed to tip the scales was a questionable call or two from an umpire trying too hard to be fair.

And as Gordon, gleaming with victory, skirted the neighbour’s yard to his house two doors along, I could tell Dad was not best pleased with the standard of umpiring. Fair do’s, though . . . he never said a word. Not this time.

I hope Dad enjoys reading that little walk down head tennis lane, because I’m in trouble if he doesn’t.

Bold, big-hearted and blessed with a generosity of spirit that disappeared on the head tennis courtIt’s my favourite memory of Gordon Thompson, who died in Auckland on Sunday after a long illness. Rough round the edges he might be; he was also bold, big-hearted and blessed with a generosity of spirit that disappeared on the head tennis court.

Gordon and his wife Ann came to New Zealand from the north-east of England in the early 1970s with their son Paul and daughter Karen, and in Gisborne another son, Gordon Jon, was born.

Gordon was a panelbeater but became an insurance assessor after inner-ear problems affected his balance.

He took an active interest in the formation of a rugby league competition in Gisborne in the mid-1970s, and contributed to The Gisborne Herald’s coverage of games.

All three of his children became journalists and two of them, Paul (now Radio New Zealand chief executive) and Karen, got their start with The Herald.

Gordon’s children all played football, and the boys played for Gisborne City’s first team, but Gordon’s club was Marist.

He was prepared to fill in on the field, work in the background, or pick up the referee’s whistle or a linesman’s flag when volunteers were scarce.

Gordon was also a keen fisherman, but his chief loves were his wife of 55 years, Ann, his three children and his six grandchildren.

On the local football scene, most attention will be focused on the Federation Cup final between Heavy Equipment Services Gisborne United and Massey University at Harry Barker Reserve at 2pm.

That match will be previewed in The Herald tomorrow.

On Childers Road Reserve No.1 at midday will be a match that could be the winning and losing of the Gisborne Championship Division 1 title.

Carpet Court Thistle Massive will play Heavy Equipment Services United’s top local-league team.

The Championship was split into divisions 1 and 2 midway through the season and the points were started again.

Thistle Massive lead the six-team Division 1 competition on goal difference from United. Both teams have had five wins and a draw, for 16 points each, and have four games to go to complete two rounds.

Thistle have scored 40 and conceded six for a goal difference of 34. United have scored 35 and conceded eight for a goal difference of 27.

The next closest teams, Lytton High School and Coates Associates Wainui Demons, are 10 points back on six.

Gisborne Boys’ High School and Sunshine Brewery Wainui Sharks fill the bottom two places, on four points each, but Boys’ High had a good 4-1 win against the Demons last weekend.

The students take on the Sharks at Wainui on Saturday, and would climb at least one place if they won.

In Division 2, Thistle Vintage would have to thrash ShipWreck Bohemians to overtake them at the top of the table.

In the Conference, ITM Thistle would clinch the title with a win or even a draw against Smash Palace Shockers.

Gordon Thompson was a former rugby league professional.