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Neale Cooper: His football career

May 28, 2018 9:49 pm Author: RedMatchday team


“He is one the best prospects I have seen coming through in Scotland. His maturity and calmness on the ball for one so young is incredible, he reminds me of a young Franz Beckenbauer.” The words of former Scotland boss Andy Roxburgh as a young Neale Cooper emerged in the Scotland Youth side.

Born in Darjeeling in India on 24th November 1963, Cooper was brought up in Aberdeen and attended Hazlehead Academy where he was first spotted by the Dons.

He represented Scotland at all levels right up to 13 Scotland U-21 caps but never received a full cap. His full debut for Aberdeen came against Kilmarnock on 11th October 1980 at 16 years of age and he remains one of the Dons youngest ever debutants.

Neale Cooper

It was in season 1981/82 that Cooper established himself in the first team but not as a central defender where he first emerged. Manager Alex Ferguson used Cooper in a midfield role where his energy and combative nature provided a perfect foil for team mate Neil Simpson in the Aberdeen engine room. It was a partnership that evolved into one of the most respected in the game and on foreign fields. With Gordon Strachan and Peter Weir forming a four-man midfield the Simpson-Cooper combination became one of the most feared in British football. His first full season as a regular ended in jubilation as he scored against Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final. Aberdeen routed the Glasgow club in extra time and the Dons fourth goal came from Cooper as he blasted the ball into an empty net before embarking on his legendary celebration.

In season 1982/83 Neale Cooper played his part as Aberdeen created club history when they won the European Cup Winners Cup after defeating Real Madrid in the final in Gothenburg. It was his performances in the likes of the Olympic Stadium in Munich and latterly the Volkspark Stadium in Hamburg that earned Cooper proper acclaim.

Neale Cooper

Celebrations at full time in Gothenburg

Further success came as Aberdeen dominated the domestic scene and continued to impress in Europe.

Reflecting on his time with the Dons after six years at Pittodrie; “Winning so much so often was almost expected. I thought it was always going to be like that. What we achieved back then when you look back that time was incredible. We had a great mix of youth and experience and it was a great combination. With someone like Fergie as boss, we daren’t fail!”

In the summer of 1986 Cooper joined Aston Villa in a £350,000 deal that was set by a tribunal after the clubs could not agree a fee. Injuries curtailed his time at Villa Park and after two years in England, he returned to Scotland and signed for Rangers. After a brief spell with Reading, Cooper joined Dunfermline in 1991 where he remained for five seasons.

It was at Ross County that Neale wound down his playing days before embarking on a managerial career with the Staggies. After two promotions with County, Cooper left Dingwall and joined Hartlepool United who were in the English Second Division. After taking the newly promoted side to the play offs in his first season there was heartbreak as two last minute goals from Bristol City ended their dreams in the semi-final. It can be argued that his most successful period as a manager was with the North East of England club where he returned in December 2011. Cooper rescued Hartlepool’s season but left in October 2012 after a run of defeats. Cooper was credited with taking several young players through at Hartlepool where he is still remembered with great fondness by the Hartlepool support.

Neale Cooper

In charge of Peterhead FC. Image: SNSGROUP

In between his two spells in England, Cooper returned to assist Steve Paterson at Peterhead in 2006. When Paterson left two years later, Cooper took over as manager in his own right at Balmoor two years later. After two seasons where Peterhead just missed out on promotion, Cooper left Peterhead in March 2011 after a struggle near the bottom of the Second Division. In 2012 he was appointed assistant manager to Derek Adams at Ross County.

Aberdeen Football Club has been fortunate enough to have had many great players who have gone on to become legends. Neale Cooper would grace any Aberdeen side from any era and his contribution to the club will never be forgotten.

In detail | please click here to visit Neale’s profile page on the AFC Heritage Trust website


As a player:
  • European Super Cup Winner 1983
  • ECWC Winner 1983
  • Premier League Winner 1984, 1985
  • Scottish Cup Winner 1982,1983,1984, 1986
  • Scottish League Cup Winner 1985
  • Scottish First Division Winner 1996
As a Manager;
  • Scottish Third Division 1999
  • Scottish Second Division (Promoted) 2000

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