It’s best to start with an admission. I adored Neale Cooper, the player, the person, the voracious lover of life.
This has been a hard week, the first few days of which were lost to mourning.
Neale’s death hit me far, far harder than I could possibly have imagined even given the huge affection I had for him.
This time last year when I was a fellow speaker at the Newtonhill FC dinner in Altens, he had me in tears of helpless laughter despite him having only been released from hospital a couple of days earlier after terrible leg pain.
Was only out with Tattie and Charlie a few months ago. And speaking at a dinner with him this time last year. Absolutely devastated. Funny, lovely, talented Dandy. Loved him to pieces.
Can’t believe it pic.twitter.com/1XMcXkOzc0
— Graham Hunter (@BumperGraham) May 28, 2018
In January we were out in a good group of characters, including Craig Brown and Jim Leighton, enjoying the pleasures of a spot of karaoke in McNastys.
And a few weeks ago I was a go-between for the possibility of a job for Tattie in Poland at Lechia Gdansk.
He’d had a chance of working in Thailand thanks to contacts with Stevie Nicol so the Poland thing passed to Lee McCulloch.
But Neale told me that he was “desperate to get back to coaching”.
Working in Spain has allowed me access and, in some cases, friendship with great players of my era who’ve won Champions League titles, won the World Cup and all that jazz. I continue to feel privileged.
But nothing compared to the thrill of becoming friendly with Tattie.
You see, to my fevered mind, he was me.
When I was a little kid in Bieldside, his mum and dad, before Mr Cooper’s sudden and awfully sad death from a heart attack, owned the local shop.
I didn’t know it at the time but Neale and I were apparently classmates for a while.
Once his father died he moved on to Airyhall and Hazlehead but whenever Neale would meet my dad at Pittodrie, which was often, he’d ask after life in Barcelona and tell GH senior that: “I was at school with Graham, you know!”
If he was briefly at Cults Primary then I’m honoured.
But even though we then didn’t meet properly until the late, great, much-mourned Champers nightclub in the early 1980s (each of us with a curly dyed-blond mop of Harpo Marx hair by then), Tattie seemed to me, and to my pals who frequented Pittodrie, as “one of us”.
My time in Barcelona has coincided with watching the mega-emotion generated when footballers born and trained locally achieve greatness for the club they support.
The jaw-dropping adoration for Fernando Torres at Atleti wasn’t simply because he won titles for Spain.
Remember, he didn’t even win a trophy with Atleti until this year’s minute-long appearance in the Europa League final in Lyon.
He was utterly loved because he was the embodiment of the fans, the guy who made it. The hero who loved Atleti JUST as much as they did.
Raúl felt it at Madrid. Xavi and Puyol at Barça.
I understood, all these years, because (just like Simmy and Johnny Hewitt) Super Cooper was the anointed Aberdonian.
He loved the Dandies just as much as we did, he loved a night out at least as much as we did, he had a character which told him that he could devour the world and if it was big Doug Rougvie who became indelibly linked with “let’s go to Glasgow and stick it to them at Ibrox and Parkhead”, all of us knew that the whole team felt that way. But to Neale it was second nature. Nothing daunted him, not even another row from furious Fergie.
If you’ve had a lockie-in at the Bielder, drank Tequila Sunrises until 2am, got up at 5am to get on a bus to Hampden, gone 1-0 down to a John Submarine MacDonald goal and then seen the afternoon climaxed by Tattie ramming the ball into an empty net for 4-1 before doing his somersault celebration at the Rangers end, then you instantly know: he is ME!
An incredible athlete, fabulous footballer, belligerent, team-spirited – all of this we could see. But it took me until my journalistic life to find out that Tattie was the funniest man on the planet.
Everyone, literally everyone, you meet who knew him will have stories about him (either that he told or that he caused) which reduce them to helpless, happy mirth.
Cling on to those, folks. It’s one way Nealie will live with us forever.
His story about Fergie and the one-ball-bowled cricket game at Gordonstoun did it for me. The one he told me in January about the side effects to his heart-stent and his proposed remedies did too.
One day Gary McAllister and I were waiting to chat to Steven Gerrard on a big film set where Adidas were shooting a major kit launch advert. The great man was in his trailer getting made up so Gary filled the time with a “Tattie tale”.
Gary Mac had seen that Aston Villa hadn’t been a great place for Neale thanks to a car theft and a house break-in. So he decided to call round one day, only to discover, several streets away, that his route was via an increasing tide of water. As he got nearer Chez Tattie he, of course, found that Neale had gone to training with the bath still running and so bad was the flood that a basket full of kittens, plus garden accoutrements and detritus from Neale’s house, floated past him.
And by the time our hero was home, he was happier to see Gary Mac than he was upset about the soaking house.
It was for these, and about a million other, reasons that I decided to call Real Madrid on Monday night.
Their win in Kiev meant that Neale & Co remain the last to beat Madrid in a Uefa knock-out competition final – 35 years later.
Emilio Butragueño couldn’t have been quicker, nicer or more sincere about: “While Madrid can’t routinely do this for the hundreds of thousands of those who’ve played against us … Neale and Aberdeen were a special case.”
Hence their letter to Stewart Milne, our beloved club and the Cooper family about this beloved man.
Truly, a special case. Even Real Madrid knew. Viva Tattie Cooper. Forever.