Former Swindon Advertiser sports writer Dave Eaton, who reported on the town’s football, speedway and ice hockey teams for the paper for more than 25 years, has died at the age of 77.

A hugely well-known character throughout the town and beyond, for those who worked alongside him on the sports desk over the years, the ‘Bald Eagle’ wasn’t just seemingly omnipresent, but part of the very fabric of the Adver.

It’s a mark of his standing at the paper that - as was often remarked - you most certainly knew when Dave was in the office, but were equally aware that it wasn’t quite the same place when he wasn’t.

In so many ways, he was a public face of the local paper and especially its sports coverage. Writers came and went, editors changed, so did managing directors. But there throughout it all was Dave, as much a fixture within Swindon sport as the Magic Roundabout is within the town itself.

When at the County Ground to see Town, up at the Abbey Stadium to watch the Robins, or in the Link Centre for the Wildcats, you could be almost certain of being stopped and asked: ‘how’s Dave?’ or ‘send my regards to the Bald Eagle’.

He was never far from the conversation.

For colleagues, he was a go-to for a bit of background knowledge, a long-lost fact or a quick anecdote - of which he always had plenty.

His contacts book took on the almost mythical status of a historical document. If you needed a number, Dave would have it – or he would know someone who would.

The second half of his career at the Adver especially coincided with hugely tumultuous times at Swindon Town, the club climbing from the depths of the Football League to the Premier League – and back again in the 80s and 90s – as well as near-bankruptcy, a hint of scandal, repeated financial strife and more.

Throughout it all, Dave was a reassuring touchpoint with the club’s past – despite being often left non-plussed by some of the excesses of modern football - reeling off tales of his interactions with the ‘simpler times’ - the club’s past, the characters, players and in particular managers, of whom Lou Macari was and always remained a firm favourite of his.

It was the same at the ice hockey. The Wildcats became the Ice Lords, the Chill, Phoenix and Lynx, before returning to their original name. There for it all was Dave, faithfully reporting on the ups and downs and the comings and goings at the Link Centre with authority over more than 20 years.

Yet in many ways it was the Abbey Stadium and indeed the wider speedway world where he came into his own. When the Robins were at home, it was easy to find him, usually sat with his Swindon Speedway ‘partners in crime’, Bob Radford and Ron Byford, at a window seat in the bar, chewing the fat, filling in their scorecards, preparing their copy.

For a fresh-faced sports writer, struggling to get one’s head around some of the intricacies and idiosyncratic traits of an occasionally-baffling sport, entry into such a world could seem intimidating. An evening or two in the company of Dave, with his attention to detail, generosity of time and plethora of knowledge put you more at ease.

Swindon Advertiser:

What he didn’t know about the sport was, in all likelihood, not worth knowing. He knew the characters – and they knew him.

Among many other sports, the likes of darts and bowls were also given his full attention, with Dave’s detailed and affectionate reporting on their fortunes ensuring those involved were not merely names on a page but sporting characters you went on a journey with.

His love of the latter – as a player as well as reporter – saw him continue to contribute reports to the Advertiser and its sister papers well beyond his retirement.

Often left non-plussed by the differing demands of the Adver’s website output, his bowls reports in particular were almost works of art – admittedly causing the occasional headache for the sub-editor assigned the task of not only ‘trimming’ them to more manageable proportions, but also diplomatically explaining to the writer why this or that section had needed to be removed.

The emerging world of social media also left him largely cold – “I’m not bothering with that Twitter rubbish’’ being a frequently-heard Eaton refrain as he closed in on his well-earned retirement in 2007.

A forensic proof-reader, very little appeared within the sports pages that hadn’t passed the ‘Eagle’ eye of approval. You knew you had to be on your toes when it came to punctuation and grammar - or face the dreaded red-penned circle questioning it.

As teammates came and went on the sports desk, he was a mainstay, a totemic and often - by his own admission - irascible presence, be it shaking his head in disbelief at some of the antics of his younger contemporaries, passing comment on an issue of the day, or offering his insight and input.

Swindon Advertiser:

Dave Eaton with the Adver's former Swindon Town reporter Jon Ritson

Sometimes infuriated, occasionally infuriating, but never anything less than a gigantic Adver presence.

Upon hearing the sad news of his passing, a former colleague remarked that he was an icon of Swindon sport.

It’s not too big a statement.

Dave leaves a wife of 51 years, Christine and children, Sarah, Michael and Janice, sons-in-law Lee and Andy, daughter-in-law Clare and eight grandchildren, Rebecca, Oliver, James,  Finlay, Max, Jessica, Amelie and Isabel.