Everyone at Hartlepool United is absolutely devastated to learn of the tragic death of former boss Neale Cooper at the age of 54.
Neale took charge of 150 games over two spells in the Victoria Park dugout and remained an incredibly popular figure with players, fans and staff alike.
Blessed with a wonderful sense of humour, Neale also had great passion and drive which helped him lead Pools in to the League One play-offs during his first season at the helm, ultimately losing in dramatic circumstances to Bristol City in the semi-finals at the end of 2003/04.
The following year he proved it was no fluke and, although he left the Club shortly before the end of the campaign, Neale laid the groundwork for the team to reach the League One Play-Off Final where they were cruelly beaten by Sheffield Wednesday at The Millennium Stadium.
He returned for a second stint in December 2011 and, while it didn’t live up to the dizzy heights of his first tenure, it was testament to his hard work, enthusiasm and bond with supporters that he left with his head held high the following October.
Before turning to management, Neale enjoyed a hugely successful playing career after coming through the ranks at Aberdeen to become a fearsome midfielder under the guidance of boss Alex Ferguson.
He broke in to the First Team in the early 1980s at the tender age of 18 and went on to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup, the Super Cup, two league titles, four Scottish Cups and a League Cup before he’d hit 24.
His form earned him a move to England with Aston Villa in 1986 where he spent two seasons before moving back north of the border with Rangers for a spell before a switch to Reading where he joined former Dons team mate Mark McGhee.
During the latter stages of his playing days he signed for Dunfermline Athletic whom he helped to promotion before moving on to Ross County where he was to take his first steps in to management.
He guided The Staggies to consecutive promotions and it was that performance which encouraged then Pools Chairman Ken Hodcroft to appoint him as boss at Victoria Park in the summer of 2003.
During his first spell, there is little doubt that he oversaw some of the greatest times in the Club’s history. A 4-3 comeback win at Peterborough in his first game in charge, an astonishing 8-1 thumping of Grimsby Town, a snowbound 5-2 win at Port Vale and the Adam Boyd inspired 3-0 triumph over Sheffield Wednesday are just a few examples.
His win rate of almost 44% exclusively at League One level makes him statistically one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) Pools managers of all time.
Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his family and friends at this time.
We are heartbroken.