Cooper calling time on coaching

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After more than 40 years coaching football in various parts of the country and in Australia, Oamaru’s Steve Cooper has decided to call time on his coaching days.
Originally from London, the 66-year-old Cooper played until the age of 41 and from 1976 until the early 1980s acted as a player/coach in several teams.
However, his focus shifted thanks to one of the country’s finest sporting hours _ when the All Whites qualified for football’s showpiece for the first time.
“Originally I coached the teams I played in up until 1982 which was the year New Zealand got to the World Cup. When that happened I was living in Invercargill and every kid wanted to play football, including my son. That’s when I started coaching the juniors,” Cooper said.
“I remember I had too many kids. So many turned up and there’s wasn’t enough coaches. I got Shanghaied into that and never looked back. I loved it.”
As well as Invercargill, Cooper had coaching stints in Hamilton, Whangarei and Australia.
He arrived in North Otago, settling in the Duntroon area, in the early 1990s after a stint in the UK, which naturally included coaching.
Cooper quickly became involved in coaching with the Oamaru Association Football Club, before he played an integral part in the establishment of a club for players outside Oamaru in 1999.
At the time, football was just based in Oamaru,” he said.
“Myself and a couple of others, Shane and Charlene Napier, started the Riverside Football Club to cater for the kids up the (Waitaki) valley. It’s one of the biggest football clubs now.”
In 1998, he coached the North Otago under-12 side, which he would do for three seasons, the Waitaki Girls’ High School side in 2010 and 2011 and the Meadowbank youth team in 2013.
While he has coached for most of his life in New Zealand, Cooper said his proudest moment as a coach came across the ditch.
In 1990, he coached the Broadbeach Dolphins, a Gold Coast-based side, to the International Youth Soccer Classic title.
The tournament featured teams from Australia, the United States, Japan and Germany.
The Dolphins defeated the Los Altos Eagles, from Los Angeles, 6-0 in the final.
Cooper said because of the structure of the tournament, he did not actually realise the team was playing in the final until the referee, just minutes before the game started, told him if his side won by six clear goals they would be crowned winners.
Other highlights included coaching the Riverside Hammers under-14 and under-15 teams to South Canterbury titles in 2001 and 2002, winning the Essex Cup in the UK in 1994 and the 2016 success of Meadowbank’s women’s side.
He also recalled his delight at Ema McGeown being selected for the New Zealand under-16 women’s side.
”That was such as buzz,” Cooper said.
Tragically, she was killed in a car accident in 2015.
While Cooper has seen the best of the sport, he has also seen it at its worst.
“Havering Rovers that I coached in UK in 1990 . . . I had to disband them in the middle of an actual game and refuse to coach them again after they carried out a pre-planned racial attack on the opposition _ who were all Indians _ despite our team consisting of Jamaicans, Syrians, Turkish and Somalis. They
attacked the players, then the referee when he stepped in and then the parents all joined in attacking their supporters. There was even a knife pulled. As you can imagine, getting back to Waitaki Valley very soon after was such a relief.”
He was going to miss the sport he has dedicated most of his life to and believed the sport had gone from strength to strength in recent years.
“I’ll miss the involvement with the kids. I’ll miss seeing kids that can’t play much football end up as part of a team that’s doing well. I think it’s important everyone can give something to the team, no matter how good, bad or indifferent they are.
“I think football is in good hands in North Otago. They’re doing a lot more now towards coaching coaches. A lot of people want to coach . . . People seem to think you have to be a brilliant player to coach, but it’s about getting the best out of the kids.”