I'll Never Forget Seeing That Curly Mop of White Hair Walking into the Training Ground. I Thought We Had a Top Player in Our Midst & I Wasn't Wrong ...This News Is Just Horrific; DEATH OF A DONS LEGENDNEALE COOPER (1963-2018)mcleish Heartbroken after Cooper's Death

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), May 29, 2018 | Go to article overview

I'll Never Forget Seeing That Curly Mop of White Hair Walking into the Training Ground. I Thought We Had a Top Player in Our Midst & I Wasn't Wrong ...This News Is Just Horrific; DEATH OF A DONS LEGENDNEALE COOPER (1963-2018)mcleish Heartbroken after Cooper's Death


Byline: GARY RALSTON IN LIMA

HIS mind should have been on those iconic shirts with the red sash but the only image Alex McLeish could recall last night was a mop of curly white hair.

The Scotland boss choked back tears here in Lima as news broke of the death of his friend and team-mate Neale Cooper on the eve of the game with Peru.

Scotland are billeted in fivestar luxury in the executive Miraflores district on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

McLeish's thoughts however, were back in the windswept north east of Scotland, training sessions as teenagers on the beach and red blaes in the shadow of Pittodrie.

Ally MacLeod and Billy McNeill would oversee the initial development of a group of young players that included McLeish and Cooper, as well as Eric Black, Neil Simpson and John Hewitt, before their talent would blossom and flourish under Sir Alex Ferguson.

The cruel irony is the last time McLeish sat down with his pal was only a few weeks ago, as the Dons legends gathered to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their greatest achievement, that memorable victory over Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup.

McLeish said: "I'm devastated to hear the terrible news about Neale.

"We grew up together and I have known him since he was 14. He was a talented team mate and a good friend, someone you could always count on, both on and off the park. It was a privilege to have played alongside him and an even greater privilege to have counted him as my friend.

"My thoughts go out to his family in this difficult time."

"It's horrible, tragic. Neale was a massive character, a tremendous lad always. He was such an affable guy.

"I was praying he would pull through - we were all together in that because he was such a battler.

"I saw him last at our Gothenburg night a few weeks ago and he was in such good spirits.

"I spoke to him about his heart attack last year and he said he was recovering well.

"He was such an important player, especially for Aberdeen, and he had a great career.

"I'll never forget seeing that mop of white curls walking into the training ground. I thought we had a top player in our midst and I wasn't wrong.

"I was 17, he was only 14 but he wasn't overawed. When I went to Aberdeen he was supposed to be the new Franz Beckenbauer and on that training ground Neale stuck out a mile.

"I remember thinking, 'Who's that? He's absolutely brilliant.' "Then, because of the partnership Willie Miller and I formed, he moved to midfield and became a good footballer with an aggressive style of play. He could do everything."

Joe Harper also paid tribute to his fellow Dons legend, who went on to play for Rangers, Aston Villa, Reading, Dunfermline and Ross County. …

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