DEREK JOHNSTONE was fortunate enough to win so much with Rangers with so many different, wonderful players.
The very best player he played with, however, was Davie Cooper.
Johnstone was an established member of the Rangers first team when Cooper arrived in 1977, and the two quickly struck up an outstanding partnership, both as teammates on the field and as friends off it.
Goal after goal Cooper would make from the left for DJ – and Johnstone will never, ever forget the contribution he made to both his career and his life 25 years-on from is tragic passing from a brain haemorrhage.
Johnstone paid tribute to Cooper on the Official Rangers Podcast and explained: “I’m asked many times who the best player I ever played with is, and with the greatest of respect to the likes of John Greig, Colin Stein, Sandy Jardine, Willie Johnston and Alex MacDonald, who were all for me, fantastic players, the best player I played with was Davie Cooper without a shadow of a doubt.
“When you were struggling, you gave him the ball and he took it for a run and held onto it for 20 minutes.
“People would say, ‘he wasn’t the biggest player’ and ‘he only had a left foot’ – but what a left foot.
“He was absolutely terrific. He never, ever hid in any games and always wanted the ball and always wanted to take men on.
“He always had a look in the box and his crossing was unbelievable as far as strikers or centre-forwards were concerned.
“I scored so many goals from him on the left-hand side, and the likes of Tommy McLean on the right-hand side.
“He was nicknamed the ‘Moody Blue’ but he was anything but. He was a good lad and once you got to know him and once he got to know you, he was a very, very friendly lad and a very funny man as well.
“The whole football world couldn’t believe it 25 years ago when this horrible thing happened to him and we miss him so much.
“He is still being talked about by the older Rangers fans to this day.”
Cooper’s first season at Ibrox could hardly have gone any better, as Rangers won the treble with him netting crucial goals (including in the League Cup final with Celtic) and claiming vital assists along the way.
DJ continued: “Winning the treble that year was absolutely terrific, and he certainly played his part along with all the other lads who were in the side.
“We didn’t have a big, huge squad at that time – I think we maybe used 15 or 16 players throughout the whole season and we didn’t have too many injuries.
“But Davie was a massive part of that, and being a Rangers fan and being his first season, he wanted to do well.
“He was outstanding in these games, and it is like everything else, when you start well at a club and it is a club you have loved all your life, he enjoyed coming into training and he enjoyed playing.
“You saw the smile on his face too – he was a quiet lad when he came in at first, but then he started talking a lot more and he started joking in the dressing room – as you’ve got to do in dressing rooms as if you don’t try to be funny or answer players back, then you’re going to come under a wee bit of pressure.
“But he loved all that and he just loved coming into the club. He used to get a lift in from the likes of Bobby Russell and people who lived beside him in Hamilton as he never drove, so he was always getting lifts in.
“He was just a delight to play with and a really good lad.”
And while Cooper to this day remains revered at Ibrox for his contribution, supporters of Clydebank and Motherwell too have such fond memories of what he gave to those clubs.
Johnstone believes that to be extra-special and added: “He was loved at Clydebank, and was arguably Clydebank’s best-ever player. He came to Rangers and is certainly one of the Rangers greats as far as I’m concerned.
“And of course, he went to Motherwell late-on in his career and was an absolute hero there as well, and has a stand named after him at Fir Park.
“For me, that is quality – at every club he played for the fans loved him and he did a turn for that club, and that’s a huge accolade for a really, really good player.”