Lisburn soccer scout who discovered so many stars for Manchester United

THE Lisburn man who helped start the careers of hundreds of aspiring young footballers has died suddenly in hospital.

Eddie Coulter, aged 70, the founder member of one of the biggest youth football clubs in the country passed away at the weekend.

He went on to became scout for Manchester United, spotting the potential in the likes of David Healy, Keith Gillespie and Darron Gibson as well as Jonny Evans who attended his funeral at Lisburn Cathedral on Tuesday where hundreds gathered to pay tribute.

Eddie attended the Raggety Bap school and according to his son Tony, left aged 14. “He did various things in his early days after school but eventually ended up working at Grundig which was based in Derriaghy. Later he worked in the main Post Office in Lisburn until he retired.”

The family have been comforted in their loss by the huge number of people who have been in touch with their condolences including Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson who contacted the family twice.

“Sir Alex called to express his sympathy and say he was sorry he was unable to attend the funeral because he was in Italy. I know Sir Alex and my father had a great relationship. They have worked a long time together.”

Tony said Eddie took great pride in seeing the players perform at the highest level. “He loved to see them when the matches were on television. He also kept in touch. He was always there for advice. He always used to tell them to work hard and keep practicing.

“I went to the Northern Ireland games with him and on that famous night when we beat England 1-0 at one stage no less than eight players on the pitch had been discovered by my father.”

Eddie enjoyed his visits to Old Trafford and the family kindly allowed us to print this picture of him on the last day of the season with the Premiership trophy and chatting to Jonny Evans. “I recall my father saying to me an old adage - ‘If I live to three score years and ten’ I’ll be happy’, concluded Tony.

It was Eddie’s idea to form a youth football team in the middle of The Troubles, but one that would be a cross community club to bring young kids together with one great love of football.

Along with Jim Kerr and Sean Rickard Lisburn Youth was formed in 1973 and they entered the Dundonald Junior League. Little did Eddie and his founder members know then just how big this little acorn would grow, eventually to become one of the top clubs in Ireland.

“Eddie had a great love of pigeons too, but his great talent was with football,” said Sean. “We got the team up and running, but it was Eddie with all the ideas. He was the brains behind it.

“It was his driving force that saw the club grow into what it is today. It’s such a shock. He was in hospital, but he was looking forward to getting out and going to some games.”

For one local man who answered the call to come and join Lisburn Youth in 1977 it was the start of a great friendship. “I knew Eddie from working in Grundig,” explained Les King. “He asked me to come on board and after a short time I was chairman. It was quite something in those early days to start up a youth team when there was so much going on with the Troubles.

“Lisburn Youth was all about bringing young people together and giving them a chance to enjoy the game. As the club grew and began to attract young boys from all over the country it also was a great social outlet.”

Eddie had spells with Distillery, Bangor and Cliftonville before joining Linfield. He was then off to Old Trafford to begin a very successful career spotting talent for Manchester United where he built up a great friendship with Sir Alex Ferguson.

“Above all, Eddie had a great eye for spotting a player. He was the best,” added Les.

A man who knows all about the world of scouting paid the highest tribute to Eddie. Lisburn man Jim Emery said he was the best.

“Eddie Coulter was the greatest youth scout ever to come out of this country,” said Jim. “Scouting at youth level is so difficult. Young players can look like world beaters, but it is being able to spot who can fulfil that potential as they develop. That is the great talent Eddie possessed. There is no doubt in my mind Eddie paid for the Manchester United Academy many times over with the great success he had in sending players over who became stars.”

The Coulter connection with Manchester United will continue with son Tony, who worked alongside his father for many years, now taking over as scout.

“My dad always said the job would be mine one day and I have really enjoyed working with him over the last 10 years. The club contacted me this week to make it official and I am honoured and thrilled to continue dad’s role,” added Tony who is always on hand at the Manchester United Soccer Academy which is held in the Lisburn Racquets Club.

At the funeral service on Tuesday Canon Sam Wright told of Eddie the family man.

“He was someone who loved others. He was married in this Cathedral to Dorothy 51years ago together they have six children, Eddie, Tony, Donna, Gary, Marty and Jamie, 12 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren. Eddie loved to see the kids, so while he was quiet of nature, I’m sure if they all gathered together there would be a party atmosphere going on,”said Canon Wright.

“Eddie belonged to another family as well, he was a scout for Manchester United for 25 years and a life long supporter of the club. When the team were presented with the 19th championship at Old Trafford a few months ago, Eddie was on the pitch to see the presentation and to mark the end of his scouting career.

“In 1972 he started the Lisburn Youth league which drew boys from all backgrounds at a time in the history of this land when it was needed more than ever to bring people together in a common purpose, Eddie did just that. He began scouting for Irish league clubs, including, Lisburn Distillery, Cliftonville and Linfield. Then on the recommendation of Bob Bishop who was retiring as Utd scout, Eddie became the new scout for the team.

“Over the years many players were discovered, brought to Manchester and were given the opportunity to live the dream of playing professional football at the world’s greatest club.

“Eddie did have another sporting passion, pigeon racing. On one occasion the family were all ready to set off to Coleraine to see Man Utd play in the Milk Cup. But nothing would do Eddie except they waited until his racing pigeon got home before setting off.”

Eddie is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughter Donna and sons, Tony, Eddie, Gary, Martin and Jamie.