Geoff’s a national squash star at 75

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE - GARETH EVANS

ABOLLINGTON squash player is cel­e­brat­ing his sec­ond suc­cess­ful ap­pear­ance in a decade for the Eng­land team in the sport’s Home In­ter­na­tion­als - not long af­ter hav­ing reached the fi­nal of the National Championships.

And in true sto­ry­book fash­ion, Geoff Coe, on his most re­cent in­ter­na­tional out­ing, won the very match that se­cured an over­all win for Eng­land.

So far, so im­pres­sive. But all the more so, given that Geoff turned 75 in Jan­uary!

Make any men­tion of squash in these parts, and it is al­most cer­tain that Geoff’s name will crop up.

Born and bred here, and still liv­ing in Bolling­ton with wife Gill, he has not only been play­ing but also coach­ing adults and ju­niors at the vil­lage’s leisure cen­tre for much of the time since its open­ing 40 years ago.

A good few lead­ing club play­ers in the lo­cal re­gional men’s and women’s leagues, as well as else­where, owe what they have learned to Geoff - al­though, rather in­cred­i­bly, he did not take up the game him­self un­til he was 36.

What fol­lowed for him in sub­se­quent years was an ar­ray of play­ing hon­ours, in­clud­ing Bolling­ton Club Cham­pion for five con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, Cheshire Cham­pion in the over-55 and over-60 classes, and mem­ber­ship of the county team that be­came national cham­pi­ons in 1997. His achieve­ments were fur­ther recog­nised through his se­lec­tion 10 years later to play for Eng­land at over65 level. And he went on to jus­tify this by win­ning both of his matches in the course of the 2007 Home In­ter­na­tion­als.

This year, Geoff, on the strength of his per­for­mance dur­ing Fe­bru­ary’s National Championships in Manch­ester, was Eng­land’s sec­ond-ranked com­peti­tor in the over-75 team that took on, and tri­umphed over, its coun­ter­parts from Wales, Scot­land and North­ern Ire­land on 20 May at the Aberdeen Squash and Rack­et­ball Club.

“It was dis­ap­point­ing to lose in the Championships fi­nal this win­ter,” says Geoff, “es­pe­cially in front of a big crowd, and with friends watch­ing.

“But I sus­tained a calf in­jury af­ter duck­ing down to re­trieve a drop-shot 10 min­utes into the first game, so ba­si­cally couldn’t per­form for the rest of the match.

“It didn’t help that I was up against the world and UK num­ber one, Adrian Wright, ei­ther. I also got in­jured play­ing against him in the over-65s‘ fi­nal, so he is a def­i­nite per­sonal jinx!”

The agony of de­feat at the National Squash Cen­tre was tem­pered, how­ever, by con­fir­ma­tion of Geoff’s se­lec­tion to rep­re­sent his coun­try for a sec­ond time.

“Adrian, as cap­tain, told me I was in af­ter I beat Eng­land’s num­ber three at the semi-fi­nal stage,” he re­calls.

“It was great news to hear, and made the train­ing I had gone through worth all the pain.”

The 2017 Home in­ter­na­tion­als were, as things turned out, not only a collective vic­tory for the Eng­land team but also a per­sonal one for Geoff. He beat an Ir­ish op­po­nent, and then, de­spite be­ing edged out by the odd game in five over a gru­elling 70 min­utes against his Welsh coun­ter­part, bounced back in fine style to see off Scot­land’s topranked player and clinch the tro­phy.

Even if he had en­joyed the use of a crys­tal ball, the young Geoff would have found all of these prospec­tive achieve­ments hard to be­lieve.

He first trained as an en­gi­neer­ing ap­pren­tice and worked as a welder - al­though in­di­rectly had his orig­i­nal pro­fes­sion to thank for a com­plete change of ca­reer, when car­ry­ing out main­te­nance work at the new Bolling­ton Leisure Cen­tre in 1977.

As Geoff likes to put it: “Leisure then be­came the easy op­tion.” He gave up be­ing an en­gi­neer, took up ap­point­ment as a man­ager at the leisure cen­tre and, in his spare time, tried his hand at what was for him a brand new game.

“I had never set foot on a court be­fore then,” he ex­plains, “but my fa­ther played county ta­ble ten­nis for Cheshire, so good hand-eye co-or­di­na­tion was in the genes - and af­ter giv­ing squash a go, I loved it.”

Geoff quickly moved on to take squash coach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and from the 1980s - by which time the cen­tre had four courts - he be­gan to com­bine his own play­ing with train­ing the Bolling­ton women’s team, as well as in­di­vid­ual adults and ju­niors.

The num­ber of ‘ Coe grad­u­ates’ in the game to­day is well into three fig­ures. He coached Mervyn Davis, who was Bolling­ton’s top men’s player for many years. And more re­cently, one of Geoff’s former young pupils, Chris­tian Og­den, now 21, has be­come the club’s trainer-in-chief.

“Chris­tian has taken over coach­ing the ju­nior play­ers - with me as­sist­ing for a cou­ple of hours each week,” beams Geoff, clearly proud that a stu­dent, now fully trained, has be­come like the teacher.

And this flex­i­ble work­ing ar­range­ment suits Geoff just fine - per­mit­ting him to in­dulge in his other great pas­sion, moun­tain bik­ing, with a cir­cle of fel­low off-road en­thu­si­asts.

“There are around 50 of us,” he says, “and we get out in the hills around here, what­ever the weather... al­though there are also a cou­ple of trips to Spain ar­ranged each year, so that we can be sure of rid­ing in some sun­shine!”

In­ter­na­tional squash player, long-serv­ing club coach, in­trepid moun­tain-biker. And with three quar­ters of a cen­tury clocked up, this remarkable man shows no signs of be­ing ready just yet to trade in breath­tak­ing sports for more leisurely pas­times.

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