I grew up with the Rangers team of the mid-seventies, post-Barcelona, I have no memory at all of that great achievement, but pre Colin Stein returning is about where I came into the scheme of things. A team of legends. You could reel that team off, and even youngsters today will know of some, or all, of them. McCloy, Jardine, Greig, Forsyth, Jackson, MacDonald, McLean, Parlane, Johnstone, Stein, McKean. I doubt that XI ever played together, but you get the drift. Throw in one or two others here and there and we had a team to be proud of. As I said, a team of legends. How could you buy someone and improve that team? Then one cold night I saw John Greig given a helluva time by a winger playing for a lower league side in a League Cup tie at Ibrox. The scores, on aggregate, ended level, and we went to a replay, then another at Firhill. I went to that game too. Rangers got through. Just. The player of the tie had not been one of the legends, but had given Rangers fans their first sighting of a man that, in my opinion, surpassed them all.
David Cooper was born on February 25,1956, in Hamilton. He grew up, as so many did, as a boyhood Rangers fan. But one with the talent to do what the rest of us only ever dream of. He played at a level, and what a level.
Obviously talent ran in the family. His brother John signed for Hull, but had a hard time down South and never made the grade, and returned to play for Hamilton then into junior football. Davie grew too old for the side he played for, Avondale, and was about to chuck in the game. Coventry had shown an interest, but after his brother’s time down south, that wasn’t a move that interested him. Motherwell were closer to home, but wanted to loan him out to a junior side. Seeing the treatment John was getting playing for Larkhall Thistle turned Davie against this idea. Clyde offered him a trial, but he never signed for them. Rangers looked at him at this point, but Davie didn’t think he’d be good enough to get a game for them. Jack Steedman persuaded him to join the Bankies, and although the travel was something he didn’t fancy, Davie signed professional terms with Clydebank, and began to excite the crowds, twice helping the Bankies win promotion, from the second division, and then from the first and was soon noticed. But it was that League Cup tie that brought him to everyone’s attention, even getting him into the national team, and for the grand sum of £100,000 Rangers brought him to Ibrox in the summer of ’77.
Much was expected, much was anticipated. He delivered. For 12 years he wore the light blue of Rangers, and the dark blue of Scotland, with distinction. I’m sure he had many opportunities to move on during that time, but why should he? He was playing for the club he’d dreamed of playing for, and with international caps too, he had no need to prove himself elsewhere. A quiet, unassuming man, he had all he needed where he was, even though Ibrox was not always a happy place to be, and Rangers were far from delivering trophy after trophy.
He had a great first season with the club, winning the Treble. He played a huge part in that. Other new signings, Bobby Russell and Gordon Smith came into the team, and we played some great football. A League Cup Final win over Celtic saw Cooper score, a last day League win over Motherwell secured the title, and a Scottish Cup win over Aberdeen gave the club its second treble in three years. Great times appeared to be in front of us. Alas, it all changed.
The man who had brought him to Ibrox, Jock Wallace, had departed, and his replacement, John Greig, had many problems transforming an ageing team. We had a good run in Europe, and should have won the league. We won the Scottish Cup, beating Hibs at the third time. But it was a false dawn.
These were lean years, but there was one shining light. I’m not going to say we saw a great performance from Davie in every game - and in some games he was hardly noticed at all - but the anticipation when he was on the park, the fact that something might happen, was all we needed. Any time he wasn’t starting was a major disappointment. And there were some triumphs then, too. Some great performances, some magnificent nights, and even a few trophies, indeed.
Those that saw it will never forget his goal versus Celtic at Hampden in the 1979 Drybrough Cup Final. There is a grainy video of it about, but truthfully it does not do the goal justice. Very few players in World Football ever could have scored that goal.
Over the next few seasons Cooper’s influence on the park was neutralised. He was dropped for games, he was left alone on the wing waiting for someone to get the ball near him. He was even left out of the team for the Scottish Cup Final in 1981, a dull 0-0 draw with Dundee Utd. There was pressure to bring him back for the replay. Greig duly did and Cooper turned in a man of the match performance in an emphatic 4-1 win.
Greig was replaced by Wallace, returning to the club, but fortunes failed to improve. Graeme Souness was brought in, and even although he brought some of the biggest names in British football with him, Davie Cooper remained a first choice until the signing of Mark Walters. Even at this late stage in his career there were some fantastic memories, none more so than the 87-88 League Cup win over Aberdeen, when he scored one of the greatest free kicks ever.
Davie also made the greatest goal he never scored, when he weaved through an Ilves Tampere defence in the 1986-87 UEFA Cup, before setting up Robert Fleck, and the following month scored the winning penalty in an Old Firm League Cup Final.
Davie also began to get more regular games for Scotland. He first attracted international attention when Ally MacLeod took him to South America in 1977 for a pre-World Cup tour. Davie was a Clybebank player when the squad was announced, but a Rangers player by the time the plane left. He never played on that tour, but in 1979 made his debut in a 1-1 friendly draw versus Peru. Over the next few years he played sporadically for the national team, and it was only Jock Wallace’s return to Ibrox that finally saw him established in the international side. Davie’s finest moment in a dark blue shirt also coincided with the night the national team manager sadly passed away. Needing a draw to qualify for the play-offs for the World Cup, Scotland trailed Wales 1-0 in Cardiff, when they brought on Davie as a substitute. Minutes later they were awarded a penalty and Cooper converted it. As the team came off the park in a celebratory mood they were met with the news that Jock Stein had died in the dressing room moments earlier. Scotland qualified for the World Cup, and Davie went to Mexico, although his time on the pitch was limited. Davie’s last game for Scotland, like his first, was a friendly, a 3-1 defeat by Egypt at Pittodrie.
Davie was eventually sold to Motherwell in August, 1989. I was working for a bookies at the time, and he was one of my customers. I was in a different shop each day, so he may have come in all the time, but I only saw him occasionally. He had been in before the transfer and was a pleasant man. He stood quietly, watching his race, collecting his winnings quietly, or accepting his horse lost with grace. Often someone would talk to him, and he was always pleasant. As shop manager he would talk to me, and I let it be known I was a fan. After that he always said hello, but that was it. Not one to blow his trumpet, not one to make a fuss. After he left Rangers, I saw him a few weeks later and wished him luck. He smiled, but never said a word. I’ve heard stories he didn’t want to go, he was forced out, but he never said a word against the club.
I saw him play against us a few times, and he always got a great reception from the fans. He was still one of us, and always would be. Watching him lead Motherwell to a Scottish Cup win in 1991 justified his move, and his belief that he was still capable of first team football. He left two years later to re-join Clydebank. I remember hearing he was retiring at the end of the season, and spoke to a few fellow Bears, and we were hoping to arrange a trip one weekend to see him play one last time. Sadly that never arrived. I was visiting my girlfriend when I heard he had been taken ill, but it wasn’t reported as too serious. The next day, I got up and was getting ready to travel back north to work, when I flicked the TV on, expecting to hear he was recovering. The news hit me. I don’t think I’d ever broken down in tears before, and certainly never since over someone I barely knew. Even now I can’t explain it. I can’t remember that day without tears. I don’t know why he meant so much to me, but that’s a hero for you. He truly was mine. A man I loved to watch,play the game I loved, for the team I loved, in the way it should be played. He was a joy to watch, a lovely man to meet, and a true professional.
Davie Cooper, 1956-1995. Gone, but never forgotten.
Facts and Figures
Caps : 22
Games 90 in first spell, 21 in second
Goals 28 in first, 1 in second
Honours Scottish 2nd Division Champions 75-76
Honours : Scottish Cup Winners 1991
Premier Division : 321 games, 49 goals
Scottish Cup : 40 games, 7 goals
League Cup 69 games, 17 goals
Europe : 35 games, 1 goal
Others 96 games, 12 goals
Honours : Scottish League Champion (3)1977-78, 1986-87, 1988-89
Scottish Cup Winner (3) 1978, 1979, 1981
Scottish League Cup Winner (8) 1977-78, 1978-79, 1980-81, 1981-82, 1983-84, 1984-85, 1986-87, 1987-88
In total Davie played 561 times for Rangers, scoring 86 goals and taking part in 15 medal winning teams, the missing one is the 88-89 League Cup when he didn’t play in the Final.
His final appearance for the club came, ironically at Broadwood, in a 5-2 friendly win over Clyde on August 8th, 1989.