Geoff’s a national squash star at 75
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.