Saturday, 23 March 2013

Gone but never forgotten

On a fairly bright spring evening in the early 90s, I travelled to Fir Park to watch Celtic take on Motherwell. Half an hour before the game got underway the two teams trotted out for their pre-match warm up and stretches. Davie Cooper was among the Motherwell players that day and he trotted to the end occupied by Celtic fans with the ball at his feet. A few shouted predictable abuse at the former Rangers player as he stopped the ball 25 yards from the empty goal. He chipped the ball towards the empty net and it struck the cross bar. Howls of derision came from some of the Celtic fans, ‘Ye couldny even score in an empty net ya tadger!’ one fan roared. Cooper re-spotted the ball, chipped it again and struck the cross bar again. He did this 5 times in succession. The derision stopped and if he didn’t receive any applause at least there was grudging respect for a player who could play the game with grace and skill.  Today, March 23rd is the anniversary of Cooper’s passing at the young age of 39.

You may wonder why a blogger who bleeds green and white is writing about Davie Cooper. I do this as a mark of respect to an excellent footballer and in doing so call to mind all of those great players we loved or loved to hate who died too soon. There was the elegance of Tommy Burns which is forever etched on the minds of those of us who saw him play. The box to box running of the tireless Phil O’Donnell inspired those around him to match his energy levels and commitment. The guts and sheer desire to do well for the club he loved marked out Johnny Doyle as a true Celt. The magic of Jimmy Johnstone, who on his game, was virtually unplayable. Then of course there was the great John Thompson, taken in such a tragic and public way. All of these Celtic men graced the Hoops and we are thankful for all they did for Celtic. We cherish memory and know that as long as there is a Celtic FC they will be honoured.

Of course every Club has had its share of tragedy. It is the nature of life. The Busby Babes were decimated in that awful air crash in Munich in 1958. The great Torino team which won the Italian title from 1945-1949 was completely wiped out when their plane crashed returning from a game in Lisbon. Among the dead was club captain Valentino Mazzola who left a young son Sandro, who later played for Inter Milan against Celtic in Lisbon 1967. We have also lost players such as Bobby McKean (Rangers), Mikhlos Ferer (Benfica), Marc Vivian Foe (Cameroon) and Antonio Puerta (Seville FC). I am sure you could all name more from the amateur and professional game.

All of this isn’t written to depress you, rather it is a reminder to cherish the memory of those we enjoyed watching play this great game of ours. If some choose to sing moronic songs about them then they are a disgrace to themselves and whatever team they follow. I never met Davie Cooper but I did admire his skill. If history had been different he could have been a Celtic great but he chose to play for the team he supported as a boy when he left Clydebank. In 1979 he scored perhaps the most skillful goal ever seen in an Old Firm game.  A sunny Hampden Park was the scene for the Dryborough Cup competition and 60,000 fans saw a game which in fairness Rangers deserved to win. Cooper was at his mesmeric best and in the second half controlled a pass at the edge of the Celtic box. As the nearest Celtic defender rushed at him he coolly lobbed the ball over him. A second defender raced to block the danger and without the ball touching the ground was also lobbed. Amazingly he did the same to a third Celtic defender before smashing the ball home. It was an amazing goal and should you doubt my description of it, it can still be seen on Youtube.

The point of this blog today is to point out that some things are bigger than our petty rivalries. Bill Shankley’s assertion that ‘Football was more important than life and death,’ was simply wrong. I’m sure the Hillsborough families would agree with me on that. Celtic fans are great at respecting the memory of players lost too soon. I know 99.9% of them would never indulge in tasteless singing about those lost. I’ve had the privilege to watch some great players over the years and have stood shoulder to shoulder with Celtic fans who on occasion have muttered things such , ‘That was bloody great play, pity he’s a hun!’  The rivalry was intense but the majority knew a player when they saw one. There may be one or two of you out there who disagree with what I’ve said today and that’s your choice but I’ll finish by saying a thank you to all the great players who entertained me over the years and especially to those who were taken too soon. We won't forget. God Bless you all.

Rest in Peace
Tommy Burns
Johnny Doyle
Jimmy Johnstone
John Thompson
Phil O’Donnell
Davie Cooper


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