GOTHENBURG GREAT SIMMY LOVED HIS SHORT BUT SWEET SPELL WITH COVE RANGERS
BALMORAL Stadium hosts its first national final this coming Sunday when Aberdeen take on Hearts in the Club Academy Scotland Under 16’s Cup Final.
So it seemed appropriate for Cove Rangers to catch up with our former player NEIL SIMPSON, who is now the boss of Aberdeen FC's youth development.
DONS legend Neil Simpson says he will always be grateful Cove Rangers were the last club he played for.
Simmy - as he is affectionately known by Aberdeen FC's Red Army - is one of three Gothenburg Greats who also played for Cove.
Doug Rougvie and John Hewitt are the other members of the Dons team that beat mighty Real Madrid 2-1 in the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final who enjoyed spells at Allan Park, Cove's home prior to the move to Balmoral Stadium last summer.
Neil, now head of youth development at Pittodrie, was happy to take take time out in his busy schedule to look back on his brief, but enjoyable, period playing in the Highland League.
"I wasn't with Cove for very long but I loved every minute," he said.
"I had been playing for Motherwell but not enjoying it because I was being bothered by injuries so told Tommy McLean (the manager of the Steelmen at the time) I was calling it a day.
"I still got a couple of pretty good offers, from Irish club Portadown and Ayr United, but already had it in my mind that is was time to return home to Aberdeen with my family and maybe look for a job outside football.
"I had been working for my coaching badges with the Scottish FA, but really had no idea what I wanted to do.
"I honestly thought that was me finished with football and I would have to come up with some other way of finding a full-time job because I still had bills to pay."
Neil's decision to the bin the boots that had helped him become one of the toughest, and most respected, midfielders in the Scottish game - and earned him five Scotland caps - in the 1980s was itself binned when he received a phone call from then Cove manager Dave Watson.
"It was totally unexpected because playing in the Highland League wasn't something I had seriously considered until that point," he said.
"Dave asked to have a private meeting with me, down at Dunblane Hydro of all places, I think Dave was there for a dinner-dance.
"I've always suspected my second cousin Ricky Simpson (the successful Aberdeen businessman who has been a long- term supporter of Cove) had something to do with them showing an interest because he is close friends with Alan McRae, who was the club chairman then, and Gordon Hutcheon, who was a director.
"I was still a bit reluctant because I had been having problems with injuries and didn't want to short-change Cove if I did go there.
"I wanted my playing career to end respectably rather than sign a contract that I maybe couldn't fulfil.
"But Dave made it clear during our chat that I wouldn't be coming as more than just a player.
"He wanted me as assistant manager too - and Cove offered me the opportunity to work as their commercial manager as well.
"It was something totally new for me after spending the previous 20 years or so playing football full-time so I thought - why not?"
Neil arrived at Allan Park in July 1993 determined to combine his coaching and commercial roles with what he saw as an exciting new adventure playing at Highland League level for the first time at the age of 32.
"I enjoyed the opportunity to coach as well as play for the Cove team,"he said.
"My only real coaching experience before that, apart from attending the SFA courses, had been with the Newmachar Primary School team, who I had actually played for as a youngster.
"I used to train them when I played for the Dons, which included going to their games on Saturday mornings then rushing through to Aberdeen in time for the pre-match lunches with Alex Ferguson.
"I also found the commercial side of things a lot of fun.
"It was my first real experience of having to communicate with total strangers on a daily basis.
"It helped make me a lot more confident doing that than I had been before - and I really enjoyed the challenge of meeting the targets the club had set for me."
Unfortunately the injury problems that had restricted his appearances for Motherwell, and previous club Newcastle United, soon returned.
Neil said: "I felt I did okay in a few pre-season friendlies - but then pulled one of my calf muscles.
"That meant I didn't play as much as I would have liked once the competitive stuff started - although I have happy memories of actually scoring away to Fort William!
"But it was clear my chances of playing regularly for Cove had gone, which was a real shame.
"Even back then, they were a highly ambitious club and I was desperate to do what I could to help them."
Neil feared being unable to play might also cost him his coaching and commercial roles too.
But that became immaterial in the October, when the SFA stepped in and offered him a full-time post as one of the team of community coaches they had decided to install in an effort to improve Scottish football at grass roots level.
The post offered to Neil meant he would be based in Moray, where he would remain until 2001, when he was asked to return to Pittodrie as a youth coach.
"It was hard making the decision to quit Cove but it was an offer that was too good to turn down," said Neil.
"It was an opportunity to work full time developing young players, which was something I always had an interest in doing.
"But that spell working for Cove helped me make a success of my new career.
"The people skills I gained from being a commercial manager have helped greatly when speaking to players, parents, coaches and anyone else I need to deal with.
"It was also good that I had enjoyed a few months coaching regularly before moving to the SFA.
"My time with Cove may have been brief - but it has proved invaluable to me in the long term."
Neil is delighted to have renewed links with Cove thanks to Aberdeen's decision to play the majority of their 'home' reserve and youth league matches at Balmoral.
"I've been really impressed by what I've seen at Balmoral ," said Neil.
"Playing the matches in Aberdeen has also meant I can actually see the youth side playing more regularly than I could when they had to go to the likes of Brechin.
"Their games are usually played in the afternoons, but I often missed them because we have coaching sessions to organise in the evenings.
"Now I have time to do both, which is great."
EVERYONE at Cove Rangers would like to wish Dons coaches Gavin Levey and Robbie Hedderman and their team all the best in Sunday's final.
Come along and support the young Dons ... ENTRY IS FREE!!
Aberdeen v Hearts, Club Academy Scotland Under 16’s Cup Final, at Balmoral Stadium, Sunday 25th November 2018, ko,3pm.