Jackie Coulter was a dazzling Irish winger who played a telling role in one of Goodison’s finest games, seeming destined for greatness until his career was savaged by an horrendous injury.
An outstanding flanker of intricate footwork, back-heels and dummies, he was first spotted by an Everton director, Mr J. Fare, in September 1933 playing for Ireland versus Scotland. That he wasn’t immediately snapped up was because of doubts over his size, but the Everton board remained keenly interested, watching him on several occasions before bringing him to Goodison from Belfast Celtic for a fee of £2750 in February the following year.
EVERTON at the time were between two great sides – that which had won back-to-back Second and First Division titles at the start of the decade, and the team which would win the league title again in 1939 – and the board were seeking fresh blood to reinvigorate their charges. Coulter was eased into this transitional team, but soon excited whispers were emanating from his virtuoso appearances for the reserves.
Having made three appearances at the end of 1933/34, he made the outside left position his own from autumn 1934, replacing Jimmy Stein. An extraordinary goal in the home defeat to Manchester City in November had the watching
Ernest ‘Bee’ Edwards salivating. ‘Coulter was out on his own,’ he wrote. ‘The goalkeeper came out to anticipation of the ball being centred, but Coulter cutely lobbed the ball behind him and into the empty net. It was a brilliantly conceived goal and if Coulter intended to do what he did then he must be given top mark, for only a thinking footballer would have thought of such a plan.’
His greatest moments came during one of Goodison’s finest hours, in January 1935. An FA Cup fourth round replay brought Sunderland to Merseyside. Despite playing on a Wednesday afternoon, just short of 60,000 packed Goodison, with many more locked out and casualties reported in the scrum to see the game. People even stood on the roofs of nearby tramcars trying to catch a glimpse of the action. Coulter opened the scoring on 13 minutes: from the left wing he span 180 degrees, losing two markers in an instant. His rasping shot was parried into the path of Dixie Dean, who couldn’t finish, but Coulter did. Eighteen minutes later he doubled the lead from close range before going at Sunderland again, beating five men with one dribble before being dispossessed by a sixth. Sunderland pulled a goal back, but Stevenson made it 3-1 on 74 minutes.
The game, however, was still to burst into greatness. Sunderland pulled a goal back and in the final minute did the unthinkable and equalised. Everton were shattered but Coulter was indomitable, driving home Dean’s knockdown two minutes into extra time to complete his hat-trick. His fellow flanker Albert Geldard was in similarly inspired form, adding two more goals as the match finished 6-4 to Everton. ‘It was a wonderful day and one we will never forget as long as we live,’ was the view of the watching Will Cuff.
Many tipped Everton to repeat their 1933 FA Cup success. When Coulter scored a brace in the 3-1 fifth round victory those hopes intensified. A new record crowd of 67,696 crammed into Goodison for the quarter-final against Bolton Wanderers. Coulter made the scoresheet, but it was an 83rd-minute consolation in a grim 2-1 defeat. ‘Everton were slow moving; uncertain in front of goal, and not at all clean in their methods, while the referee gave Everton the benefit of the doubt about a penalty kick that probably entered none of the minds of the 60,000 spectators,’ lamented ‘Bee’. Four weeks later, Coulter was struck by personal disaster.
Playing for Ireland against Wales at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground he challenged his Everton team-mate Ben Williams, who was clearing the ball. The men fell in a heap and next thing Williams was seen cradling Coulter in his arms ‘like a baby’. The Irishman had fractured his right fibia – an appalling fate for a footballer in a time of primitive healthcare.
Coulter missed all of the 1935/36 season and although he returned to the Everton team for the start of the 1936/37 campaign, much of the old magic proved elusive. He fought for his place in the team, but the selectors eventually favoured Torry Gillick switching from the right flank. Middlesbrough and Bolton both made moves for the showman, but it was from Grimsby Town that Everton accepted a £1500 offer in October 1937. He joined Chester City the following summer and in 1939 Swansea Town, after a brief spell with Chelmsford. The outbreak of war just weeks later brought that move and his playing career to an unsatisfactory and premature end.
When peace came he worked as a Manchester City scout under his old team-mate Jock Thomson, who was Maine Road manager. Later he returned to his native Belfast, where he found work in a shipyard.