Our third inductee to the Motherwell FC Hall of Fame in 2020 is Davie Cooper.
The 1991 Scottish Cup winner joins John Hunter and Andy Paton in this year’s intake.
We will honour the class of 2020 with a unique virtual induction event this winter by means of a special live, free-to-air, online event.
We are also once again asking the fans to pick our fifth inductee.
You can join in the vote by nominating any individual from any era in Motherwell’s past – player, manager or official – who you think is worthy of being included in the 2020 class.
Born in Hamilton on 25 February 1956, it is fair to say Davie Cooper would become one of the most popular post-war Scottish football players ever.
He joined Motherwell in 1989 for £50,000, having lost his place at Rangers amid the bankrolled Graeme Souness era, and seemingly near the end of a most successful career. It was not to be and in his twilight years at Fir Park, he revealed himself to be a quite extraordinary player, whose guile and skill more than made up for his advancing years.
The then-Motherwell manager Tommy McLean signed the prodigious and obvious talent for a relatively small fee, which history will tell you now was a stroke of genius. McLean had chased Cooper for some time, knowing fine that he would be the cherry on top of the workmanlike squad he had built to maintain the clubs’ status in the top flight of Scottish football.
Those who thought Cooper was going to North Lanarkshire merely to play out his years were proved spectacularly wrong as he arguably produced some of the best football of his entire career whilst at Fir Park.
All the wizardry and accuracy that characterised his time at Ibrox seemed undiminished by his veteran status. He was still the master of the dribble and, even more so, the weighted pass. Subtle tricky and endearing, he was a player fans of both sides could warm to.
His debut in claret and amber came at Rugby Park in a midweek League Cup tie in August 1989. His performance was as good any he would produce for the club. Motherwell fans were aghast as Cooper set up three of the four goals the Steelmen scored that evening, as Kilmarnock were brushed aside 4-1.
His first game at Fir Park turned out to be equally entertaining. Cooper again was the main man, being the architect of a 3-1 win over St. Mirren with two goals for Nick Cusack, and a clincher from Stevie Kirk.
He continued to inspire those around him. He was the lynchpin of a terrific showing at Fir Park in September when Dundee were swept aside 3-0 with Cooper scoring his first-ever goal for the Steelmen. Attendances began to rise as the Lanarkshire public warmed to the Hamilton man. When Rangers came calling four days after the Dundee match, that warming grew into unconditional love for the winger.
The big-spending Glasgow giants were humbled as the Steelmen went top of the league, as Cooper combined with another former Ger, Bobby Russell, to create and score the winner on a memorable night under the Fir Park lights.
October saw another Cooper masterclass when Dundee United were defeated in a five-goal thriller. The national press began to speculate on whether Davie should be included in the Scotland squad for a vital upcoming World Cup qualifier against Norway. As it happens, he was included and produced a man of the match performance as the Scots won 3-1 to secure a place at Italia 90.
Domestically, he would score seven times in his first season, a couple of which secured a draw at home to Aberdeen in another pulsating affair as Ne’erday approached. Motherwell finished a comfortable mid-table in a 10-team division, which most fans were happy with, hoping it would be a springboard to success in campaign 1990/91.
Davie was integral to everything Motherwell produced that following season, missing only two league games, scoring another five times as the Steelmen replicated the previous year’s performance with a similar position in the final league table. Where the league form could be labelled workmanlike, the Scottish Cup seemed to spark the players into life.
Cooper inspired a cup run that will never be forgotten around Lanarkshire. He was integral to the exciting victories over Aberdeen, Falkirk and Morton before being suspended for the two semi-final ties against Celtic, largely due to his inability to button his lip with match officials.
Of course, he was back in the side come that wonderful day in May 1991.
His presence and experience undoubtedly gave the confidence to his teammates and the belief that they could lift the Scottish Cup for the first time in 39 years.
That belief turned to reality as goals from Ian Ferguson, Phil O’Donnell, Ian Angus and Stevie Kirk brought joy, not only to the 35,000 Motherwell fans on the slopes of Hampden Park but those with claret and amber in their hearts watching from afar.
Despite approaching his mid-30s, Davie only missed five games of the 50 Motherwell played the following season, scoring five times. Two of these came in a great 2-0 win over St. Mirren at Love Street in early November. He, of course, was also part of the first-ever Motherwell side to take part in European competition on 18 September 1991 in Poland against GKS Katowice. The 2-0 defeat that day was witnessed by a sizeable support from Scotland and would’ve been bigger, had two supporter buses not missed all but ten minutes of the tie.
The second leg witnessed a sublime display from Cooper as he dazzled under the Fir Park floodlights. Over 10,000 fans roared the home side on from the kickoff as the Steelmen looked to overturn the first-leg deficit.
After incessant pressure, the visitors fell behind when a sumptuous pass from Cooper set Kirk up, who finished with aplomb. Early into the second half though, the Steelmen were caught with a breakaway and Katowice equalised on the night briefly silencing the home support.
Back ‘Well roared back with Cooper at the helm, as he crossed first for Nick Cusack to score, and then minutes later for Stevie Kirk to notch his second of the evening. Despite the atmosphere reaching fever pitch, Motherwell failed to score for a fourth time, and we were eliminated on the dreaded away goals rule.
Davie’s final full season at the club was the 1992/93 campaign. However, it proved to be something of a disappointment for the fans, again allowed Coop to display his talents time after time. Incredibly for his age, and position he played, Cooper was the only ever-present Motherwell player that season, turning out in all 46 competitive matches. Indeed, his final goal in our colours came in the April of that season at Fir Park against Celtic, in a memorable 2-0 win over the Glasgow side.
After the summer of 1993, it became apparent that Cooper’s appearances for the club would be mostly from the bench. Indeed, his final sighting in a Motherwell kit was as a substitute in mid-December, contributing to a terrific 3-2 win at Tynecastle Park over an excellent Hearts team, with goals from Tommy Coyne, twice, and Rab McKinnon.
With his chances of regular football at Fir Park diminishing somewhat, Davie decided to continue playing, and more significantly perhaps contributing, to football matches, and returned to serve his first club, Clydebank.
Many had assumed that Cooper’s move to Fir Park would see him treating the move as a form of early retirement. But Davie proved he was bigger and better than that by not only winning a Scottish Cup winner’s medal with Motherwell but also resurrecting his International career. In fact, had he not gone over on his ankle as he ran through Strathclyde Park shortly before the squad was announced, Cooper would’ve been the first-ever Motherwell player to play on the World Cup Finals stage in Italia ’90.
In the 15 months since Davie had left Fir Park, life had been good with Motherwell narrowly losing out in a title fight with Rangers in 1994 and going toe to toe again with the Light Blues the following season eventually finishing runners-up.
However, everything was put into perspective when news broke of Cooper collapsing at Broadwood Stadium in March 1995 whilst filming a television show and coaching youngsters.
The following day as the Motherwell squad and fans were travelling through to Easter Road to take on Hibs in a vital league match, it was confirmed that Davie had passed away of a brain haemorrhage aged just 39.
Given the impact he had had during his time in North Lanarkshire, quite understandably, neither the players nor the fans seemed capable getting themselves up for the game, and the home side ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. It is no exaggeration to say that the whole Scottish nation was both stunned and deeply saddened by his untimely death, as floral tributes were left at Ibrox, Fir Park and Kilbowie in abundance.
The Motherwell FC board decided to name the newly constructed North Stand after him.
Davie Cooper inspired a team of footballers and supporters of this club, giving everything he had for the cause. 165 appearances and 17 goals for Motherwell may be the facts and figures of his time at Fir Park, but they barely scratch the surface of his life and times at the club.
His range of ball skills and sheer entertainment value made him instantly recognisable. Cooper was clearly a match-winner, a skilled craftsman and an almost unique talent. He had a cultured left foot, amazing dribbling skills, precision crosses and truly stunning dead-ball accuracy. He was a player that literally had you off your seat when on the ball, dictating play to his preferences, and his teams’ advantage.
Motherwell has been fortunate to have a list of quite outstanding left wingers throughout history. From Bobby Ferrier, Johnny Aitkenhead and Pat Quinn are just some of the big names to have played in that position through the years.
Cooper rightly deserves his position near the top of such a list for the way he almost single-handedly raised the spirits of the area and the perception of Motherwell Football Club within the game that his contribution is hard to measure subjectively.
Off the pitch, he was a terrific ambassador for the football club and the wider community, contrary to the perceived “Moody Blue” persona which was portrayed during his time at Rangers.
History will dictate that Davie Cooper’s legend is more famed for his stint at Ibrox and although his time with us may have been relatively short, no one could ever question the effect, nor the passion he had for this our club. A modern-day footballing genius and a man who inspired a group to achieve immortality.