Neale James Cooper (24 November 1963 – 28 May 2018) was a Scottish football player and coach. Cooper played as a midfielder during the 1980s and 1990s, most prominently for the Aberdeen team managed by Alex Ferguson. He 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 and Gillingham, and in Scotland with Ross County and Peterhead.
|Full name||Neale James Cooper|
|Date of birth||24 November 1963|
|Place of birth||Darjeeling, West Bengal, India|
|Date of death||28 May 2018 (aged 54)|
|Place of death||Aberdeen, Scotland|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Born in Darjeeling, India, Cooper attended Airyhall Primary School and Hazlehead Academy in Aberdeen and began his senior career with Aberdeen, the team he'd 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. 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.
In the summer of 1986, he signed for Aston Villa. Cooper made only twenty league appearances in the next two years, partly because of injuries. In the 1988–89 season, he transferred to Rangers but injuries restricted him to only seventeen league appearances. Cooper returned to Aberdeen in 1990, but he was unable to make a first team appearance due to ongoing fitness issues.
In 1991, Cooper signed for Reading, where he linked up with his former Aberdeen teammate Mark McGhee. Cooper made seven league appearances in a brief stint with Reading, before he moved to Dunfermline Athletic. At Dunfermline he was able to play regularly, helping them win promotion in 1995/96. In 1996, he moved into management with Ross County.
He guided the Staggies through two successful promotion campaigns before stepping down after a run of only one win in eleven games and joining Hartlepool United, who were newly promoted from the Third Division to the Second Division. Hartlepool finished in sixth, their highest ever league finish. Cooper took them to the play-offs in his first season where they lost to Bristol City in the semi-finals after two late goals.
In his second season, Cooper took Hartlepool within points to securing another play-off spot before leaving by mutual consent with one match remaining due to "personal and family issues". Hartlepool then went on to make the final of the play-offs, where they lost to Sheffield Wednesday. Three weeks after leaving Hartlepool, he took over the reins at Gillingham. Cooper resigned in November of that year after poor performances in the league and an FA Cup defeat to Northern Premier League side Burscough.
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. Peterhead struggled in the following season, however, and Cooper left the club in March 2011 with them sitting bottom of the Second Division table.
On 28 December 2011, Cooper was reappointed as manager of League 1 club Hartlepool United. In Neale's third game as manager, Hartlepool managed to end their poor run of home form with a 2–0 win against Rochdale. Neale brought numerous talented young players into the Hartlepool first team with seven teenagers from the club's academy making their debuts. After a 3–2 defeat on the final day to league champions Charlton Athletic, he guided them to a 13th-place finish in the 2011–2012 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, Neale resigned as Hartlepool boss in late October. He is still held in very high regard by Hartlepool fans.
|Ross County||1 July 1996||11 November 2002||299||130||89||80||43.48|
|Hartlepool United||26 June 2003||4 May 2005||110||48||26||36||43.64|
|Gillingham||21 May 2005||15 November 2005||22||7||5||10||31.82|
|Peterhead||10 January 2008||22 March 2011||143||50||39||54||34.97|
|Hartlepool United||28 December 2011||24 October 2012||40||7||14||19||17.50|
Cooper had a son, Alex, who represented Liverpool youth academy, after a £100,000 move from Ross County in December 2007. 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.
In November 2017, Cooper was one of four inductees into the Aberdeen Hall of Fame.
A Celebration of Neale's life was held at Aberdeen's ground Pittodrie Stadium on June 8th. The evening was attended by Neale's family, former team mates and fans and saw over 4,000 people attend.