Dave Palmer has been a feature of Action Indoor Sports for 23 years as an unofficial cleaner and super sub. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Meet Dave – Nelson’s best super sub

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He might be 71-years-old, missing a spleen, have a bad heart, a wonky shoulder, a problematic hernia and breathing problems but there can be little doubt that Dave Palmer is the super sub to end all super subs.

For 23 years Dave has been the man to call on if you are down a player – whether it be netball, cricket or soccer – Dave will be up for it.

“I’ve had that many injuries and still come back for more. I’m a hard man to put down sometimes.”

It was 1994 when he first wandered into Action Indoor Sports, which was then located on Pascoe St in Tahunanui. Back then he was a resident at Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital and discovered that the outdoor area at the sports complex was less than ideal.

“There were cigarette butts everywhere. So then I offered to clean it up.”

Which he did. Then he kept coming back. He started tidying up around the place, emptying the rubbish and cleaning the balls. Then he started playing.

“To be honest, I think the sports that he follows have kept him alive,” says Vicki Collis, who manages Action Indoor Sports and has known Dave since the start.

“He just loves it.”

Most days Dave will visit Vicki and take her dog for a walk or do a bit of gardening.

“I don’t like standing still,” Dave says. “I get bored.”

Then he will come into the complex, now housed in Richmond, and wait for the evening games to start. Often a team will have been let down by a player leaving them stranded and at risk of forfeiting. Never fear, Dave will put his hand up.

“Just two weeks ago I was watching as he was standing out there in the soccer goal,” says Vicki. “I thought ‘oh my gosh, why are we letting this 71-year-old get bashed around’. But he stands his ground.”

Two years ago Dave was competing in 10 pin bowling for the Masters Games and suffered some sort of heart problem. Most people would have headed straight to hospital. But Dave refused to leave until he had finished his game.

It took him three hours extra but he got there.

“I don’t quit that easy,” he says. “I’m a fighter and I keep going.”

He is originally from Christchurch but spent much of his life in Australia before moving to Nelson. All that time though, he has been a sports fan. He has also competed in the New Zealand Special Olympics.

“I love sport. Everybody has got something they want to do full time. I haven’t got Sky Sport because it costs too much money, but cricket and soccer are my thing.”

Dave also coaches some indoor soccer teams though sometimes he says it’s like “talking to a brick wall” because out of all the teams he says there are only about four people that really know the rules.

“And I know the rules.”

He can also be seen during the summer months doing the scoring for Stoke Nayland Cricket Club.

Dave lives in an assisted living facility with three others and, despite being given a less than optimistic prognosis by doctors, he is still keen to keep playing.

“I’ve been trying to take it easy. If I rush that’s when the trouble starts.”

He says it still annoys him when the sports complex gets a bit messy, but with Dave on the job it is not likely to stay that way for long.