Guile n. Shrewd or cunning intelligence; crafty or artful deception:
‘he used all his guile and guts to achieve his goals’
Stephen Gove was born in Hillside, Montrose, Scotland, on November 6 1959. He died last Sunday, June 7, aged 55, after a short battle with bowel cancer. Between those two dates he packed more football into his life than most would think possible. He played professionally for Brechin City, currently in Scottish League 1; Cove Rangers, currently in the Highland League, the tier below Scottish League 2; and for various other Scottish clubs until he emigrated to New Zealand with his family in 2000, aged 39. Then, to the fullest extent possible for the next 15 years, for East Coast Bays, Hibiscus Coast, Albany and Warkworth, he defied his years to make both a coaching and playing contribution to New Zealand club football that matched or surpassed many of those less than half his age.
I watched Steve play several times. The first occasion happened to be the first game of Northern Division 2 football that I ever attended. He was playing for Warkworth against Onehunga Mangere up on Mangere Mountain – the most beautiful football venue in Auckland, aside perhaps from Steve’s beloved Stanmore Bay.
I didn’t know anything then, and I certainly had no idea who any of the players were, but I vividly remember that it was Steve who really stood out to me amongst the 22 players on the pitch at any one time.
At first it was the grey hair and the fact that he was clearly the oldest player by some margin. Then it was his obvious class as a forward. But after that it was the real take home message that, as I have come to appreciate over the past few days while researching this post, many who knew ‘Govey’ seem to share an understanding of – his obvious leadership, passion, and fatherly qualities on and off the pitch. I thought, wow, that guy is almost old enough to be my father and here he is not just mixing it with the best of them, and not just in many instances thoroughly outclassing them, but also teaching them a little something about it in the process.
Craig Daly, who played with Steve at Hibiscus Coast, put it best when he told me:
“Some players let you know they can school other players, not Govey. He let his boots do the talking but you always learned something from him.”
At his first New Zealand Club, East Coast Bays, he scored a truckload of goals in the space of just three seasons as it quickly became apparent to all who played with or against him that, although he was in his late 30’s and early 40’s, he still knew where the back of the net was. Even in 2001, a season when East Coast Bays were relegated from the Premier Division with just four wins to their name, Steve still reached double figures while the rest of the team found goals nearly impossible to come by. But the following year in Division 1, under a new coach, Steve didn’t start as many games as he would have liked and so it was time to move on.
It was Hibiscus Coast where he found himself next, as player/coach, and he of course immediately became their leading goal scorer. Tony Parsonage, at Steve’s instigation, became Govey’s co-coach with the first team after a period of time and he is quick to point out that Govey was generally good cop to his bad cop:
“He was the quiet one, I was the vocal one. I remember one day when we were away at Takapuna and losing at half time. I went in ranting and raving and said ‘I’ve got to step out or I’ll explode!’ After I left he just said to the players ‘I don’t need to say anything, do I?’ We went on and won. That was him. Just those few words and the way he said them was motivation enough.”
Towards the end of his time at Coast, the club didn’t think the coaching team were playing enough youngsters. When asked why they were playing a guy in his late 40s up front, Tony’s response was to tell Govey to point any naysayers in his direction so he could ask them who they thought was better. In his mind, and in that of many others, there was nobody else better.
After Hibiscus Coast, came his player/coaching stints at Albany and then at Warkworth, where he helped the latter club into 7th place in Division 2 in 2012 – the highest Northern League finish they have ever managed. And as a small club with scarce resources, they particularly appreciated the fact that, at a time when top coaches are often looking for large payments from their clubs, Steve generously worked over several years taking nothing for himself.
There was a brief stint back at East Coast Bays recently as an assistant to Willy Gerdsen but, even at 54, Steve wanted to play. He quit his glamorous (by New Zealand coaching standards!) Northern Premier League coaching role after just a few weeks, preferring instead to join ‘Archies Army’, an over 35 side, and also turn out for ‘Brownsons All Stars’, a team of former international and representative players who have the odd Sunday game against similar opposition.
Then it was back to Warkworth, where he was still playing over 35 football right up until his diagnosis just a few weeks ago. He was keen for a game whenever he could get one. Always checking when his team had a bye to see if other teams were short and whether or not he could get a run!
At over 35 level, unsurprisingly, Steve proved to be a class above most other players and he was a major contributor to his team’s first division league and cup run. They had been going through the season with one penalty taker after another missing and being replaced by another hopeful. That all stopped when it came to Steve’s turn. He never missed once.
He was coaching the Warkworth over 35 side this year. This was yet another example of how he was willing to share his time and knowledge – this time with a very low profile team where he had to travel a considerable distance just to attend training, and yet he appeared to be extremely happy in the role – almost thankful to be asked to do it – even though the club will certainly tell you that they were the ones who were in debt to him.
He will of course be remembered for all of the above, but also for what the Northern Football Federation Facebook page described so eloquently as “Goveyisms” that ranged, in their words, “from his soft Scottish accent, ‘Toren I said, Toren’ (turn), to his frantic gestures ‘Noooooooooooo!!!!!!’ when a questionable decision is made.”
Another common thread is definitely the famous woolly jumper! Many make special mention of the garment that Govey wore to training his whole career, but Warkworth’s Rob Carty had the best yarn:
“Just about everyone at the club has a favourite story regarding Govey’s sweater. A jumper that was twice the age of some of the players he coached. On one occasion an injured Gove came off the bench to stand in goal, jumper and all, during the Over 35s Cup Semi-Final win against Norwest in 2014. Gove and his magic jumper managed to save two penalties, without gloves, in a shoot-out and stepped up, jumper and all, to score the winning penalty….Legend.”
It wasn’t just the jumper that gave him his reputation as quite the fashion icon. He was also noted for having different pieces of kit from the various clubs he played for over the years that never left him short of interesting wardrobe options!
Following his passing there was a lot of shock and grief expressed around the football community in Auckland as tributes flowed online from many who knew him. But amongst the best tributes of all came in the form of Hibiscus Coast’s thrilling 1-0 away win at fellow promotion chasing rivals Tauranga City last weekend, achieved by a team stacked with players who had played both with and under Steve Gove. Coach Craig Daly said:
“It was an incredibly emotional day. I gave a speech that talked about the attributes Govey had and the team showed all those attributes. It’s hard to win down there but, at every moment of the game, they displayed all the character he had. There is no doubt they did it for Govey.
I met him after not playing for 14 years. He asked me to play in a summer soccer team after I hadn’t played any football between the ages of 30-44 and now I’m coaching the first team. He made it possible, he inspired me to do it.
My ‘Goveyism’ is ‘guile’. He used to talk about the young guys getting too excited – ‘It’s composure, it’s composure’. They needed to show guile.”
We used that word a lot, ‘guile’ – it was our word – something he and I shared.”
That day I saw him play on Mangere Mountain, I took the photo below. Standing poised in a beautiful setting, waiting for the ball to come his way with three defenders all to himself… It seems like the best way to end this post.
Govey, I don’t believe that you and I ever met properly, but I’m definitely poorer for it.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.