Born: November 6, 1944;

Died: September 13, 2020.

THE eulogy at Bryan Cooney’s funeral was read by his close friend Jim Black, former chief sports writer of the Scottish Sun, and co-founder with him of an unconventional sports website, No Grey Areas.

Cooney, said Black, “built a huge reputation as a fearless story-breaker who was never afraid to shoot from the lip. Indeed he pulled fewer punches than Muhammad Ali … but underneath that occasionally intimidating exterior lurked a kind and very generous heart”.

Bryan Hector Cooney, who has died aged 75, 12 years after being diagnosed with prostrate cancer, was one of Scotland’s best-known sports journalists. His fall-outs with leading sports figures, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Jock Stein, Sir Alf Ramsey, Kevin Keegan, Nick Faldo and Tom Kite, was legendary, but he also won the respect and lasting friendship of many leading figures in sport.

Aberdeen-born, he left school with virtually no educational qualifications (despite his father, John, having been headmaster of a city primary school) and tackled a variety of jobs including driving taxis. When he began his journalistic career, it was as a racing page sub-editor on the Press and Journal

Save for a brief interlude at a South London weekly newspaper , he spent four decades working for national newspapers: the Daily Express in Glasgow and London; the Scottish Sun; 10 years as chief sports writer of the Daily Star; and, in 1997, sports editor at the Daily Mail in London – the pinnacle of his career.

Two years earlier, he had been appointed sports editor of the Scottish Daily Mail which had been relaunched as a stand-alone title. The born-again mid-market tabloid rapidly achieved a significant presence in Scotland, and Bryan’s success in producing quality, circulation-boosting content, after building a sports department from scratch, led to the Mail editor, Paul Dacre luring him back to London as his highly-paid head of sport and associate editor.

The tall, brash and often-arrogant but prodigiously hard-working Cooney immediately began a massive reorganisation of the Mail’s allegedly much-too-laid back sports department. Bryan acquiesced in firm, if perhaps a trifle brutal fashion, rationalising: “People had to go. And soon they went.”

Just four years later his dream job ended in tears as he was forced to resign through ill-health, unusually caused by excessive potassium in his body. Devastated, he returned to Scotland, seeking a new career as a Glasgow-based freelance sportswriter in a notoriously competitive market.

Fortuitously, he almost immediately struck up a warm relationship with the Sunday Herald sports staff, and over the next 11 years delivered a highly readable, beautifully crafted weekly column for the sports pages, plus other ad hoc feature articles.

His talents were rewarded by his being three times voted sports journalist of the year in the Scottish Press Awards.

He also presented, on BBC Radio Scotland, six series of sports programmes with a penchant for choosing to interview successful people with flawed characters. One series, The Pain of the Game, won him a Sony bronze award.

His debut book, Stand By Your Reds, paid homage to his beloved Aberdeen FC. He followed this with a profile of Celtic FC footballer George Connelly, and then the story of the enigmatic but brilliant Scottish musician, Gerry Rafferty.

Most fascinating was his autobiography, Fingerprints of a Football Rascal, an Amazon Kindle. Its blurb pointed to an early life lived fully if not wholly wisely: “The mayhem of my young life: the wild drinking and aberrant escapades, precipitated by the lunatic lotion”. Bryan, very proud of his Irish heritage, was a binge drinker who became truculent and aggressive while tippling to excess.

Though he became teetotal in his later life, his accumulative drinking on duty had led to his dismissal from the Scottish Sun – not helped by being banned from travelling on the Scottish Football Association’s official charter flights after a drunken episode in Spain when he was found sleeping in the hotel bed of an SFA bigwig. It was not even Bryan’s own hotel.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 but did not initially appear noticeably fazed by it, despite a radical prostatectomy. It wasn’t until his condition was pronounced as terminal two years ago that he began writing a stream of anguished, fearful, introspective blogs. He declined a third life-extending blood transfusion in May because of the threat of catching coronavirus, and reluctantly agreed to recce a Glasgow hospice, which is where he passed away.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and their four sons, Glen, Scott, Mark and Darren, and five granddaughters.

Writing in the Scottish Daily Mail, the paper’s chief sports writer, John Greechan, observed: “Bryan was widely considered to be one of the most inventive and driven figures in the business. An absolute force of nature …his fearlessness and willingness to speak truth to power – regardless of how powerful – were his hallmarks as a sports editor.

“When he asked you to do something that seemed ridiculous - make that extra call and chase every detail, you did it: not just because he had almost superhuman antennae for a story but because you knew he’d do it . And he’d done it. All of it.”