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Davie Cooper: A Tribute

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Davie was one of the finest players to grace the Scottish game and had a left foot that could produce magic time after time and could open up many an opposition defence, indeed someone side he could have opened a can of beans with it!

Although many will remember Coop staring on the left-wing for Rangers,he started his career at Clydebank FC and he was an instant hit with the fans there as he helped the club to the Second Division Championship.

Anyone who had seen him play for the Bankies, knew that they would have a hard time to keep hold of him and so it proved to be as Rangers and manager Jock Wallace came calling and Davie would make the move that would bring him worldwide recognition as he moved to Rangers for £100,000 in 1977 on a reported weekly wage of £150 per week! What would his talent be worth it today’s inflated market?

While he was at Rangers Davie would leave some of the world’s greats dumbstruck in awe of his talent.

Former Dutch legend Ruud Gullit played against Rangers in a friendly match and after watching him in action, he called Davie one of the greatest players that he had ever seen, which was a fantastic statement for the Rangers winger considering many of the talented players that the Dutchman would have played against.

For anyone walking into Ibrox for their first season as a Rangers player, they could maybe forgiven if they were overawed but not Davie Cooper!

His Rangers career got off to the best possible start as Jock Wallace’s men won the domestic treble and the following season the club again won both cups but also that season (1979), they won the Drybrough Cup v Celtic and Davie scored what is considered to be his best goal in a Rangers shirt when he took the ball on his chest with his back to the goal, then proceeded to beat four defenders while playing keepie uppie before slipping the ball into the back of the net, a truly fantastic solo effort by a truly gifted player.

When you are at a club like Rangers, you not only have to deal with the success of winning but the deflation of failure also and Coop had to deal with both in his time at Rangers.

The emergence of the New Firm of Aberdeen and Dundee United as well as the challenge of bitter rivals Celtic gave Rangers an added challenge in the league, that and the fact that Davie was almost sold in the summer of 1980 when Brighton wanted to take both him and Gordon Smith but John Greig would only let one player go and that player was Gordon Smith.

Even if things had not been going well for Rangers in the league but they seemed to do well in the cup competitions and this was the case in 81 when make they made the final of the Scottish Cup but manager John Greig) had a wee shock in store for Davie and a couple of his team-mates as Coop, Derek Johnstone and John MacDonald were dropped and the Ibrox side had to go to a replay after missing a last-minute penalty through Ian Redford.

But Coop, DJ and young Mr MacDonald had been brought back to play a vital role in the replay. Former Rangers team-mate John MacDonald remembers the match and the role that Cooper played that night: “Myself and Coop were on the bench and Greigy fell out with Derek Johnstone at training on the Monday, I don’t know why he fell out with big DJ but he was left out on the Saturday but he brought Derek back in as well, so three of us came back in for the replay and it was brilliant, it was a brilliant game winning 4-1 and scoring two goals as well was great, my only Scottish Cup winners medal, the other three were runners-up!”

“It was fantastic! Coop scored the first one, Bobby Russell put us two up, they pulled one back and then I made a great run and Coop found me with a great pass and I just guided it past McAlpine into the net and the second one I didn’t know much about, Redford had played a long ball, I got to it before Narey and I have just toe poked it passed the keeper through his legs and it went in.”

This was to be Davie’s last Scottish Cup winner’s medal for the Ibrox side.

The 1981-1982 League Cup final saw the sides meet again in the final and they won through Dundee United, who were going for a hat-trick of victories in the competition after beating Aberdeen and Dundee in previous finals but again the Tangerines would be undone by Super Cooper and it was that magical left foot again that did the trick with a wonderful free-kick to bring Rangers level and Ian Redford’s chip that secured the cup for Rangers with a 2-1 win.
The League Cup seemed to be something of a lucky charm for Rangers in those days.

Picking up the odd League Cup or Scottish Cup at a club like Rangers, would simply not be enough for the players or fans at the club and that would soon be about to change.

Things had not been going well under John Greig, poor results and poor attendances lead to the return of the man who signed Davie for Rangers making a return, Jock Wallace.

However, the old fox could not rekindle the magic to take the title back to Ibrox and players had not been of the same high quality of Cooper and the Ibrox trophy room door would only need to be opened for two more League Cup wins in 1983-84 and 1984-85.

Jock would only last two years in charge at Ibrox this time before a major change would arrive.

In April 1986, the winds of change would not only come for Davie Cooper but for Scottish Football on the whole with the arrival of Graeme Souness as Rangers manager.

The disappointments that had been there in recent years would soon be about to vanish as Rangers threatened to sweep all before them aside and Davie Cooper was to play a vital part in the changing for of Rangers football club.

No matter the opponent Coop was the man for the big occasion, Old Firm matches or European nights under the floodlights of Ibrox, Davie Cooper stood out like the star he was.

Perhaps the European match that stands out more than most is a match against Ilves Tampere of Finland, when Davie simply waltzed past five Finnish defenders to lay the ball on a plate for Robert Fleck to complete his hat-trick in a 4-0 first leg win.

Those European defenders had just been finding out what the Scottish defenders had known all along, this man was just sheer class and we were glad he was Scottish!

The League Cup returned to Ibrox with a stormy victory over Celtic in the Final of 1986-1987, the winner coming from the penalty spot after referee David Syme adjudged that Terry Butcher was impeded by Roy Aitken thus he pointed to the spot and it was netted by who else but Davie Cooper.

The winger caused Celtic no end of problems on the day with his fantastic wing play so perhaps it was fitting that he should net the winning goal.

The Rangers fans could sense that maybe now was the time for nine years of hurt to end and after losing the opening match to Hibs 2-1 which saw their player manager Graeme Souness sent off, the Ibrox side did go on to lift the League Championship after a 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie with again saw Souness sent off and that magicial left foot of Davie’s float a perfect cross to the head of Terry Butcher.

The 1987-88 season saw Cooper again produce the unexpected on the Hampden stage in the League Cup Final, with an unstoppable free-kick to net Rangers first goal in the 3-3 draw against Aberdeen. Jim Leighton said afterwards, that he almost got to the ball, to which Cooper replied, “Aye on the way back out!” The Ibrox side eventually won 5-3 on penalties and so Cooper was able to claim his seventh winners medal.

In his last season at Ibrox, Cooper became increasingly frustrated as Graeme Souness used his talents sparingly and often favoured as new signing Mark Walters was his first-choice winger.

This lack of first-team games was to lead to his leaving the club. Davie Cooper’s career as a Rangers player began to draw to a close at Hampden in May 1989 in another Scottish Cup Final, as Rangers chased their first treble in 11 years. Unfortunately for Cooper, who appeared as a substitute, a Joe Miller goal retained the cup for Celtic.

At the beginning of the 1988-89 season (Tuesday 9 August 1988), Davie Cooper was granted a testimonial match which was against Bordeaux and over 43,000 spectators watch Rangers win 3-2 with Butcher, Drinkell and McCoist netting for Rangers. Cooper finished his Rangers career with 75 goals in 540 appearances. When asked to describe the highlight of his time at Rangers, he simply responded “I played for the team I loved.”

Davie did not want to leave Rangers but former Ibrox team-mate –mate Tommy McLean persuaded him to leave Ibrox and go to Fir Park and play with Motherwell.

In his four and a half seasons at Fir Park, Davie played over 150 times for the “Steelmen” and was instrumental in the club winning its first major trophy in 39 years, in the epic Scottish Cup Final of 1991 which saw the battle of the McLean brothers in the family final and one of the greatest Scottish Cup final’s ever seen at Hampden as Motherwell ran out 4-3 winners after extra-time over Dundee United.

In his time at Motherwell Davie played with Dougie Arnott who views on the late great Davie Cooper are shared by many.

“The best! On the training park with him everyday, you would learn things from him everyday, unbelievable skill and composure. It is not until you are training with these guys every day that you realise just how good they are but he was a very special player, the best player that I have ever played with.”

In his time at Motherwell,he started to get involved in coaching but then the call came to go back to Clydebank in 1993 to spend the last two years of his career, somewhat of a fairytale ending for him.

As well as his club career, Davie was also a star for his country and will be no doubt remembered by the Tartan Army for his goals against Wales when his calm head and trusted left foot kept Scotland on the road to Mexico 86 as his penalty beat Neville Southall in the Wales goals to earn Scotland a 1-1 draw but it was a night of sadness also for Davie and his team mates as Scotland manager Jock Stein passed away.

Scotland and David still had a job to do to qualify for the World Cup and they did. A Davie Cooper free-kick and a goal from Frank McAvennie helped them on their way.

For anyone lucky enough to see Davie in his prime, at club level or International level, they would know they had seen a special player.

But like others gone before him, Davie was taken way before his time at the age of 39 when he suffered a brain haemorrhage whilst filming at Broadwood Stadium with his Old Firm pal and Scotland team-mate,Charlie Nicholas as they were filming for a programme titled Shoot for STV.

Here was a man who had enjoyed a fantastic football career, with no health problems, taken from us, so unfair and so ironic that he was playing and teaching the game he loved right to the end.

Much has been said about the hatred that divides the Old Firm but believe me, all this is forgotten when a legend like Davie Cooper or Tommy Burns passes away, respect replaces the hatred and unites fans together as one as they come together in grief at the passing of decent human being’s and fantastic footballers.

Davie had a statue erected in Hamilton in his honour, the 2005 CIS Cup Final between Rangers and Motherwell was renamed The Davie Cooper Final, and he was inducted in the Scottish Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2006

Cooper is remembered as one of the most significant players in the histories of Clydebank, Rangers and Motherwell football clubs.

In his tribute to Cooper, former Rangers manager,Walter Smith said “God gave Davie Cooper a talent. He would not be disappointed with how it was used.”

Few could argue with that!

Davie Cooper, The Moody Blue, The Loan Ranger, The Legend

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About Author

Chief Features Writer for Scotzine.com. Sean has written for various publications and websites over the years and has been involved with making documentaries on Aberdeen Football Club, Dundee United Football Club, Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert and Jock Stein and also Radio programmes, one of which "Old Firm Day" won a Bronze Sony Award. He also worked in the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park. His love of writing started off with The Punter and has gone on to write for the following FIFA magazine, 442, Scotland's Oracle, Players Inc, British Football Week, ESPN, Give Me Football, Inside Futbol, 67 Fanzine and the matchday programmes of Aberdeen, Carlisle United, Montrose, Partick Thistle, Stockport County and Queen's Park. He has also been asked to write a blog for Youth Football Scotland on St.Mirren YFC such was his passion for football at every level from Grassroots to the professional game.

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