Neale Cooper

Neale James Cooper (24 November 1963 – 28 May 2018) was a Scottish football player and coach. He played as a midfielder during the 1980s and 1990s, most prominently for the Aberdeen team managed by Alex Ferguson, and later played for Aston Villa, Rangers, Reading, Dunfermline Athletic and Ross County. Cooper then became a coach, and worked as a manager in England with Hartlepool United (twice) and Gillingham, and in Scotland with Ross County and Peterhead.

Neale Cooper
Personal information
Full name Neale James Cooper[1]
Date of birth (1963-11-24)24 November 1963[1]
Place of birth Darjeeling,[1] West Bengal, India
Date of death 28 May 2018(2018-05-28) (aged 54)[1]
Place of death Aberdeen,[1] Scotland
Height 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)[2]
Position(s) Midfielder
Youth career
1978–1979 King Street
1979–1980 Aberdeen
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1980–1986 Aberdeen 220 (10)
1986–1988 Aston Villa 20 (0)
1988–1990 Rangers 17 (1)
1990–1991 Aberdeen 0 (0)
1991 Reading 7 (0)
1991–1996 Dunfermline Athletic 101 (4)
1996–1998 Ross County 5 (0)
Total 370 (15)
National team
1981–1985 Scotland U21[3] 13 (0)
1983 Scotland U19
Teams managed
1996–2002 Ross County
2003–2005 Hartlepool United
2005 Gillingham
2008–2011 Peterhead
2011–2012 Hartlepool United
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Playing careerEdit

Born in Darjeeling, India, Cooper attended Airyhall Primary School and Hazlehead Academy in Aberdeen and began his senior career with Aberdeen, the team he had supported as a boy. A first-team regular from the beginning of the 1981–82 season, he starred in midfield for the Dons for five seasons in which he won two Premier Division championships, four Scottish Cups, one League Cup, the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup and the European Super Cup under the management of Alex Ferguson.[4] Having initially moved into a flat in Aberdeen as a young player, Cooper was 'persuaded' by Ferguson to return to his mother's home to help ensure that Cooper was shielded from the obvious temptations arising from youthful independence.[5]

In the summer of 1986, he signed for Aston Villa.[4] Cooper made only twenty league appearances in the next two years, partly because of injuries.[4] In the 1988–89 season, he transferred to Rangers but injuries restricted him to only seventeen league appearances.[4] Cooper returned to Aberdeen in 1990, but he was unable to make a first team appearance due to ongoing fitness issues.[4]

In 1991, Cooper signed for Reading, where he linked up with his former Aberdeen teammate Mark McGhee.[4] Cooper made seven league appearances in a brief stint with Reading, before he moved to Dunfermline Athletic.[4] At Dunfermline he was able to play regularly, helping them win promotion to the Premier Division in 1995–96 (having lost to his former club Aberdeen in the play-off a year earlier).[4]

Despite his success at club level and a prominent role in the national age-group teams including at the 1983 FIFA World Youth Championship, he never gained a full cap for Scotland, a fact which surprised many.[4][5][6]

Managerial careerEdit

Ross CountyEdit

In 1996, Cooper moved into management with Ross County.[4] He guided the Staggies through two successful promotion campaigns climbing from the fourth to the second tier, before stepping down after a run of only one win in eleven games.

Hartlepool UnitedEdit

After a break from the game to recharge his batteries and refresh, Cooper was appointed manager of Hartlepool United. Pools had been promoted from the bottom tier of English football to Division Two for the third time in their history, but manager Mike Newell had been sacked. He was a surprise choice of chairman Ken Hodcroft, but Cooper's strong Aberdeen links, with Pools owners IOR Ltd based in the Scottish city, helped his cause. Hodcroft was impressed by Cooper from their first encounter. Upon appointment, Cooper joked "I've com from Ross County, which is somewhere up near Iceland".[7]

His first game in charge of Pools was a memorable 4-3 opening day of the season win at Peterborough United - with four new signings all getting on the scoresheet, creating history in the process. Cooper described it as "One of the most emotional games of football I've ever been involved in" after his new side came back from 3-1 down to win. [1]

That momentum carried Pools forward, coupled with Cooper's charisma and touchline passion. New signing Marco Gabbiadini made an impact before he was forced to retire. Another new striking recruit Paul Robinson scored a hat-trick in a Friday night 8-1 thumping of Grimsby Town at Victoria Park. Cooper then drove back home to Aberdeen to be with his family after the game.

Cooper's touchline manner meant he was an instant hit with the Pools' crowd and that season he led the team to their highest-ever league finish - sixth in Division Two. They also took over 10,000 fans to the Stadium of Light - the biggest away attendance at Sunderland's ground - for an FA Cup third round tie.[8]

Pools secured a play-off spot thanks to a 1-1 draw at Swindon Town on the final day. Both teams only needed a point to make the play-offs and Pools took on Bristol City. Pools drew 1-1 at home, before losing 2-1 in the second-leg, conceding two late goals after Antony Sweeney had headed Pools in front.

The next season, Pools again finished sixth. Cooper's side was a joy to watch as they embarked on a 12-game unbeaten run at the turn of the year with Adam Boyd and Joel Porter irresistible up front. But Pools won only 3 of 12 games, including a 4-6 home loss to Wrexham. And after a home defeat by Walsall, Cooper was controversially removed from his post, with just one league game to go. Hodcroft later said that the manager was struggling on a number of personal fronts with his family and children back in Aberdeen.

Cooper's assistant Martin Scott took temporary command and Cooper's players made the play-off final, losing 4-2 to Sheffield Wednesday after extra time.

Cooper's time in charge of Pools from 2003-2005 is viewed as one of the club's finest and most exciting chapters.


Three weeks after leaving Hartlepool, he took over the reins at Gillingham.[9] Cooper resigned in November of that year after poor performances in the league and an FA Cup defeat to Northern Premier League side Burscough.[10]


In October 2006, Cooper returned to Scottish football with Second Division Peterhead, as he took on the role of first team coach under the management of Steve Paterson. When Paterson left Peterhead in early 2008, Cooper took over as manager. Peterhead narrowly missed out on the end of season playoffs for a place in the Scottish First Division in 2008 finishing 5th, however he guided the Blue Toon to fourth place the following season and a playoff against Airdrie United.[11] Peterhead struggled in the following season, however, and Cooper left the club in March 2011 with them sitting bottom of the Second Division table.[11]

Hartlepool UnitedEdit

On 28 December 2011, Cooper was reappointed as manager of League One club Hartlepool United.[9] In Neale's third game as manager, Pools managed to end their poor run of home form with a 2–0 win against Rochdale.[12] Cooper brought numerous talented young players into the Hartlepool first team with seven teenagers from the club's academy making their debuts.[13] - including Luke James.

After a 3–2 defeat on the final day to league champions Charlton Athletic,[14] he guided them to a 13th-place finish in the 2011–12 season, their highest league finish since he was last in charge at The Vic. After a poor run of form at the start of the 2012–13 season and unable to halt the slide amid a fractured dressing room, Cooper resigned as Hartlepool boss in late October after a defeat at Bury.[15] He is always held in the highest regard by Hartlepool fans.[16]

Ross CountyEdit

On 23 November 2012, Cooper was appointed assistant manager of Ross County, by now a Scottish Premier League side, alongside Derek Adams.[17] Cooper left Ross County at the end of the 2013–14 season.[18]

Personal lifeEdit

In November 2017, Cooper was one of four inductees into the Aberdeen Hall of Fame.[19]

His son Alex played in Liverpool youth academy, after a £100,000 move from Ross County in December 2007.[20] Alex spent the summer of 2006 at a training camp in Switzerland with Chelsea, and Jose Mourinho had reportedly tracked his development. He was released by Liverpool in 2011 and has since played first team football for several clubs, mainly in Scotland.[21]


On 28 May 2018 it was reported that Cooper was in a critical condition after being found collapsed in the stairwell of flats in Aberdeen.[22] He died later that day, aged 54.[22]

A public memorial event and celebration of Cooper's life was held at Aberdeen's ground Pittodrie Stadium on 8 June 2018.[23] The evening was attended by Neale Cooper's family, former teammates and fans and saw over 4,000 people attend.[24]

In June, his former club Hartlepool United announced that they would be renaming a stand in his honour. The Neale Cooper Stand, formerly the Mill House Stand, was officially unveiled in a pre-season game against Sunderland in July.[25]

Managerial statisticsEdit

As of 24 October 2012[26]
Team From To Record
G W D L Win %
Ross County 1 July 1996 11 November 2002 299 130 89 80 043.48
Hartlepool United 26 June 2003 4 May 2005 110 48 26 36 043.64
Gillingham 21 May 2005 15 November 2005 22 7 5 10 031.82
Peterhead 10 January 2008 22 March 2011 143 50 39 54 034.97
Hartlepool United 28 December 2011 24 October 2012 40 7 14 19 017.50
Total 614 242 173 199 039.41



Dunfermline Athletic


Ross County


  1. ^ a b c d e "Neale Cooper". Barry Hugman's Footballers. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  2. ^ Dunk, Peter, ed. (1987). Rothmans Football Yearbook 1987–88. London: Queen Anne Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-356-14354-5.
  3. ^ "Scotland U21 Player Neale Cooper Details". Fitba Stats. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mackie, James (2010). Fergie's Proteges. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 54–61. ISBN 978-1-4535-6730-2.[self-published source]
  5. ^ a b "Obituary: Neale Cooper, talented footballer who somehow never won a Scotland cap". The Scotsman. 1 June 2018. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  6. ^ Scotland: Top players never to be capped by their country, Jordan Elgott & Nick McPheat, BBC Sport, 25 June 2020
  7. ^ "Neale Cooper: Loved by everyone in Hartlepool". The Northern Echo. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  8. ^ Chronicle, Evening (4 January 2004). "Sunderland 1, Hartlepool 0". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Neale Cooper gets Hartlepool United job". BBC Sport. BBC. 28 December 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  10. ^ "Gillingham manager Cooper resigns". BBC Sport. 15 November 2005. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Peterhead part with manager Cooper and line up Sheran". BBC Sport. BBC. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  12. ^ "Hartlepool 2-0 Rochdale". BBC Sport. BBC. 30 May 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  13. ^ Ashdown, John (9 May 2012). "League One 2011-12: the bloggers' end-of-season report". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Charlton 3-2 Hartlepool". BBC Sport. BBC. 5 May 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  15. ^ "Neale Cooper resigns as Hartlepool United first-team coach". BBC Sport. BBC. 24 October 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  16. ^ "Fans sad to see Cooper go". Hartlepool Mail. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Neale Cooper returns to Ross County as club's assistant manager". STV Sport. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  18. ^ "Ross County: Neale Cooper exits as assistant manager". BBC Sport. BBC. 12 May 2014. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  19. ^ "2017 AFC Hall of Fame". Aberdeen F.C. 11 November 2017. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  20. ^ Liverpool Sign Young Winger, accessed 19 June 2009.
  21. ^ Alex Cooper at Soccerbase
  22. ^ a b "Ex-footballer Neale Cooper dies after collapsing". BBC News. BBC. 28 May 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  23. ^ "CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF NEALE COOPER". Aberdeen FC. 4 June 2018.
  24. ^ "Family, team-mates and thousands of fans gather at Pittodrie Stadium to pay poignant tributes in memory of Gothenburg hero Neale Cooper". Press and Journal. 9 June 2018.
  25. ^ "Neale Cooper stand unveiled on emotional day at Pools". Hartlepool Mail. 14 July 2018.
  26. ^ "Neale Cooper". Soccerbase. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g "Neale Cooper: his football career". Aberdeen F.C. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  28. ^ Hart, Ross (28 May 2018). "Former Par Cooper passes away". Dunfermline Press.
  29. ^ "Neale Cooper". League Managers Association. Retrieved 1 June 2018.

External linksEdit