Remembering Gothenburg Great and Aberdeen legend Neale Cooper

It has been exactly five years since Neale Cooper passed away
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Last year, members of Aberdeen's famous European Cup Winners' Cup side gathered at Pittodrie to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their incredible triumph.

The group of players and staff that claimed that remarkable victory over La Liga giants Real Madrid at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg, Sweden on May 11, 1983, will forever be known as the Gothenburg Greats.

Each member was awarded with the Freedom of the City, which had already been bestowed on legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson back in 1999, however, the only ex-player who was missing from those celebrations was Neale "Tattie" Cooper.

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Neale sadly passed in May 2018 aged just 54, after collapsing outside his home in the Bucksburn area of the city.

A public memorial event and celebration of Cooper's life was held at Pittodrie on June 8, 2018, where over 4,000 people including Cooper's family, friends, former teammates and fans attended.

Later that month, another one of his former clubs Hartlepool United announced that they would be renaming a stand in his honour.

The Neale Cooper Stand, formerly known as the Mill House Stand, was officially unveiled in a pre-season game against Sunderland that summer. Cooper had two successful spells as manager of the English National League side between 2003 and 2012.

But back in the Granite City, the former combative midfielder was an integral part of Ferguson's Aberdeen side that dominated not only Scottish football but went onto to come out on top against the best that Europe had to offer.

Cooper would make a total of 220 appearances for his boyhood club, scoring 10 goals. He would win nine major trophies in his eight seasons at Pittodrie, including two league titles and four Scottish Cups, along with the Cup Winners' Cup and the European Super Cup.

Although he was renowned for his ability and tenacity on the pitch, the former Hazlehead Academy pupil was a huge character in the Aberdeen dressing room, who would always find a way to make those around him laugh.

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Speaking at an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Cup Winners' Cup glory last year, the man who scored the winning goal that night - John Hewitt - paid an emotional tribute to his late teammate and friend Cooper.

He said: "He should be here, because he was such a huge part of the dressing room and put a smile on everybody's face. He would make everyone laugh within 10 seconds and was such an infectious character who was the life and soul of the party.

Neale (right) and Hewitt (middle) celebrate the historic achievement of Aberdeen's famous night in Gothenburg
Neale (right) and Hewitt (middle) celebrate the historic achievement of Aberdeen's famous night in Gothenburg -Credit:Getty Images

"Every group should have a Neale Cooper, and we were so fortunate and blessed to have him as our friend and colleague on the pitch."

Fellow Gothenburg Great Alex McLeish also echoed that sentiment, and recalled his first memories of his former teammate. "He was youngest member of our squad, and was such a wonderful bloke", he added. "I kept in touch with him throughout the years and whenever I was up in Aberdeen I would give him a shout.

"To lose Tattie was emotional, as he had done so much for the club.

"When I first went up to Pittodrie, I saw the youth team training and playing head tennis in the car park. I saw this young guy with white curly hair, who was only 16 or 17 at the time, and thought 'wow he looks phenomenal'.

"I thought that he was some level as a young player already, and that we would have to up our game to make sure we stayed in the team. Because Willie and I had such a good partnership in defence, Neale wasn't going to get into that position and turned into an enforcer in midfield who would not only drive us forward but was also good on the ball."

Iconic skipper Willie Miller also noted that Cooper's importance to that side can never be understated.

He said: "It's obviously sad as he is the only one who won't be with us. But we will all remember him very fondly for not only what he did off the field in terms of his character, but his quality on the pitch as well.

Neale (bottom row, far left) was a crucial part of Aberdeen's Scottish Cup winning sides; here he is pictured after their 1986 triumph
Neale (bottom row, far left) was a crucial part of Aberdeen's Scottish Cup winning sides; here he is pictured after their 1986 triumph -Credit:Getty Images

"When he was first coming through as a player, the paper's decided that he was taking over from me and that he was the new Franz Beckenbauer! But I had my eye on him very early just to make sure that it wasn't the case!

"He eventually found his slot in midfield alongside Neil Simpson, where he was a huge influence as he gave us that strength and energy in midfield."

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As knowledge of the finest hour in Aberdeen's 120 year history continues to be passed down to each generation, Neale Cooper is a name that will forever be ingrained in the four corners of Pittodrie.