Jeff Coulshed was the undisputed godfather of Waikato women’s football and part of the very fabric of the wider game there for over five decades.
Coulshed died on July 4, but leaves a legacy of major achievement as both a men’s and women’s coach, while his memory will also endure as one of the code’s most colourful characters.
Jeff was a likeable rogue, completely untroubled by protocol or etiquette once you put a microphone in his hand. Think Arthur-Daley-meets-Terry-Venables-meets-Bernard Manning.
Jeff had been a player of some note in the 1960s, and then turned his hand to coaching in 1979, steering Hamilton AFC to arguably their finest northern league title – just pipping Bert Ormond’s very tidy Mt Roskill on goal difference – and back into the national league.
That was a huge achievement in his debut coaching season, picking up a club in relative chaos after the horrors of 1978. Hamilton had been relegated from the national league and had axed previous coach Kevin Fallon, who had earlier sacked a couple of the club’s best players in Alf Stamp and Alex Young.
But for Jeff it was only the entree.
In the late 1980s he became the pivotal figure behind the rise of women’s football in the Waikato as representative selector-coach. He put Waikato on the women’s map for the first time, winning back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989, a previously unthinkable proposition given the powerhouses that were Auckland and Wellington.
In August 1994 Coulshed was named interim SWANZ (an unofficial acronym bestowed on the national team that loosely stood for Women’s Soccer Association of New Zealand) coach in for the Jayalalitha Cup in Madras, having previously taken New Zealand age-group women’s teams.
Domestically, from the 90s onwards he popped up at Wanderers Sports Club and more notably had several spells at Ngaruawahia United, where he was much loved, and took The Green Machine to the Chatham Cup semis in 1998.
But more than the coaching credentials – much more than that – Jeff was a larger than life personality with a keen sense of the ridiculous, and a cheerfully sardonic outlook leavened only by regular offerings of sage wisdom.
And he had that ever-so-distinctive Coulshed chuckle – A-hyuh hyuh hyuh – which was a footballing treasure all of its own.
Back in the days when Waikato football still ran Personality of the Year awards, Jeff was a three-time winner, and probably could have collected it in any given year without eyebrows being raised. Mind you, former Waikato Football Association president Bill Thomas was always rightfully alarmed at the prospect of handing a microphone to Coulshed at any time. A-hyuh hyuh hyuh.
Jeff’s after-match speeches could take listeners on a roller-coaster of laughter, nodding agreement, or pure outrage, and there was no more entertaining football raconteur around the manor with whom to have a pint and swap lies. A-hyuh hyuh hyuh.
Back in the 80s and 90s there was quite a culture of clever, feisty aftermatch speeches, and in a pre-social media era Waikato football fans would cram into clubrooms to be treated to the likes of Roger Wilkinson, Steve Williams, John McDermid, Tony Wilkinson doing a turn on the mic with very funny or provocative post-match material. But Coulshed. Well, he never knew where the edge was until he stepped off it.
Jeff performed one of his more memorable music-hall gags circa 1996 at Ngaruawahia in a post-match speech, when he recounted on-pitch banter with a referee from his own playing days.
“I asked the ref what he would do if I called him a twat,” Coulshed said.
“He said he would send me off for foul and abusive language.
“So I asked him” ‘What if I only THINK you’re a twat?’
“The ref said the laws of the game didn’t allow him to send anyone off for simply thinking something.
“Right, well then I think you’re a twat.”
With a comedian’s sense of timing, when the laughter subsided, Jeff added the kicker.
“Bloody ref sent me off. A-hyuh hyuh hyuh.”Later, in June 1998, Oratia were far less than amused when Coulshed did another one of his turns at the aftermatch at Parrs Park. (“Unfunny,” they complained, which in Jeff’s eyes was probably the most damning thing you could say.)
Oratia made the mistake of naming Brad Harden as player of the day in advance of Coulshed being offered the microphone. Despite his team having won 3-1, Jeff gave a brutal impromptu critique of Harden’s performance, and then progressed to merrily sully the reputations of several people who had been on the sideline, with a number of tasty expletives tossed in.
He was duly fined $200 by the Northern Provincial Council, to which he offered a vintage Coulshed response: “Billy Connolly gets paid millions for that sort of material – I get bloody fined.”
Of course Jeff could get away with some of this latter-day patter because he had a decent reservoir of football credentials in the bank by then from his earlier exploits.
Jeff, a striker (and a panelbeater) first played for Hamilton AFC in 1964, the club’s debut season after taking over from Technical Old Boys. Immediately he was also selected as a Waikato representative and played in every one of Waikato’s games that year.
But it was only by chance that Hamilton came to be his club after he had emigrated from his beloved Skelmersdale in west Lancashire in his early 20s. (If there was anything Jeff was prouder of than having his name spelled with a “J” rather than a “G”, it was hailing from Skem, and I’m picking there is nobody reading this far down his obituary who hasn’t heard Jeff’s apocryphal tales of Skelmersdale United.)
Back in 1991 Jeff explained to me how he became such a Hamilton diehard.
“I’d left England when I had a very bad ankle injury and I was told I would never play again – indeed, some people would claim that I haven’t either – but I was passing through Hamilton and got asked to play.
“I’d called for a jug at the Riverina (long-since demolished Hamilton East pub). Harold Robinson (deceased Hamilton AFC life member) heard my accent and asked if I played football. There were lots of good players wandering around, not playing, in those days, so it was an obvious question.
“I said I did, and went down and played with the likes of Arthur Leong, found my ankle was okay, and stayed.
“Because Harold got me playing football again, I vowed I would never play for any other club in New Zealand, and never have done – apart from going on loan to Waikato Unicol Over 30s for a Fijian tournament in 1989. I don’t mind going on loan.”
In an on-again, off-again playing career in which he retired three times, Coulshed also had spells at Hakoah (Sydney City) in Australia.
He is arguably best remembered as a player for scoring the late winner in Hamilton’s thrilling 3-2 home win against a strong North Shore team in the Chatham Cup in 1975.
“Oh no, not Coulshed,” they groaned in unison in the grandstand when Coulshed was subbed on in the 88th minute. But with his very first touch he lobbed a header in a gentle parabolic arc over the keeper and into the net. How they cheered then.
However for Coulshed that milestone was also something of a millstone.
“Everyone remembers that one, but people don’t seem to realise I scored a lot of good goals before and after.”
Jeff saw taking the coaching reins at Hamilton in 1979 as a golden opportunity when other potential contenders were happier to dive for cover.
“I was very fortunate – I started my coaching career at the top level. There were coaches who saw the jump as too much, but you don’t turn things like that down.
“I hadn’t wanted to go into coaching, I was still playing at the time. The job was open for Ray Veall (Gisborne) but he couldn’t get over to Hamilton.”
Coulshed was not only instantly successful but proved to be a breed apart from the archetypical coach of the era, preferring to watch from the grandstand at Muir Park rather than the dugout.
“I preferred elevation. You can see so much more from the stand.”
Coulshed, a pullover-and-jeans guy, was also derisory of the 70s coaching garb.
“The uniform for coaches of the day was a long leather coat. As soon as you became a senior coach you got one of those trenchcoats. The more senior you were as a coach, the longer your coat was.”
Having made it as a senior – if coatless – coach, Coulshed then found women’s football to be a lifesaver.
“It meant I was able to coach at senior level and still play. If I wanted to coach the same level in men’s football, I couldn’t play.”
Jeff was first introduced to female football in 1975 when Hamilton AFC decided to have a women’s team, comprised of the wives of all the men’s players.
“Even May Parker (wife of the rather senior Arthur Parker) played. There was no league. I was nominated by the wives to do it, and I ran it on friendlies.”
One of the great vignettes of Jeff’s foray into women’s coaching was his decision one Sunday to play a game against the young trees planted at Innes Common, as a novel exercise in teaching the girls to get their heads up.
If nothing else, it produced another classic Coulshed-ism.
“The trees won 4-0,” Jeff reported.But by the time of the 1988 National Women’s Tournament in Invercargill, Coulshed previewed the event by saying he was taking the best-ever Waikato team south, and wanted to win the tournament.
He could point to a squad where half had already attended 5-6 national tournaments, but were still in their prime. The Waikato squad included the likes of Ali Grant, Lesley Letcher, skipper Anne Smith, Joy Howland, Jo Fisher, Jo Bradley, Jane Simpson, Cheryl Carter, and Michelle Rayner.
“If any team can do it, this one can” Coulshed boldly predicted before the tournament, and he was right. Waikato topped their group – ahead of defending champs Auckland on goal difference – beat Canterbury 1-0 in the semis through an Ali Grant free kick, then rolled Auckland 5-4 on pens in the final.
In the 12 years the tournament had existed, until then only Auckland or Wellington had won it.
But Coulshed and his team took even more satisfaction from defending their national title the following year in Napier.
They beat Auckland 1-0 in the final and for the second successive year did not concede a goal from open play (only in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout win against Wellington in the semis). After the final there was a further unofficial tribute to Coulshed’s work when he had the satisfaction of seeing a record six Waikato players make the New Zealand training squad in Lesley Letcher, Ali Grant, Jo Bradley, Jane Simpson, Rhonda-Lee Traill and Joy Howland.
Jeff was always a student of the game, and a keen observer of trends. When he returned to coaching at northern league level with Ngaruawahia in 1995 (after a 12-year absence) he remarked about the lack of knowledge of the game among players.
“I think players have been used too much to get results from week-to-week and not had any long-term education in what the game is all about,” he said. “I’m spending most of my time explaining principles of play to the lads”.
In the wake of his death, reminders of many of those simple Coulshed principles are starting to pop up on social media. (“Striaght ball – angled run. Angled run – straight ball.”)
I caught an example of this first hand once, at a casual evening kick-about in the early 90s down at Kahikatea Park. Coulshed – in no official coaching capacity at the time – insisted that play stop so he could make a coaching point to an inexperienced fullback.
Coulshed chastised the lad for making an overlapping run and insisted he needed to understand a fullback should never overlap forward of a midfielder in possession of the ball until that player had got at least half a turn on – otherwise all it did was effectively limit a passing option. Then we were allowed to continue playing.
Vintage Coulshed. Even when he wasn’t coaching he was coaching.
Coulshed’s teams tended to be very tight defensively. The 1979 Hamilton team conceded just four goals in their league title run, the least ever. His 1988 and 1989 women’s teams conceded none.
Time for another keen Coulshed coaching point.
“Good football is not necessarily attacking football. Good football is playing to your strengths, and that might simply mean defending intelligently when you are out of possession of the ball for long spells.”
Jeff also served as a board member of Waikato United in the early 90s, though with due respect, administration was not his forte.
But one of his nuggets, in explaining why he hadn’t sold his raffle tickets one month, always stuck with me.
“You need two types of people on committees – workers and thinkers” Jeff pontificated. “I’m more of a thinker.”
Blog readers may have more personal and vivid memories of Jeff to share, and it’s a shame it was his wish not to have a public funeral.
But I’ll wrap up by saying his contribution to women’s football in the Waikato is without peer, while he has also had a profound influence on the men’s game since 1964.
He will be missed.
[Cordwainer Bull is a former Waikato United programme columnist. His hobbies include writing about old footballers. His favourite player was Jeff Coulshed.]
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A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.