Davie Cooper

Scotzine takes a look at various Scottish Legends that have graced our game over the years and this week it is Davie Cooper, the Clydebank, Motherwell and Rangers Legend. We would like to thank the guys at DavieCooper.com in advance for providing us with the article and the photographs also.

Early Years

From an early age, Davie Cooper was hooked on football and spent most of his spare time with a ball at his feet. When he wasn’t playing he would go to watch Rangers at Ibrox and he was soon emersed in the beautiful game. By his early teens he was picking up silverware and playing for local side Udston United, before joining Hamilton Avondale a few years later.

Whilst at Avondale, his talent progressed, and a number of clubs were interested in signing him. English sides Crystal Palace and Coventry City came calling, but Davie was a hometown boy and the thought of leaving Hamilton let alone go down to England put him off the idea. In Scotland, Clyde, Motherwell and Shawfield approached Cooper, but circumstances and Davies lack of enthusiasm to play outside of Hamilton put an end to there enquires. Indeed, such was Coopers affection for his hometown that the two short train journeys to Clydebank’s ground were enough to put him off signing for them! Unbelievable as it may seem now, frustrated with not being able to find a suitable club in the right location, at the age of 18 Cooper threw in the towel and stopped playing altogether.

On hearing this, the owners of Avondale contacted Clydebank to warn them that the talented youngster was in danger of falling out the game. Jack Steedman, chairman of Clydebank, had already tried to sign Cooper and failed. However, he was persistent in his endeavours to sign the talented winger and in a story that has now become legendary he got his man. Steedamn pulled up, in his flash Jaguar, outside the printing works in which Davie was working. He asked to speak to Davie and Cooper made his way out to the car for a chat. Steedman laid it on thick trying to persuade Davie to join the club; offering a good basic wage and the prospect of regular first team football if he played well. To clinch the deal he pulled out an envelope containing £300 in grubby, used bank notes (according to popular myth the previous nights takings from the social club’s fruit machine) and offered it as a signing on fee! Keen to get back into the game and encouraged by Steedmans desire to sign him Cooper agreed to join the “Bankies”:

In somewhat bizarre circumstances, the wheels had been set in motion for a long and glittering career.

“From a playing point of view there is no doubt in my mind that he was one of Europe’s greatest players.”

Clydebank 1974 – 1977

Cooper joined Clydebank in 1974 and made an instant impact; quickly rising through the ranks to secure a regular first team place. An early exposure to the big time came when the Bankies drew Celtic in the cup. Cooper, a childhood Rangers fan, was determined to do well against a star studded Celtic team that contained the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Dixie Deans. He didn’t disappoint and must have taken particular enjoyment in tormenting Celtic defender Danny McGrain at Parkhead that day. Indeed, his performance drew attention from the Scottish media and fellow pros. and it was the start of the Cooper buzz that would snowball in the following years.

The following 1975-76 season was a good one for Cooper. Clydebank secured promotion to the First division and Cooper was a major factor in their success, scoring 22 goals and playing in all of the Bankies 49 games that season. He continued to develop in the following 1976-77 season and received his first call-up for the Scotland’s under-21s side. The Bankies good form prevailed and they went onto secure promotion to the Premier division that season.

Word was spreading nationwide of Davies talent and Aston Villa bid £65,000 for the winger. Birmingham followed with an approach for Cooper offering him three times his existing salary at Kilbowie. However, there was only one team in Coopers sites and that was his childhood heroes Rangers. One match proved pivotal in his move to the Ibrox giants. Clydebank drew Rangers on the quarter finals of the league cup. An epic tussle ensued with 2 replays, Rangers eventually winning the third match 2-1 at Firhill. Cooper recalls his first encounter with fiery Rangers captain John Greig at Ibrox:

He waded in with the kind of challenge Jack the Ripper would have been proud of…and then he growled “If I get another chance, I’ll break your leg.

However, despite Greigs best efforts, Cooper played brilliantly and scored in all three matches. His performances again caught the eye of Rangers manager Jock Wallace and soon after the Ibrox team put in an offer for the player.

Having previously rejected an approach from Rangers before joining Clydebank, Davie knew this was perhaps his last chance to sign for his footballing idols and agreed to join for a transfer fee of £100,000 and a basic wage of £150.

Rangers 1977 – 1989 :

The Jock Wallace Years 1977 – 1978

Coopers first season at Rangers, under jock Wallace, was a dream come true. The Ibrox side won the domestic treble, and Davie played in 52 of Rangers 53 major matches in the 1977-78 season. He reveled in the tactical freedom given to him by Jock Wallace and struck up an instant footballing rapport with striker Derek Johnstone – setting up countless goals for the big center forward. Ironically his first goal at Ibrox was against his former club Clydebank in a 4-1 victory. In fact, the only scare that season was in an epic league cup semi-final with Forfar; which Rangers finally won in extra time, after drawing 2-2 in the 90 minutes.

Given Coopers excellent relationship with Wallace he was bitterly disappointed when in 1978 the Rangers boss shocked the Ibrox giants and left to take up the managers post at Leicester City. Interestingly, right up until his death in 1996 Wallace maintained a dignified silence on his reasons for leaving the club and the circumstances surrounding his departure remain unclear to this day. The Rangers board didn’t hang about though, and quickly instated Rangers Captain John Greig as Wallace’s successor. It was an appointment that would turn out to have dire implications for Davies footballing career in the following five years.

The John Greig Years 1978 – 1983

“Jock Wallace had bought me and clearly rated me. John Greig didn’t appear to share that opinion quite as strongly and we didn’t really hit it off when he went ‘upstairs’.”

Greigs reign at Ibrox was a frustrating time for Cooper. The manager used his talents sparingly and, for five years, he spent a significant amount of time on the bench. Eventually, the lack of first team football affected Coopers physical condition and enthusiasm for the game.

He did, however, shine on a number of occasions, and the Scottish cup final replay of 1981 against Dundee United sticks in the mind. In a brilliant performance, Cooper tore the “Arabs” defence to shreds and was a major factor in Rangers regaining the Cup in a 4-1 victory.

Shockingly, in the summer of 1980, Coops was almost sold to the English side Brighton F.C.- Brighton’s manager Alan Mullery put in a double bid for Cooper and striker Gordon Smith. John Greig, however, would only let one player leave the club and Mullery opted for Gordon Smith. Greig’s willingness to sell Cooper, in 1980, is a stark reminder of the poor relationship that existed between manager and player at that time.

Ironically, during those “lost years” Cooper scored the most memorable goal of his career against Celtic in the 1979 Drybrough Cup Final. Surrounded by four Celtic defenders with his back to goal he had seemingly nowhere to go. In a piece of audacious skill he nonchalantly flicked the ball in the air four times before slotting the ball past the keeper. In a worldwide poll of Rangers fan, it was voted the greatest ever Rangers goal.

Although Greig won the Scottish Cup and the League Cup twice during his stint as Rangers manager, his tenure is widely viewed as a disappointing spell in the clubs history. Towards the end of his reign, Ibrox attendances fell to an alarmingly low level and he was eventually replaced by Jock Wallace in 1983.

Jock Wallace’s Return (1983-85)

The return of Jock Wallace to Ibrox, as manager, reinvigorated Cooper and helped him to break out of the malaise that had consumed him under John Greig. His physical fitness improved and his appetite for the game returned. It was no secret that Wallace was a fan of Davies mercurial skills and in the following two seasons Cooper only missed six games. His return to form also caught the eye of Scotland manager Jock Stein and Cooper featured heavily in the qualification matches for the 1986 World Cup Finals.

However, at Rangers Coops was very much a big fish in a small pond, surrounded by players who were, by the Ibrox giants standards, not up to the task. In both the 1983-4 and 1984-5 season Rangers could only manage fourth place in the league. A scant consolation was winning the league cup in both those years, adding more medals to Davies trophy cabinet.

As with most managers who return to a club after a successful first spell, Wallace could not re-create the magic he produced first time round. His second reign only lasted two years and he was quickly replaced by Graeme Souness. The next few years, under Souness, would see Cooper play some of the most electrifying and consistent football of his career.

The Souness Years 1986 – 1989

“He was always a tremendous player for this club but when Graeme Souness and I moved into Ibrox he was transformed. There is no doubt in my mind that was because he was surrounded by better players.”

Initially Cooper was nervous about the appointment of Souness as the new Ibrox manager. Although they played together in the Scotland setup he didn’t really know Souey that well, whereas big Jock Wallace had been his mentor for years. Age was another issue; Cooper was now into his thirties and was conscious that a new manager may want to bring in younger talent.

However, his fears were quickly put to rest; Souness clearly rated the skilful winger and built up a new team in which Coops played a key role. Souness revolutionised Rangers, enticing big name English players, from down South, to join the Ibrox giants. It was unprecedented, as the trend up until that point had been for good Scottish players to move down south and ply there wears in the English divisions. In the following months, many high profile English players signed for the Ibrox club. However, the biggest coup was securing the services of England internationalists Chris Woods and Terry Butcher. It was a sign of intent from Souness that he wanted only players of the highest caliber to play for Rangers. For the first time in years, Cooper was surrounded by other world-class players. It had an immediate impact on his game, and in those last few seasons at Ibrox he played some of the most scintillating and consistent football of his career.

The first taste of success came against Celtic in the Skol Cup Final of 1986. In a pulsating encounter, Cooper showed nerves of steel from the penalty spot to ensure Rangers won the title 2-1. Souness had no doubts that Cooper would beat the keeper from the spot:

“The minute he picked the ball up I thought we’ve won the cup. Because in a one on one, and the way he can strike a ball with such accuracy, it’s really an unfair contest for the goalkeeper.”

However, winning the title was the priority for the new Ibrox gaffer and it came shortly afterwards at Pittodrie in May 1987. Rangers hadn’t won up North in five years but a 1-1 drew ensured they won the title, as Celtic lost 2-1 to Falkirk at home. Unsurprisingly, Davie was a key factor in Rangers goal that day, swinging an inch perfect cross into the box for big Tel to thud home a header. Rangers hadn’t won a league title since 1978 and it meant a lot to the fans and of course Cooper.

The following 1987-88 season brought disappointment in the league and Scottish cup with Celtic clinching both domestic trophies. However, Cooper continued to feature regularly and play at a consistently brilliant level. He saved one of his best performances, that season, for the Skol Cup Final against Aberdeen. Hampden always brought out the best in Cooper, and he wowed the crowds that day with a thunderbolt free kick that rocketed passed Jim Leighton into the top corner. Rangers went onto regain the trophy in extra time winning a dramatic penalty shoot. It was a classic final, made unforgettable by Davies stunning dead ball strike.

However, the success under Souness was tinged with a certain amount of regret for Cooper:

“I do feel a little bit frustrated that these good and exciting times at Ibrox have come a little too late for me. But against that frustration is the realism that I have enjoyed a marvelous career that others would give their right arm for so I can’t be greedy.”

The 1988-89 season got off to a great start for Davie; his testimonial match against French side Girondins de Bordeaux was a sell-out, with 43,000 fans watching Rangers 3-2 victory. It was a fitting tribute to a player who been loyal to the Ibrox club, through good and bad times, for ten years. However, Cooper’s last season at Ibrox was to be a frustrating one; he struggled to hold down a first team place with Souness often opting to play winger Mark Walters instead. His appearance as a substitute in the 1989 Scottish cup final proved to be his last in a Rangers jersey.

Davie didn’t want to leave Ibrox, but he was desperate to play first team football and realised that at at the age of 34 he had only a few years left in the top flight of the game. So when Motherwell manager Tommy Mclean made an audacious bid for the winger in the summer of 1989 Cooper agreed to join with mixed emotions.

He finished his Rangers career with 75 goals in 540 appearances. However, Coopers Rangers career wasn’t about statistics and records, he was a genius, an entertainer and no figures can quantify the joy he gave to fans, with his special kind of magic, in those years at Ibrox. His position in Rangers folklore was secured.

MOTHERWELL: Indian Summer 1989 – 1993

“It must be the best money Motherwell ever spent because he lifted the club to another level.”

Cooper continued the run of good form he displayed under Souness at Ibrox, and in his four and a half seasons at Fir Park he made 150 appearances and played at a consistently high level. His influence on the side was enormous, culminating in the “Steelmen” going on an unbelievable 1991 Scottish cup run, eventually beating Dundee United 4-3 in an epic final to lift the trophy. It was a dream come true for Cooper who thought his days of lifting silverware were over after leaving Rangers. His performances also caught the eye of Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh and amazingly revitalised his international career.

Cooper was a big hit with the Motherwell supporters; his quality and enthusiasm to play the game were there for all to see, and any initial doubts they had about him gently winding his career down were put to bed.

His wealth of experience, in the game, was another bonus and the younger Motherwell players such as Tom Boyd learned a lot from the maestro during his spell at the club:

“He was a huge influence on me when we were together at Motherwell. There’s no doubt that he helped shaped my career.”

In the 1992-3 season, following the cup victory, Coops amazing played in every single premier league match for Motherwell and his form was outstanding. In a sign of things to come, he also started to get involved in coaching, training the youngsters and ‘S’ form lads at Motherwell. However, in his very last season, 1993-4, at Fir Park age was starting to get the better of him and he struggled to secure a first team place. So when Clydebank expressed an interest and offered him a better chance of playing first team football he duly accepted. So, in somewhat fairy tale fashion, it was full circle back to Kilbowie to finish off a glittering career!

Clydebank 1993 – 1995

In 1993 Cooper nostalgically returned to play for the team where it had all started for him – Clydebank. He also assumed a coaching role with the “Bankies” and, as Steedman recalls, enjoyed taking the first team for training:

“…he was especially good with the younger players. He would give the lads who were Celtic fans some real abuse, for instance, and they were never too sure if he meant it or not. But Davie would just be winding them up.”

In the 1993-1994 season Davie played in a total of 20 games, including sixteen starts and four as a substitute. In the first half of the 1994-1995 season, Cooper was a first team regular for Clydebank, and his last taste of the big time came against Hearts in a Scottish Cup Replay at Tynecastle. Despite the Bankies best efforts they were unable to beat the Edinburgh side and were put out of the cup. The replay was to be Coopers last first team appearance for Clydebank.

The last goal Cooper scored for the Kilbowie side was, fittingly, a stunning strike against Airdrie in the B&Q Cup Semi-Final. Davie Cooper made his final appearance in a Clydebank jersey in a Reserve fixture at New Kilbowie on February 21 against Hamilton Academical.

Scotland 1977-1990

Cooper never hid his controversial views on playing for Scotland, and the winger’s honesty ruffled a few feathers in the SFA over the years. However, when he did play for the national side he gave it his all – his crucial penalty, against Wales, ensuring a qualification play-off for the 1986 World Cup Finals being a prime example. So it is somewhat of a scandal that one of the most talented players that Scotland ever produced only won 22 caps.

The Ally MacLeod Years 1977-78

Coops first involvement in the senior national team was in 1977 under manager Ally MacLeod. He was part of a squad of players that went on a friendly tour of South America in preparation for the 1978 World Cup. Although, Cooper didn’t feature in any of the games he enjoyed the experience, and the South American culture was a real eye opener for the Hamilton lad.

The Jock Stein Years 1978-85

Coopers Scotland career got started in earnest when, after a disappointing 1978 World Cup, Jock Stein replaced Ally McLeod as manager. Stein gave Cooper his first cap in a friendly match against Peru in 1979. The winger played well and soon received another call up, featuring against Austria in a crucial European championship qualifier, which finished 1-1. However, after this promising start Coopers international career ground to a halt for a number of years. This barren spell with the national side coincided with Coopers lack of first team football, and poor form, at Ibrox under manager John Greig.

Coops international career was kick started again in 1982 when Jock Wallace replaced John Greig as Rangers manager. Indeed, Coopers best run of form for Scotland was in the qualification matches for the 1986 World Cup finals. In probably his greatest performance in a dark blue Jersey, Scotland emphatically defeated Spain 3-1 at Hampden:

“It was the best performance at that level I have been involved in. Every one of us was at the top of his form and it really was a privilege to be in the side.”

However, Coopers defining moment for Scotland was in a nail biting world cup decider against Wales in 1985. A draw was all Scotland needed to ensure a qualification play-off. The game started badly for Scotland with Mark Hughes scoring for Wales in the first half. Cooper started on the bench and replaced Gordon Strachan midway through the second half. With ten minutes remaining on the clock Scotland’s world cup dreams were fading fast. Suddenly Scotland were awarded a dramatic penalty. There was only one man for the job – Super Cooper.

However, jubilation soon turned to grief as Jock Stein collapsed in the dugout suffering a heartache and died shortly afterwards. Cooper recalls the team hearing the news that big Jock had passed away, in the dressing room, after the match:

“It was a dreadful moment when nothing, least of all a football match, seemed to have any significance. No one moved, no one did anything.”

Scotland eventually went onto to qualify for the 1986 finals beating Australia in a play off. In a typically humble and respectful fashion Cooper summed-up the achievement – “We did it for Jock“.

The Alex Ferguson Years 1986

Following Jock Steins death Alex Ferguson was appointed Scotland manager for the 1986 Mexico World Cup Finals. Despite playing well and featuring heavily in the side that qualified for the tournament, Cooper was used sparingly in Scotland’s 3 group matches. In the opening loss against Denmark he didn’t even make the bench. He did however come on as a substitute in the following 2-1 defeat against West Germany. Scotland needed a win against Uruguay, in their final group match, to qualify for the knockout stages. In a match infamous for the horrendous tackling and unsporting behavior of the Uruguayans, the game petered out in a disappointing 0-0 draw. By the time Cooper came on the game was up:

“I’m the first to admit we didn’t play well…but how can you when you’re chopped at every turn? The Uruguayans weren’t going to concede anything that day come hell or high water.”

Afterwards, Ernie Walker of the SFA would label the Uruguayan team “scum”.

Surely the finals were the perfect stage for Cooper to strut his magic; where the heat and slow pace of international football suited his style of play. The decision by Alex Ferguson’s to leave him out of the side still perplexes and frustrates many Scotland fans to this day. One of the most talented and skillful players Scotland ever produced was left warming the bench. It remains one of the great “What ifs” in the history of our national side.

The Andy Roxburgh Years 1986 – 1990

Following the disappointment of the 1986 World Cup, Davie picked up the pieces of his international career and was called up for matches against Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Republic of Ireland and Brazil. In 1989 he left Rangers for Motherwell, and many thought the move signaled the end of his international career. However, his scintillating form at Fir Park, earned him a well deserved call up to play against Norway in a European qualifier in 1989. Scotland drew the match 1-1 and Cooper played well. Andy Roxburgh had always admired the wingers skills and wanted to include Cooper in the 1990 World Cup squad. Sadly, an injury put paid to Davies chances of going, and his final cap was to be in a low key friendly against Egypt at Hampden in 1990. It brought the curtain down on a mixed international career full of highs and lows.

Scotland Hall of Fame 2006

In November 2006, Davie Cooper was posthumously inducted into the Scotland Hall of Fame at The Scottish Football Museum in Hampden Park. Hall of Fame nominations are submitted by the public, and successful entrants are selected by a panel of experts drawn from across the Scottish football spectrum of ex players, managers and members of the media. Hopefully this overdue accolade will prompt a re-evaluation of Coopers contribution to our national side, and make people wonder what he could have achieved if he had been given more chances to shine.

Passing Away

In March 1995, Davie Cooper and Charlie Nicholas were filming a football skills show, called ‘Shoot’ for Scottish Television, at Clyde’s Broadwood stadium in Cumbernauld. The two former old firm rivals had become friends on the set of the programme and enjoyed winding each other-up and playing practical jokes on the coaching staff. However, the mood suddenly changed when, without any warning, Cooper collapsed on the pitch. As Nicholas recalls:

“He was happy and relaxed then the next thing I realised was that he had fallen back. The kids on the course thought he was clowning around but, of course, he was so desperately ill. It was awful.”

The suddenness of Coopers death shocked the nation. He was a fit young man with no health problems and as, with any unexpected bereavement, it all seemed so tragic and unfair.

The global tributes that poured in over the next few days were testament to Coopers contribution to world football, and a mark of respect for a man who was regarded as a genuinely nice and humble guy. Indeed, his tragic passing away is one of the few sad occasions that united both sides of the Old firm. Cooper had earned the respect of Celtic supporters with his majestic skills and humility – green-and-white scarfs were seen draped outside Ibrox after his death and tributes poured in from hoops fans. The scenes outside Ibrox were unprecedented.

In 1999, four years after his death, a statue was erected in Hamilton honouring the winger. It was unveiled by his long time friend Ally McCoist. In 2005, ten years after his death, the CIS Cup Final between Rangers and Motherwell was renamed “The Davie Cooper Final”. It was an affectionate and appropriate tribute to a player who had saved some of his best performances for the League cup finals at Hampden. The same year the charity the “Davie Cooper Centre” was established to help children with a wide range of disabilities. Clearly time has not diminished Coopers legacy and his influence and impact on Scottish football is still fresh in peoples mind.

In his eulogy to Cooper, the then Rangers manager, Walter Smith, summed it all up perfectly:

“God gave Davie Cooper a talent. He would not be disappointed with how it was used.”

Reproduced with kind permission from DavieCooper.com

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