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Frank Kopel

Footballer

Footballer

Born: March 28, 1949; Died: April 16, 2014.

FRANK Kopel, who has died aged 65 after fighting a long battle with dementia, was one of the most cherished members of the Dundee United side, which performed with distinction throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

He might not have gained the senior international honours of some of his Tannadice colleagues, but the former right-back with a wry sense of humour was never short of devoted fans and it was a measure of his popularity that, within hours of the news emerging of his demise, many supporters - and not just those resident on Tayside - were calling on the SFA to call next month's Scottish Cup final - which features United and St Johnstone - the Frank Kopel final.

In recent years, he and his devoted wife, Amanda, were less in the media glare for football than in highlighting the horrible impact of dementia, not just on those suffering from the disease, but their families, who face the prospect of watching loved ones slipping into another world, one where they have little or no recollection of those around them.

Frank and Amanda had campaigned for dementia victims under 65 to be given free personal care and, just a few weeks ago, the Scottish Government's health secretary, Alex Neil, visited the couple at their Kirriemuir home and subsequently promised to speak in the Holyrood parliament about the issue.

In earlier, happier times, Kopel was one of the few players who could count themselves among the hallowed Busby Babes at Manchester United, whom he joined after leaving school at the age of 16. By that stage, the Falkirk-born teenager had already demonstrated sufficient talent to gain recognition at schoolboy level for Scotland, and he made his debut as a substitute at Old Trafford during a 2-2 draw with Burnley in September 1967.

It was a tough place to command first-team action - this was the period when the Red Devils, Denis Law, George Best, Bobby Charlton et al, were on course to become European champions - and Kopel's opportunities were limited. Yet it was a measure of the youngster that he kept training hard, never moaned about sitting on the subs' bench, and impressed Sir Matt Busby with his redoubtable professionalism.

He was eventually sold on to Blackburn Rovers in March 1969 for £25,000, but it proved an inauspicious move, and he was as relieved as anybody when he returned to his homeland and forged an allegiance with Dundee United in 1972, which would establish him as one of the club's most talismanic characters.

At his best, he oozed a they-shall-not-pass attitude to strikers, but also possessed sufficient class and confidence to develop into a pivotal player for the Tannadice side. For the next decade, he was an ubiquitous figure in the ranks, turning out in nearly 400 games, and he became used to appearing in high-profile finals, as United's reputation increased.

He was an ever-present member of the team which reached two Scottish Cup finals, in 1974 and 1981, and although he had to settle for a losers' medal in both instances, with Celtic winning the first match 3-0 and Rangers the latter by 4-1 in a replay, Kopel had better fortune on the League Cup trail where he tasted triumph twice with United.

These happened in successive years, with the Terrors getting the better of Aberdeen in 1979 - by 3-0 in a replay at Dens Park - and Dundee by the same margin in a Tayside derby, where Kopel and his confreres were in rampant form. This was a United ensemble replete with gifted individuals, a stakhanovite manager in Jim McLean, and a willingness to go the extra mile to break the Old Firm's former stranglehold.

By the time Kopel departed Tannadice to become player-coach at Arbroath in 1982, he was a cult hero among Arab aficionados and later had the honour of being inducted into the club's Hall of Fame, in addition to having a Dundee United Supporters Club named after him, Frank Kopel's Travelling Shindig. Quite simply, as one fan tweeted yesterday: "Frank did a fantastic job on the pitch for us. But he was also a helluva nice lad."

He also worked with Forfar, did some scouting, and made personal appearances. Football was his life

One of the United directors, Derek Robertson, summed the situation up with equal affection. "It's very sad, because 65 is just too young for anyone to die, and Frank really was a brilliant servant of this football club. It's remarkable to think that he was part of the side that made it to our first-ever Scottish Cup final - and now we sit on the verge of taking part in our tenth [at Celtic Park on May 17]."

The only regret is that Frank will not be there to see them chase another prize. But those who witnessed him in his prime will never forget him.

He is survived by Amanda and his son, Scott.

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