“He was my idol, my hero and my mate…and he would have had Vinnie Jones for breakfast!”

Andy Gater has paid a moving and humorous tribute to his father Roy Gater, the former Cherries defender who died on Monday, aged 76.

Roy, who had been battling Alzheimer's for 17 years, made 237 appearances for the club between 1962 and 1969.

He also served Port Vale and Crewe Alexandra, playing more than 400 games in a professional career spanning 12 years.

A tough-tackling centre-half, Roy also turned out for Weymouth and Dorchester before managing locally at Christchurch and Poppies and assisting at Poole Town.

Son Andy, who played under his dad at Christchurch, said: “He was so well liked and such a big character.

"He was always smiling and even the day before he died, he was still trying to smile. I was so close to him. I idolised him and he was my hero.

“We used to fall out all the time when I played for him but it never came home. As he had been a professional, he wanted me to be as good as I could.

“I got sent off once because I was having a big argument with him. We had some right ding-dongs. When I look at it now, I was a stroppy teenager and he was always right in my eyes.

“Before the Alzheimer’s really took a hold, we used to go everywhere together. He would always come to watch me. I know he was a proud dad but he didn’t show it. That was the type of guy he was.

“He was a gentleman and would do anything for anybody.

“I was only two when he finished his pro career. I have heard all the stories about him being as hard as nails and nobody messing with him. I can’t imagine him being like that because he was my dad.

“One of my mates was having treatment with the old Cherries trainer John Kirk and they were talking about Vinnie Jones. He had just started playing and was seen as the big hard man.

“John Kirk said to my mate ‘if there was one bloke who would have sorted out Vinnie Jones it was Roy Gater – he would have had him for breakfast!

“He was a man of few words but he would kick his granny if he could. But he was the type of guy who would kick you and then help you up!”

Signed by Bill McGarry, Roy also played under Reg Flewin and Freddie Cox at Dean Court. Left-back David Stocks played alongside him for three years between 1966 and 1969.

He said: “Roy was a great mate and I would like to send my condolences to the family.

“He quite liked a tackle, let’s put it that way! He was not one to mess with. He was a typical Northern nice guy and very friendly. Once he crossed the white line, he turned into something a little different.

“I had a reputation for being keen on a tackle and he didn’t mess about in training either. He used to kick me up and down. It didn’t have to be a match for him to make a tackle or two.

“Deep down, he could play but he expanded his ability be being a fairly tough guy who you wouldn’t want to mess with.

“Off the pitch, he was a lovely guy and a very good cricketer as well. He had a great sense of humour, he was very sociable and down to earth.”

A painter and decorator with Furneaux Builders in Bournemouth until he retired in 2001, Roy is survived by his wife Carol, sons Andy and Matt and his 13-year-old granddaughter Molly.

His funeral will take place at Bournemouth Crematorium a week today, Thursday, May 11 (1pm). Family flowers only. Donations, if desired, for Alzheimer's Society may be made online at roy.gater.muchloved.com. 

The family wished to thank the staff at Royal Bournemouth Hospital.