Neale Cooper: Willie Miller pays tribute to 'larger than life' character

Neale Cooper (far right) celebrating Aberdeen's success in Gothenburg
Neale Cooper (far right) celebrating Aberdeen's European Cup Winners' Cup success in 1983

Aberdeen great Willie Miller has paid tribute to late former team-mate Neale Cooper and described his death as "a huge loss" for everyone who knew him.

Cooper, who passed away aged 54 on Monday after collapsing at the weekend, was "a larger than life character" with a sharp sense of humour, said Miller.

The pair played in the Dons' 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final-winning side that defeated Real Madrid in Sweden.

"A Gothenburg team-mate that's the first one to leave us and it's affected us all," Miller, 63, told BBC Scotland.

Miller said Cooper would be remembered fondly by his family but also the wider community in Aberdeen.

"I'm sure there are a whole host of Aberdonians with stories to tell having come across Neale Cooper - and they're all good stories," Miller said on BBC Radio Scotland's John Beattie programme.

Humour amid the hairdryer treatment

"You won't hear a bad story about Neale. I first came across him when he was 14 or 15; I watched him develop into an amazing footballer but I think he will be remembered for living life to the full.

"That was Neale, always with a smile on his face and always a joke on his lips and always friendly with everyone he came in touch with.

Sir Alex Ferguson
Even Sir Alex Ferguson's hairdryer treatment couldn't dampen Cooper's humour

"He was a much-loved person - you hear that being said about people over the years but in this case it's 100% correct."

Miller said his late former team-mate could prove mischievous, and his trademark humour would shine through, even when Sir Alex Ferguson was on the warpath. Ferguson managed the Dons from 1978 to 1986 and Cooper was a player there for most of that time.

"Neale was a big character in the dressing room and it was very difficult to have a serious conversation with him," Miller explained.

"He would always twist it round to have some kind of humour involved. When Sir Alex was having some of his hairdryer conversations, the last thing you wanted to do was catch Neale's eye in the dressing room because you knew at the time there would be some humour there or wickedness.

Willie Miller with the European Cup Winners' Cup
Miller describes Aberdeen's 1983 side as "a very special group of players"

"You didn't want to be laughing when Sir Alex was having a rant. But Neale would get away with it, he was renowned for his imitations of his ex-manager - they were hilarious and I think even Sir Alex found him entertaining."

Miller recounted how Cooper, who was born in India, came to Scotland and had designs on a first-team place at the heart of Aberdeen's defence.

"He was a young footballer who came to the club with the tag of 'the new [Franz] Beckenbauer'.

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'Did you go to Gothenburg?' - Cooper's funny memory of fan (recorded 2017)

"Of course, his only problem was that was my position... and there was no way I was going to let him take over as sweeper. I think I made that pretty clear to him!

"The manager converted him into a midfield player and a very good midfielder. He and Neil Simpson, as a midfield partnership, that was a real barrier, it certainly made my job easier. They could play, but their strengths were undoubtedly stopping the opposition and then feeding the ball to wider areas where there was a little bit more skill.

"Neale was a passionate footballer and he played with a big heart. It brings it home - when you're in a very special group of players and you feel that you can take on the world; these things are now in the past.

"He was 19 in 1983 and I was 27. There was quite a bit of difference between me and him; when something like this hits you so suddenly it brings back the frailties of life.

"We're trying to react to the situation the way Neale would react to it, although it's difficult. You do try to bring a bit of humour into it in these difficult times, because that's what Neale gave to us.

"That kind of attitude in life is so important - and he had it in abundance."

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