Tribute to Steve Williams

Melville chairman Bruce Holloway paid tribute to longstanding coach Steve Williams at the club’s 2016 annual awards. The following is a précis of his address to 160 club members.

I want to pay tribute to one of our life members, and arguably the major influence on Melville United in the modern era.

Steve Williams is standing down, having served over 20 seasons as coach (counting a couple of partial seasons.)

Steve captained the old Melville AFC to the Division 3 northern league title in 1991 and then turned his hand to coaching, initially as assistant to Brian Coe. He enjoyed astonishing success, to the extent that he had won the northern premier league by 1995, and by 1996-97, following amalgamation with Waikato United, was coaching in the second season of New Zealand’s first iteration of summer national league.

Steve had most of the 1999 season off, but returned for the last four games of the North Island League and then continued through to the end of 2002. He once again guided Melville back to the premier league in 2007, having taken up the challenge once again in 2006. He won the northern premier league title for the second time in 2009, 14 years after his first success.

Steve again stood aside in 2012, and Melville were relegated.

But he returned in 2013, and once more took Melville back to premier ranks in gaining promotion in 2014.

Steve’s is a proud record of application and achievement, and he has a keen appreciation of the importance of the club as the basic unit of our code.

I first became aware of Steve in the mid-1980s when he was a player at Ngaruawahia, but didn’t pay a lot of attention, given he hung around with a bunch of wide boys, shysters, con men, and alcoholics, as just a lad from Liverpool with a lust for life.

But our paths increasingly crossed when, as a sports journalist in the early 1990s it was often my job to ring him for a post-match comment in his role as Melville coach.

In his early years he was exceptionally earnest and studiously cautious, at pains to make just the right impression in public, often asking for a call back so he could have a good think about what he should say.

Steve Williams coming to the end of his playing days with Melville in 1991

Steve Williams coming to the end of his playing days with Melville circa 1990-1991. Note the state of the Gower No 1 pitch

Sometimes he would say, can you ring me back in half an hour, I just want to have a good think about what will sound right in the paper.

This was the first inkling of a coach who was more serious about his ambitions than most.

However it was still possible to catch him in moments of weakness and generate some exceptionally lively copy, particularly during the mid 1990s, when he would offer up headline nuggets about being hindered by having “a team of party boys who could eat oysters through their nose”, and the frustrations of running a team comprised of “the best-looking barmen in town”.

It made great copy, and for a spell I settled in to becoming Melville’s foremost critic, picking holes in Steve’s every foible.

But over the years I also developed a grudging respect for what Steve was trying to do, his focus on outcomes, and the vision he had, in conjunction with his good mate, Steve Owens.

It was no accident that my own boys duly turned up at Melville as youths, and I later followed as a volunteer administrator.

Over the years I learned three things about Steve.

Firstly, he has the vision thing. He sees things not as they are – but as how they could be.

Secondly, he is a deep thinker about the game, and life in general, and can often relate a football problem to the vicissitudes of life.

And thirdly, if you’re planning to pick a bone with Steve, you need to have your arguments well rehearsed.

It’s because of those qualities that Steve has evolved as one of the key pillars not just of Melville, but of Waikato football, over the past 25 years.

A club looks itself in the mirror when it appoints a coach, and the job is a tough grind.

You put your reputation on the line every week in the northern league or national league, and there are few who fancy it.

Against that backdrop, Steve has shown great resilience as the longest-serving coach in the northern league, and perhaps the only serving coach who is also a life member.

His northern premier league title of 1995 and 2009, stand alongside promotions in 1993, 1994, 2007 and 2014.

Steve has also been the driving force behind the development of Hamilton’s Gower Park as a leading football venue.

He is the foremost anecdotal raconteur in coaching ranks, with his post-match speeches almost an art form.

Combined, it means there are very few people who can match his breadth of significance in the game in the Waikato – as a player, a coach of national league status, an administrator, and, lest we forget, a sponsor.

It’s a curiousity of our football culture that we keep statistics on player appearances, but not those of coaches – given they are at the epicentre of the game in the New Zealand environment.

But tonight that changes, as we honour Steve Williams for 500 games as Melville coach since 1992.

I ask Steve to come forward to receive this special trophy, and for everyone else to charge their glasses in a toast: To Steve Williams.

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