TODAY marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Rangers legend Davie Cooper and his former teammate and close friend Gordon Smith can scarcely believe a quarter of a century has now passed since that tragic loss. Cooper was aged just 39 at the time.
“I’ll never forget the moment I heard,” said Smith. “Someone from STV phoned me up to ask for my thoughts on Coop. I thought they were maybe producing a documentary looking back on his career or something like that.
“I hadn’t heard the news so they were the ones to break it to me. And I just remember being in total shock and thinking this couldn’t be true. That was a real heart-breaking moment for me.
Coop and I had stayed good friends long after we had both stopped playing. We were actually meant to be having lunch the next day. It was so tragic what happened. He was the best player I played with at any point in my career.”
The pair first got in tow back in 1977. Cooper’s form in his first stint at Clydebank had caught the eye of Rangers manager Jock Wallace who was quick to snap up the winger. Also arriving at Ibrox around that time was Smith, a goalscoring midfielder who had impressed during five seasons at Kilmarnock. Alongside another new arrival in Bobby Russell, all three would be instrumental in delivering a domestic treble in their first season at the club.
Smith and Cooper soon formed an enduring partnership both on and off the pitch. Cooper was the younger man by just 14 months and the pair found they had a lot in common.
“I got on with him right away,” added Smith. “The two of us and Bobby Russell were the new faces in the dressing room that summer. Most of the other guys had been there for a while, so the three of us had a closeness and we got in the team around the same time under Jock Wallace. And it ended up being a really successful season. Those were special moments.
“In the first cup final we played in together [the League Cup final in March 1978], I made the first goal for Coop and then got the winner as we beat Celtic 2-1 at Hampden. So that was a brilliant day for both of us. It meant a lot that we had both contributed to such a big occasion in our first season.
“To go on from there to win the treble was just incredible. We couldn’t have asked for a better start on the pitch and most days we would also go out for lunch together, so there was a real closeness away from football too.”
Cooper was known for liking a punt now and again and Smith revealed how he inadvertently got roped into helping his friend win a few quid not long after joining Rangers.
He added: “Coop had told people at the club that I was a really good runner. It was still the first week of training and I wasn’t in the first team at that point, but all the others were saying there was no way I would beat big Peter McCloy in a race.
“I didn’t know anything about this when I was in just having a shower after training, but Coop had been putting bets on me to win while everyone else was betting against me.
“So I got dragged out the shower to have this race and I managed to beat big Peter. Coop was hugging me afterwards. I thought he was just pleased for me as his pal, but I soon realised it was because I had won him a fair few quid from our teammates! So that was a good start to our friendship.”
Smith’s time at Rangers came to an end in 1980 when he was sold to Brighton & Hove Albion for a record transfer fee. But even then there was a chance the double act with Cooper could have gone on for longer.
He added: “There’s another good story from when I signed for Brighton. Alan Mullery, who was the manager at that time, told me just after I had completed the forms that he had actually tried to sign two of us.
“I wasn’t sure what he meant so he explained he had put in a bid for both me and Coop. He told me that he had watched me in two games for Rangers and I had scored three goals. Coop had set me up for all three.
“So Brighton wanted both of us but Rangers would only let one of us leave. I told Alan he had got the wrong one! I was more than happy to tell him that Coop would have been a brilliant signing.
“I think Davie would have done really well down there if it had happened. But it was maybe a good thing for Rangers that he didn’t leave.”
Smith explained what it was about Cooper that made him such a special talent. “He was just so comfortable on the ball. He was a great striker of it as well and a brilliant passer. It actually took me a couple of games to figure out that Coop liked to have a few touches before he got rid of the ball.
“While he was having those touches he was dragging defenders out of position as they came out to try to close him down. That would create space in behind the defence for the rest of us.
“So I used to wait to let him have those touches and then I made my run forward. I never had to shout for the pass as he always saw you going, and then he would slot the ball through with perfect timing. He made it look almost effortless.
He was a special talent with a great technique. People say he was one-footed but that was enough. It didn’t matter about his right foot as his left was so good.”
Any list of the all-time greatest Scottish players would be a subjective one, but Smith believes there would need to be a place for Cooper in anyone’s starting line-up.
He continued: “If you’re picking an all-time Scottish team then you’d have to have Coop in there. You couldn’t leave out someone with that talent. Any manager would have loved to have been able to call upon Davie and what he could bring.
“Rangers fans know all about what he could do. Motherwell, Clydebank and Scotland fans too. It’s just a shame that there weren’t as many live televised games back then as there are now so more fans could get to see what kind of player he was. I just wish there was more footage of Coop that we could all look back on.
“Any time I meet with Rangers fans or my former teammates there’s always a story or two about Coop when people talk about that era and the success we had.
“I think when Rangers fans – and hopefully Scottish fans in general – look back at that time they’ll realise what a talented player we had on our hands.
“He still sticks out in people’s memories for the games he played in and the things he was able to do with the ball. He was the most gifted player I ever saw.”