Senior player: 1974–78
Guernsey number: 27
Senior games: 24
Recruited from: Maffra
Jeff Gieschen began playing for Footscray as a 17 year old in 1974 and played a total of twenty-four games, mainly on the half-back flank. He formed a strong bond with Kelvin Templeton who boarded at the same address as him, and the two pushed each other to train hard and be the best they could be. Unfortunately Jeff suffered a broken ankle in his first year and a string of serious injuries followed, limiting his progress. But he did play in the 1974 reserves grand final side – in a loss to Fitzroy [Fitzroy 26-13 (169) defeated Footscray 16-12 (108)]. He also won a reserves best and fairest.
At the age of 21, Jeff returned home to Maffra to become playing coach of Maffra Football Club. He filled this role for two seasons before deciding to concentrate on playing rather than coaching. In all, before Jeff came to Footscray and after he returned to Maffra, he played 150 games for Maffra over seven years, winning a total of seven best and fairest awards and a couple of LaTrobe Valley Football League (LVFL) best and fairest medals. He represented the LVFL in inter-league games fifteen times between 1973 and 1984, being selected as captain of the LVFL side in 1981. Jeff was also a member of the Victorian Country representative side to play the ACT in 1980.
The day after playing an inter-league game in Albury in 1985, Jeff was approached to coach Wodonga the following season. His coaching stint at Wodonga, 1986–91, resulted in two premierships and him being awarded the 1990 Regional Coach of the Year award. He also won the Wodonga best and fairest in his first year there, but was forced to retire as a player and become a non-playing coach after that season due to a serious back injury.
Of the coaching opportunities he was offered after Wodonga, Jeff accepted the role as coach of West Perth in the West Australian Football League. West Perth were wooden spooners in the two seasons prior to Jeff’s appointment, but played off in the grand final against Claremont in 1993 – Jeff’s second year as coach. Jeff was named the 1993 West Australian Coach of the Year. At the end of the 1994 season, AFL club Geelong head-hunted Jeff as an assistant coach and he spent 1995 and 1996 as assistant to Gary Ayres at Geelong.
At the end of 1996, Jeff was approached by Richmond to be their reserves coach and assistant to senior coach Robert Walls. Richmond reserves won the premiership in the first year Jeff coached them and he reluctantly stood in as caretaker coach for the senior side when Robert Walls was stood down with five games to play in the 1997 season. Under Jeff, the senior Tiger side won four of those remaining five games. The reserves premiership and the four senior wins at the end of 1997 gave rise to the Richmond cheersquad’s ‘Unleash the Giesch’ chant and made Jeff a frontrunner for the Richmond senior coaching position.
Jeff was appointed Richmond senior coach in 1998. But, by 1999, Richmond had begun searching for a new senior coach. Before he could accept another coaching role, Jeff was approached by the AFL to become national umpires’ manager. He had reservations about accepting the position, but quickly became passionate about the role of umpiring in the game and devoted fourteen years to the job, often spending eighty hour weeks at work during the football season. He takes pride in the fact that, due to the combined work of a lot of people, not just at the AFL, the game is now played fairly while remaining a tough game.
Jeff’s successful career at Maffra was recognised when he was named as an inaugural inductee into the Maffra Football Club Hall of Fame in 2008. He was also named as Wodonga’s Coach of the Century in 2004 and, as a result of his time as coach of West Perth, he was named as coach of their All Star Team of the Century in 2008.
Since leaving the role as umpires’ manager Jeff has been catching up on a lot of family and personal time as well as doing some consulting and mentoring, and having an involvement with local clubs and schools. He has also reconnected with the Western Bulldogs and really enjoys catching up with old Footscray team-mates from the ’70s at regular past player breakfasts (something he felt the need to avoid while in his AFL role, so he could not be accused of any allegiances).