Davie Cooper

By Adam Robertson
 September 14, 2020

Davie Cooper - The story about Coop
Davie Cooper

Davie Cooper - The story about Coop

The first time I saw Davie Cooper play was in a 0-0 draw against Forfar in the Scottish Cup Semi Final. 

The last time I saw Davie Cooper was in a TV report from a stadium barely a mile away from where I was brought up. He would die the next day. 

It seemed impossible to believe. We hadn’t as a country experienced the period where Princess Diana’s passing seemed to hint at a quite different British approach to the death of public figures but something about Cooper’s loss hit home. He wasn’t even 40 years old. He had a long life ahead of coaching and helping pass on so much knowledge and love for football. But it wasn’t to be. 

In much the same way that part of John Greig’s appeal to the support was based on his loyalty so it was with Coop, although the respective strengths of those teams is not necessarily analogous. 

There were times in the early 1980s where watching Rangers wasn’t always fun. I didn’t get the memo, mind you. Although I was fortunate enough to spend the initial phase of attending games from some comfortable positions I could have watched one hundred nil-nil draws in a row and found something to marvel at from the day out. Even as a deeply annoying child I could tell that one or two of our team were a little more talented than the rest, and on the occasions where Cooper carried the team or lit up the game I could sense that the adults in attendance were as one with my considered and clearly informed opinion: Davie Cooper was magic. 

The best goal he never scored was an inswinging corner against Celtic at Parkhead in 1987, an effort disallowed at the time for a phantom menacing intrusion upon the person of Pat Bonner. The story about Coop repeatedly hitting the bar at the same venue but on another occasion – the crowd cheering the first shot delivered during warm-up, before slowly piping down as he hits the next few off the same part of the upright – has grown some arms and legs over the years but is still worth repeating. Many of Cooper’s greatest moments were assists: great crosses, passes wrong-footing defenders, no-look flicks to team mates, or some ludicrous runs that would end up with some big swine stealing the credit. 

But for some reason there are two goals – both at Hampden – that stick in the mind. Both celebrated with the same familiar gesture, both displaying the unbridled joy of socking it to the footballing enemy. And as an added bonus I was present for the latter. The 1978 League Cup Final, where good prevailed in extra time, saw Gordon Smith somehow get in a cross that Cooper lashed home from about eight yards out – unspectacular connection but beautiful all the same. It’s a staple of the home entertainment series of Old Firm derby DVDs that many of us used to play the night before a game and as the alcohol consumption increased it got better and better. It’s a simple goal, a simple celebration, but it’s exactly how it should be. GIRFUY. 

Fast forward (ask your parents) to the by now Skol-sponsored LCF of 1986, a place in the not quite as swanky as today South Stand, and a game that had more action and silliness than most of this on-going franchise, but was again enlivened by a Cooper performance of note; he ran ragged the rascal right back employed that day by the local arch-conspiracist David Hay, and set up Durrant’s goal by winning a free kick and then launching a tremendous delivery into the box which fell to the wee man and was dispatched with aplomb. Coop won another free kick in a similar spot with six minutes to go 

and Derek Ferguson’s early ball in found Roy Aitken in a speculative audition for GB’s Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team. 

Cooper was entrusted with the penalty – as he had been for another vital kick in Cardiff the year before in fraught and ultimately tragic circumstances – and after sending Bonner the wrong way the scorer was lifted up by Ally McCoist as he saluted the jubilant Rangers support. The footage of the two of them exchanging beaming smiles in recognition of what would surely be the winner is as close to a homo-erotic experience that many otherwise dull and conservative Presbyterians will indulge. It should be available on the NHS. 

Of course, choosing just to linger at Hampden, there’s the ‘I almost got it on the way back out’ free-kick v Leighton and then the small matter of one of the greatest goals ever scored in Scotland. 

Although it was only via slow-motion and then very limited footage that younger fans would one day see the goals from that famous 1979 Dryburgh Cup tie v Celtic there’s something very appropriate about that means of discovery. It’s an otherworldly goal. You cannot conceive of how it is possible. And yet it happened. The grainy footage, the slightly over-exposed film, and lack of original soundtrack present it as an installation piece. Not to mention a fucking tremendous piece of skill, balance, vision, composure and shithousery. 

Were that to be scored today in a Bournemouth v Burnley game it would lead Sky Sports News for a week; if it happened in a CL tie or a big international and was scored by someone that ticks the right boxes it would likely be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. 

Only Cooper could have relegated Sandy Jardine’s wonder goal that day to something like a Cinderella status. His loss is still felt today. Ruud Gullit had the right idea about Davie.

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