GENIUS is an over-used tag but it applied to Davie Cooper. He possessed a left foot on a par with Jim Baxter and dazzled defenders with his stunning wing play and magnificent crosses.
A match-winner in every sense of the phrase, his death from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 39 in 1995 stunned the nation.
Many rate him as one of the most gifted Scottish players of all time, up there with Denis Law, Jim Baxter and Kenny Dalglish. With the ball at his feet, no-one knew what to expect – except, perhaps, the unexpected.
He would run at defenders, show them a glimpse of the ball, pull it back, feint and then with a shimmy he would be gone – often past several players.
He could cross an inch-perfect ball to either head or foot and possessed such stunning shooting power that it made him a scorer of spectacular goals.
Two such gems among the 75 goals he scored for Rangers were a free kick against Aberdeen in the League Cup Final on October 25 1987 and his finest strike of all in the Drybrough Cup Final against Celtic on August 4 1979.
Against Aberdeen he hit the ball so hard past a wall of players that it rocketed into the far corner of the net beyond a helpless Jim Leighton.
Against Celtic, he received the ball on his chest with his back to goal on the edge of the box and seemingly nowhere to go. Cooper flicked it in the air four times with his left foot taking him past four Celtic defenders and put it in the net.
It was a majestic strike of outlandish flair and imagination and was voted the Greatest Ever Rangers Goal in a worldwide poll by fans.
It also summed up the essence of Cooper. For he was not at his best when receiving tactical instruction and told to stick to a plan. To bring out his genius, Cooper had to be given a free role and allowed to play the game as he saw it.
Cooper was born in Hamilton on February 25 1956. He became an apprentice printer and played for local amateurs Hamilton Avondale.
He joined Clydebank, receiving just over £300 as a signing on fee. The money, in fact, was the previous night’s takings from the Bankies social club.
Cooper inspired Clydebank to the Second Division title in 1975-76 and the big clubs began to take notice. Arsenal, Aston Villa and Coventry all tried to entice him, but Cooper was waiting for Rangers to make a move.
He got his chance to impress when Clydebank were drawn against Rangers in the quarter-final of the League Cup in September 1976. It took two replays for Rangers to overcome Clydebank and in the first game, a 3-3 draw at Ibrox, Cooper turned it on to score the match-saving equaliser.
Cooper was duly signed for Rangers by Jock Wallace in June 1977 for £100,000.
Essentially a left-winger, he played a limited number of games at outside right where he would cut inside to release other players.
That he was a largely a one-footed player became a joke among his team-mates. At his testimonial dinner, Ally McCoist, on behalf of the players, presented Cooper with something they said he’d always wanted – a dummy right leg!
But if he only had one foot, it was some foot.
Cooper was to form a magnificent partnership with centre forward Derek Johnstone. He won three Championships (1977-78, 1986-87 and 1988-89) and three Scottish Cups (2-1 against Aberdeen in 1978, 3-2 in a second replay against Hibernian in 1979 and scoring in a 4-1 drubbing of Dundee United in the replayed 1981 final).
That first season at Ibrox was a magical one for Cooper. He and the other new boys in the side, Bobby Russell and Gordon Smith, all played their part as Rangers won the Treble.
The press, however, dubbed him “The Moody Blue” because of his unwillingness to give interviews. Cooper was never one for the hype and preferred to do his talking on the pitch.
That season’s League Cup victory was his first in what became seven winners’ medals in the competition as Rangers beat Celtic 2-1 in 1977-78, Aberdeen 2-1 in 1978 79, Dundee United 2-1 in 1981-82, Celtic 3-2 in 1983-84, Dundee United 1-0 in 1984-85, Celtic 2-1 in 1986-87 and Aberdeen on penalties after a 3-3 draw in 1987-88.
Cooper scored four times in those seven Finals.
He won 24 caps for Scotland (20 of them with Rangers) and played in the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 having scored the all-important penalty against Wales to take them through.
He claimed to have been a lazy player, but when Jock Wallace returned as Rangers manager in 1983 the first words he spoke to an out of condition Cooper were: “You’ve got three weeks to lose half a stone.” Cooper did it in five days.
When Graeme Souness replaced Wallace in 1986, Rangers were to win their first Championship for nine years. And it was Cooper who supplied the cross for captain Terry Butcher to head home the goal that won the title against Aberdeen.
Souness was to say that Cooper “was as responsible as anybody for the success in winning the Championship. He could place the ball on a sixpence and caused teams all sorts of problems.”
By season 1988-89 he had stopped being an automatic choice and went to Motherwell in search of regular first team football in August 1989 for £50,000.
True to his talent, Cooper helped Motherwell to win the Scottish Cup, defeating Dundee United 4-3 in the 1991 Final.
Cooper was planning to end his career back at Clydebank, but on March 22 1995 he collapsed, and died of a brain haemorrhage the following day. He was only 39.
The tragedy stunned Scottish football fans everywhere, especially at Rangers. Flowers and scarves adorned the gates at the Copland Road end of Ibrox in his memory.
He had played 540 games for Rangers and left an indelible mark.
Former Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh once said of him: “Football is not about robots or boring tactics. It’s about excitement, emotion and individual flair and imagination as shown by Davie Cooper.”
It is an appropriate epitaph for a man who brought a touch of magic to the beautiful game.