Scottish football legends turned out to celebrate the opening of Aberdeen’s new Cruyff Court Neale Cooper.
The facility – named in honour of the late Aberdeen star – is the second football pitch of its kind to open for children in the city.
Neale’s family were at the event yesterday along with Gothenburg Great Jim Leighton, Denis Law, former Scotland captain Darren Fletcher and former Pittodrie stars Alex McLeish and Steve Archibald.
Archie Knox, who as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen helped nurture Cooper as he made his breakthrough with the team, was also at the special event.
The £300,000 community sports facility was built on local authority land next to Tullos Primary School and pupils got the chance to try out the new site yesterday.
Neale’s son Alex Cooper said: “We are proud to see dad’s memory being honoured in this way and to be part of the opening celebrations.
“He had an impact on different places through Scotland, so this is a nice legacy for Aberdeen.
“I grew up around it. I’d go with him to the training ground and to matches. I grew up seeing it all the time and I was always encouraged to do what I wanted.
“Whenever I came through to Aberdeen when I was young, I saw the way people treated him.
“He was humble (about his own career). The only time he talked about it was if he was messing around or joking.
“Football was a huge part of his life from a young age and provided so many wonderful opportunities.
“We know Cruyff Court Neale Cooper will provide the next generation with the same chance to play and thrive.”
And Denis Law added: “It’s a brilliant day for Neale’s family and all of the partners to see the project completed and the site come to life with lots of laughter and smiles.
“The first Cruyff Court has been a real asset to Aberdeen and to the work of our Streetsport team – there’s no doubt in my mind Cruyff Court Neale Cooper will be just as successful.”
Cruyff Courts were named after the legendary Dutch player, considered to be one of the most influential figures in footballing history.
The first pitch of its kind built in Aberdeen – Cruyff Court Denis Law – has proved popular, with Thursday night sessions attracting hundreds of young people and more than 1,200 participations in the first two years.
A Cruyff Court tournament in Aberdeen led to local schools meeting up and also gave winning boys and girls’ teams the opportunity to compete nationally, travelling to Merseyside to take part in the UK finals and being given a VIP tour of Anfield as part of the prize.
The success provided the inspiration for the second Cruyff Court.
Neale, who died last year, was a key member of Aberdeen’s team that won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983.
He played more than 200 games for the Pittodrie side – also winning the European Super Cup, two Premier Division titles, the Scottish Cup on four occasions and the League Cup – having been recruited as a schoolboy.
Alex McLeish said everyone felt a mix of “happy emotions” at the event, adding: “I saw Shirley Cooper (Neale’s sister) shedding a tear when Neale’s name was mentioned in the auditorium.
“It was tears of joy I think in terms of the tribute paid to Neale.
“In the Johan Cruyff era – I’m not saying he was that type of player when he played for the Dons at his highest level – but when he was younger he was cultivated as a superb footballer and would’ve been a sweeper to all intents and purposes until he had to battle with the great Willie Miller.
“It’s sensational for him and his family to be remembered this way. (The more) it raises awareness for all the youngsters to get out and play football, then the more it’ll get our country to qualify for (major) finals again.”
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Jenny Laing said: “It is fantastic to see Cruyff Court Neale Cooper open and already being used and enjoyed.
“Honouring Neale in this way is very fitting and it’s a pleasure to welcome the family to perform the official opening.
“This will be a hugely popular and important facility, providing a safe and supportive environment.”