When you say the name Davie Cooper, the reaction you’ll get will be the same. A wry smile, as the other person immediately cast their minds back to happier times. All Rangers fans around my age and older have fantastic memories of the predominantly left footed Hamilton boy bamboozling defenders, both foreign and domestic. The 23rd of March 2017 marked the 22nd anniversary of the untimely passing of one of Scotland’s most gifted footballers.
On the 22nd of March 1995 at Broadwood Stadium, while training a squad of school kids alongside former Scotland colleague Charlie Nicholas, and coach Tommy Craig for STV, 39-year-old former Clydebank, Rangers, Motherwell and Scotland hero Davie Cooper collapsed. As we all know now, Davie suffered a brain haemorrhage, and was pronounced dead a day later, much to the shock of the footballing world. At the time, Davie was still a registered first team player with the now gone Clydebank Football Club, the team where it all started for him against Airdrie in August 1974. Having played so well over the next 3 years his boyhood heroes Rangers splashed out £100,000 for his signature on the 8th of June 1977, and it was at Ibrox Davie would “play for the team he loved” until August 1989, some 12 years later.
As we all know, it was at Ibrox Davie would make his name. Cooper appeared in 52 of Rangers 53 matches in the 1977/78 season, as Jock Wallace’s side won the domestic treble. His first league goal for Rangers came against St Mirren at Love Street on 17 September 1977 in a 3–3 draw. His last goal came almost exactly eleven years later, also against St Mirren. His first Ibrox goal for the club came a fortnight later in a 4–1 win against Clydebank. He scored his second in the same match – direct from a corner kick. He scored eight goals in total in his first season at Rangers. The following season, Cooper made 49 appearances and scored ten goals as Rangers won both domestic cup competitions. In this season Cooper scored a memorable goal against Celtic in the 1979 Drybrough Cup Final. It was voted the greatest ever Rangers goal by Rangers fans and listed by The Guardian’s Rob Smyth as the second greatest ever solo goal, after Diego Maradona’s Goal of the Century.
The next three seasons at Ibrox though were trophyless ones. The first (and only) time this had/has happened in the clubs history. It is perhaps this period that symbolises Davie’s love for Rangers, as he could have left on more than one occasion. Add to that his public dissatisfaction at lack of games and dislike for manager John Grieg. He was, however, part of the starting line-up for the cup final replay against Dundee United which Rangers won. This was Davie’s last Scottish Cup winners medal for the Ibrox side.
In the 1981/82 season Cooper started his 21st consecutive League Cup tie for Rangers as they won through to the Final. His only goal in the Ibrox side’s 11 ties came in the Final. Cooper played in all but six league fixtures as Rangers attained third place.
In the 1982/83 season, Cooper scored his first hat-trick for Rangers (in a Sectional League Cup tie against Kilmarnock) and his first and only European goal, against Borussia Dortmund at Ibrox, in the UEFA Cup. it was his most prolific goal scoring season for the club, scoring 12 goals in all competitions. Cooper won league cup medals in 1983/84, 1984/85, 1986/87 and 1987-88. He scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in 1986/87 vs Celtic.
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Cooper scored 8 goals in Rangers’ league winning season of 1986/87. The following season, in the League Cup, Cooper scored a free-kick, Rangers first goal in a 3–3 draw against Aberdeen. Rangers won 5–3 on penalties. This was Cooper’s seventh winner’s medal. At the beginning of the 1988/89 season (Tuesday 9 August 1988), Cooper’s testimonial match against Girondins de Bordeaux saw 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, but must have created 4 times that for others. When asked to describe the highlight of his time at Rangers, he simply responded (as every Teddy Bear knows) “I played for the team I loved.”
Davie moved to Motherwell, managed by former team mates Tommy McLean and Tom Forsyth, and won the Scottish Cup with the Steelmen in 1991, playing over 150 games before re-signing for first club Clydebank again in December 1993, where of course he played and coached until his untimely death.
Younger fans will know the legend, and can witness on YouTube his skill, stunning crossing, dribbling and goals….but they’ll not have seen the 5 – 15 free kicks a game he drew from the opposition, sometimes more in an Old Firm derby. He had the talent to make the world’s best defenders look like juniors, namely Scotland and Celtic legend Danny McGrain. In todays market, without doubt, Davie would be up for the Ballon D’or, of that I have no doubt. Weather Rangers could have kept a hold of him in todays climate also, is another fascinating discussion for the pub. It still amazes me he won so little caps for Scotland though, our Country’s loss in my opinion.
Whatever your memory of Davie, I’m sure it will be a good one. A dribble, free kick, or a goal. Mine? During a televised Champions League match, Dutch legend Ruud Gullit offered his thoughts on Davie Cooper, and how he wished to have seen him on the continent because he thought he was a “Great player”……Davie was speechless, and as Ray Wilkins stated “That was the first time”.
Make no mistake though, this is a guy who will never be forgotten, especially around the corridors of Ibrox Stadium. Every fan, young or old should take a jaunt through to Hamilton Palace and see his statue and have a ponder. If you’re in your late 30’s or older, perhaps you might offer a thank you? Whatever the thought, you’ll be doing it to the sound of a packed Ibrox belting out “Davie, oh Davie Cooper, oh Davie Cooper on the wing”