AMID the mayhem and manic celebration, Steven Ferguson had to take a few quiet moments.

Champagne spray and roars of delight filled the night air at the Global Energy Stadium as Ross County’s title success was confirmed.

But, momentarily, the Dingwall co-manager was knocked for six by a memory – and tears of sadness welling up.

Ferguson knew it was just the kind of party his old pal and mentor Neale Cooper would have loved.

And it was exactly the kind of celebration he had shared with Aberdeen’s Gothenburg legend 20 years before.


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Cooper lost his life last year after collapsing near his home in Aberdeen. Later this month, will mark a year since the tragedy.

Many in football were deeply affected by the loss of a much-loved character, but none more so than Ferguson.

The County co-manager was Cooper’s first full-time signing at Ross County and, over the years, became close enough to regard him as part of the family.

When Cooper guided County to the Third Division title in 1999, young midfielder Ferguson hit 17 goals in 25 games.

Cooper’s words, funny and wise, had often echoed in Ferguson’s in times of need over the past season.

Accepting the Ladbrokes Championship manager of the year and manager of the month awards yesterday alongside Stuart Kettlewell, Ferguson admitted: “It’s really poignant.

“Sometimes the strangest things pop into your head unexpectedly.

“I was standing there out on the pitch watching the players smile and celebrate, with champagne flowing everywhere.


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“But the mind wanders away and it was very difficult for it not to wander to big Coops, because he would have absolutely loved that.

“He obviously played a huge part in my development, and no doubt in Stuart’s as well in the time he coached Stuart.

“They are the nice bits you can think about in your own time, but I’m sure big Coops would have had a huge smile on his face.

“As we were coming to the end of the season I was made aware it was 20 years since we won the Third Division.

“To be involved in that as a player was really pleasing.

“I had actually broken my jaw when the celebrations were going on, so I wasn’t smiling in any of those photos!

“My team-mate Kenny Gilbert had one eye stitched shut and I had my jaw wired shut so, when we went to Magaluf, I had to read the menu and he had to order!

“To go and win the Championship 20 years later, and to be associated with a club like Ross County for that long as a player, coach and now manager is really pleasing.”


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Ferguson isn’t playing the modesty card when he insists the glittering array of managerial awards are for the whole club, not just him and Kettlewell.

The men who plotted County’s rapid-fire return to top-flight, along with Irn-Bru Cup glory, are as humble as they come.

Ferguson stressed: “We are very grateful.

“It’s a nice way to end the season. Stuart and I will be the first to recognise it’s not about individuals, it’s about the group.

“A lot of people have contributed to the success, from the backroom staff such as Fiona MacBean and Davie Fraser, to Susan Wilson and the folk in the laundry.

“They all support us on a day-to-day basis.

“Our footballing staff and players from top to bottom have really got behind us and bought into everything we wanted to do.

“And we can’t forget our families at home – Stuart and I are institutionalised in football and they out up with it.

“Stuart and I have a fantastic support group at home who realise what this job entails and the hours that go into getting success.”

Kettlewell added: “It is a nice way to wrap up what’s been a brilliant season.

“I don’t get too lost in these things – it was always about Ross County winning games of football.

“The players deserve tremendous credit for doing that so consistently.”