The Club’s Origins

Tracing the earliest origins of this Club is not simple. It’s not as if it goes back to the 19th century or anything like that. It’s just that members who were around at the time (and who are fortunate enough to be still around today) can’t seem to agree on the genesis of what later became the Gandia Area Social Club (International)… memories, like ancient photographs, having faded with time; but each person consulted claims to recall events (but never dates, alas!) with total clarity. So this is an attempt by a very new member (three years or so) to re-construct for posterity the beginnings of this worthy society before the collective memory, however confused, is lost for all time.

Early Days

As long ago as the early or middle 1980s, when the British population of the area was still miniscule, a number of British residents were, according to one source, meeting regularly on Tuesday evenings at a venue called Clavo de Oro in Daimus Playa, to play whist and swap war stories about the perils and pleasures of living in this part of Spain. Whether this group had any direct lineage to the present club is still unclear. What seems certain is that as the Brit population began to grow, people started getting together on a regular basis – as compatriots in a foreign land will always do – to enjoy each others’ company and exchange information, experiences and whinges, all of which is what ‘socializing’ comes down to in the end, isn’t it!

It seems there were several of these pioneering informal groups meeting at various and frequently changing locations. Possibly the first to settle on a fixed abode convened weekly at an Italian restaurant called Bambalini (or similar) in Gandia Grau. (The restaurant is still there, but differently named.) Around 1986 or 1987, the group held a meeting there and resolved to set up a more formally constituted club based at that restaurant. The prime mover in the efforts to put things on a more formal footing under Spanish law was a man named Michael Allen, a colourful character by all accounts, of Polish (some say Russian) origin who, in or after World War II, had risen to Sergeant Major status in the British army (before being demoted to Sergeant). Unfortunately, when approached with the idea the restaurant management wouldn’t or couldn’t go along with it, for reasons now obscure.

El Plat Restaurant: The First Home

So another venue was sought. It was in 1987 or 1988 that the embryonic club settled at El Plat Restaurant at 48, Carrer Sant Pere, Gandia, the side street with the big lamparia on the corner, opposite the main hospital. (Some sources recall the restaurant name being El Bankette, but whether this was the same place is uncertain.) The restaurant is no longer there, but the old timers say it faced the Parc Sant Pere where, incidentally, the Club´s original petanca meetings took place.

Michael Allen is acknowledged by all those members who go back to those early days as the founder and first President of the Club. The first membership list, dated 15 June 1988, names 34 members, with Michael as President. The Club evidently grew swiftly in popularity because by the time of the second list on 15 Feb 1989, the membership had swelled to 62.

Legal Status

Meanwhile, efforts to register the Club fully under the Spanish statutes continued and on 29 May 1989 it received full legal certification from the Interior Ministry of the Valencian Community Government. This has to be the Club’s official birthday!

The Second Home: Restaurant Royale

As membership grew, El Plat became too constricted and a new location was found just a couple of streets away. Known first as Imperio (or Imperial) and later as Royale, this venue became the Club’s home for something like eight years. It was ideal, with a well appointed and roomy bar leading on to a dining and dancing room with a small stage at the far end. The first meeting there was on 11 Aug 89. (The restaurant is still there to this day, at no. 30 Calle Ciudad Barcelona. It was re-styled Salon Natalie for a few years but has more recently been transformed into a leisure facility for senior citizens by the town council.)

Meanwhile, weekly country walks had been added to the Club´s outside activities.

Membership stood at 75 at the time of the AGM on 6 February 90. But trouble was brewing. Then, as now, any organization of three or more people sooner or later gets politics.   To judge from the records and correspondence of that time, Michael Allen was something of an autocrat. The files are littered with ancient correspondence in which he chides members and Committee members for minor breeches of form. He continually refers to “my Club” and “my Committee. At the time of the First Gulf War, events in the Middle East seemed to bring out the worst side of the Sergeant Major persona in Michael Allen. There was a period of what seems to have been quite fierce in-fighting culminating in mass resignations from the Committee. An extraordinary general meeting was held on 5 November 1991 (firework night!) at which the membership tabled a vote of no confidence in the President and recommended his expulsion from the Executive for offences (unspecified) committed in the exercise of office. And that seems to have been the last of Michael Allen.

The Nineties

At the next AGM in early 1992, Hilda Butcher was elected President.   The membership seemed to hover around the 60 to 80 mark for the next few years. Unfortunately, Hilda suffered a stroke in September 1996 and returned to the UK for treatment. Gerald Pogson, as Vice-President, took over and was elected President on 27 January 1997 after it became clear that Hilda would not be able to return. Gerald made it clear from the start that he would step down after a year and in January 1998 Sylvia Vanner was elected President.

Move to La Garrota

At that point the membership was 88 and growing. Unfortunately, Gandia traffic was also on a steep upward curve at the time and parking in the streets around the Club´s home venue started to become a major headache.

The Committee began to search the Gandia area for a more convenient location for its regular Thursday dinner meetings. Several restaurants were tried as the Club became ‘of no fixed abode’ for a time and in August 1998 Sylvia and Jim Vanner found La Garrota in Miramar village. This was to be the Club’s home for the next seven years. At the time of the move the membership stood at over 90, and the 100 mark was reached for the first time in November 1999. The following few years saw the numbers grow dramatically as the scale of immigration into the area from northern Europe and elsewhere rocketed.

Membership peaked at above 300 in 2003, when Sylvia Vanner stepped down and David Fletcher was elected President. Late in the same year, the Spanish family-operated business passed to British stewardship in the shape of George and Ray Geddes of Inverness. The change made little immediate difference to the operation of the Club

In July 2004, however, a dispute with the management of La Garrota culminated in the President leaving the Club. Vice-president Jeff Venton stood in until he was formally elected President at the next AGM in January 2005. Jeff´s election was in the nature of a compassionate gesture on the part of the Committee and membership for he was terminally ill and in the event died three months later. David Kitching was elected President at a general meeting in July 2005.

The last Club dinner night at La Garrota was on 3rd November 2005. George and Ray had decided not to renew their rental arrangement with the Spanish owners and the latter were no longer interested in running it as a business. In terms of its location and, facilities, La Garrota was a near-perfect HQ for the Club. But the kitchen equipment was obsolete and the quality of the meals had become a long-running source of complaint. (Unsurprisingly, the owners cashed in on the then property boom. The restaurant was demolished and the site quickly sprouted a six-storey apartment block.)

For the next four months the Club was once again of no fixed abode as several alternative venues were tried. It was great fun, and attendances soared. Finally, at a rowdy EGM held at Oliva Tennis Club in early March 2006, the membership overwhelmingly voted for Restaurante Viva España to be the Club´s permanent venue.

The Club´s petanca players continue to meet twice weekly and the Wednesday walkers now sally forth in two different guises called Ramblers and Strollers. A third group, the self-styled Toughies, meets on Saturdays for more challenging hikes. Coach excursions, theatre visits and walking weekends are now routine features of the Club´s annual programme and in recent years more adventurous trips including a Mediterranean cruise have been organized.