I never met Davie Cooper, was never even in the same room as him. He never threw himself at the TV cameras for pre or post match interviews. Yet, as the tributes he received showed, he was more than just a face in the crowd of all the players we’ve seen at Ibrox over the years. His talent shone out and drew an affection all of its own - stronger because he never courted fame. He was something special.
We’ve all got our own favourite memories of Davie Cooper - when I close my eyes and think of him I see him hunched over a ball looking a defender in the face, weight shifted over his left foot enticing the defender to commit himself to the tackle, the shimmy that would take him past about to be performed; for all the times he did it, for all the times they studied him, he still suckered them.
Other memories are of him blasting that League Cup final free kick into the Aberdeen net, of him striding up the pitch after scoring with his little finger wagging in victory. Although I wasn’t present at the Drybrough Cup Final where he scored that wonderful keepy-up goal - taking the ball over the heads of three Celtic defenders - that is another treasured memory of the Coop’s genius. That old grainy amateur film of him doing that one seems to have come from a different age: happy days.
We should have had another afternoon or two of Coop’s magic to enjoy. Earlier this year he announced that he was retiring from football at the end of this season. We had an article written which was due to go in this issue listing those Clydebank games which didn’t clash with Rangers ones and were going to encourage Bears to go along and give the Coop a good send-off.
There are yet more memories of Coop which no video and no camera can capture - that buzz of expectation which rang around the stadium when he got the ball and everyone knew he was going to do something special. Of those days when the catch-phrase amongst the crowd was “skin him Davie” as he inevitably nutmegged or swam past opponents. Or of the way he moved the ball along by running his studs over the top of it, with the force of tens of thousands singing “Davie, Davie, Davie Cooper on the wing” as he raced forward.
My own personal favourite memory was of the League Cup semi final 2nd leg against Dundee United at Ibrox back in 1984 - in the first 20 minutes of the second half I saw the best individual performance I’ve seen of any player where I have personally been present. He ripped them apart. At one point there were three United players on their bums as he jinked and swerved, one mistimed a tackle and his two pals simply lost their balance trying to work out what the Coop was up to as he dragged them one way then another. Magic.
There were journalists who wrote “I cried” articles about Davie. Some of them seemed sincere - some were just jumping on a bandwagon. A funeral is a place for women and children to cry and men to act as men. At the fans memorial to Davie at the stadium gates and on the route of his funeral cortege I must admit I felt a lump in my throat. The silence of thousands standing in tribute mattered more than any words.
Why did Davie Cooper matter so much? It was his talent. He had that something special - I’m not going to say he was better than Pele, Best or Law or any of that over-the-top nonsense. Position for position he was in their league. But more than that - he stayed with the team he loved when he could have made more money elsewhere. There was a period of about five seasons when the Coop’s talents were wasted in a Rangers team which rarely showed much ambition, yet he stayed - and we never forgot his loyalty. That was one of the tragedies of Davie Cooper - he played his prime years in a team where there were few, if any, of the same calibre.
The other tragedy was of course his death at such an early age. In that death however there was something poignant - he died with his boots on - filming a training session to pass on his skills to others. There’s never a good time to die - there’s always things you wish you’d said or done - but if Davie could have chosen how to go I’m sure he’d have preferred the way he did.
The Davie Cooper story was filled with great achievements and outrageous talent - the sadness should not obscure the fact that he achieved what most can only ever dream of. In his last interview he wrote his own epitaph:
“I think the Continent may have suited me with the amount of time you get on the ball.
But I don’t look back - I was a Rangers supporter and I spent the bulk of my career at the team I loved.
You take your chances - I had a great career - I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”