Paul talks about the Gulls strike pairing
COOPER & LAWRENCE
Liverpool had Toshack and Keegan. Leeds United had Mick Jones & Alan Clarke, Bristol Rovers had Alan Warboys and Bruce Bannister, whilst at Plainmoor we had Steve Cooper and Les Lawrence as our goal-scoring duo. Although the partnership maybe wasn’t as prolific as the others they were our main strikers between March of 1978 until the end of the 81-82 season.
Les Lawrence was signed from Telford in the summer of 1977 making his debut in an opening away day win at Hartlepool. The scorers that day were the strike partnership of Colin Lee and Willie Brown. If my memory serves me correctly Les had a tough time of it in front of goal being a raw 20 year old. He first netted in a League Cup replay defeat at Cardiff City. His first league goal came in September in a 1-1 draw at Huddersfield. Twelve games followed with only one more goal. Then Les was out of the team apart from a couple of sub appearances until the last ten games where he added another three goals to his seasons tally.
March 1978 saw the arrival of Steve Cooper from Stourbridge for a fee of £5000. What a bargain that turned out to be! He played twelve times that season netting three times.
The partnership really started to click the following season when United played some great attacking football including a 4-1 spanking of Hartlepool in which Cooper scored twice. Newly relegated Portsmouth were beaten 2-1 in front of a near 5000 crowd. Les with the first goal and the winner scored by mercurial Irishman Donal Murphy. Les scored his only Torquay hat trick the following January in a 3-2 win over Barnsley.
As a side note this was Wimbledon’s second league season and we didn’t fare very well against them. A 1-6 home thrashing in February was followed up with a 5-0 defeat at Plough Lane on Easter Monday! To make the day even worse the supporters coach that I was on broke down on the way home. Oh what joy!
The season ended with 19 goals for Les and 15 for Steve and a palindromic league record of 14 home wins 4 draws and 5 defeats and away it was 5 wins 4 draws and 14 defeats,
For the first half of this season it actually looked as if a promotion challenge was on the cards as three and four goal wins under the Saturday night Plainmoor lights were a regular occurrence up until Christmas, with Les scoring 9 and Coops netting 12 in this period. But this is Torquay United and after a New Years day 2-1 win at Bournemouth we went on a 15 (yes 15) winless game run meaning our season petered out into its usual mid-table finish.
What a forgettable season this was. No cup runs as usual, and the one memorable game was a Guy Fawkes night 4-0 win over Port Vale that saw the debut of Scotland World Cup captain Bruce Rioch. The one other memorable moment for me also featured Rioch. He had a reputation for long range goals and ferocious free kicks so as he lined up a free kick against Rochdale I turned to my mate and said “He’s not going to try from there” and of course before I completed my sentence the ball was in the back of the net! If only YouTube highlights were available then.
That was about it for that season even our dynamic duo were not very dynamic with Les scoring 6 in 29 appearances and Steve in 40 games netting 13 times. The team finished in 17th place.
Les played a further 49 games this season with a goal return of 6. This was a respectable figure considering that he was converted to playing as a centre back. His place up front was taken by former England International and West Bromwich Albion legend Tony “Bomber” Brown. Part of the deal to sign him was to grant him a second testimonial game. What a game it was. Nobody who was there will forget the half time score of Torquay United 4 Manchester United 0! Goals by trialist Dave Butler who scored twice, Willie Young and Steve Cooper put the real United into an amazing lead the other United pulled back two goals in the second half. Some people said the other United were not trying, they obviously didn‘t see the performance of Bryan Robson. He was a bit miffed with that scoreline.
That game was the highlight of the season as it was another mid table finish in 15th position. Although the conversion of Les to centre back was successful this turned out to be his last season at Plainmoor.
Coops ended this season with 10 goals in 48 appearances
This season saw what was arguably Steve Coopers best performance in a Gulls shirt. Barely 5’10 he always terrified defenders in the air and his constant harassing caused many a defensive mistake. For once we actually had a cup run so after knocking out Carshalton, Colchester and Oxford after a very tense and dramatic replay at Plainmoor we were drawn at home to Jack Charlton’s Sheffield Wednesday. In a titanic game in which substitute Ray Bishop scored a spectacular equaliser Wednesday scored a very late winner. After the game Wednesdays centre half Mick Lyons and Charlton were both full of praise for United’s lion hearted battling centre forward. In 48 games that season he netted 21 times.
This was to be Coops last season and he played a total of 35 games, scoring 8 times.
This was also the year of that Dave Webb came to the club and in order to slash the clubs operating costs several of the higher earners were released. This saw the departure of John Turner (now back at Plainmoor behind the bar at the Gulls nest) David Carr and Ray Bishop. Coops survived that cull to play out that season but the injuries sustained to his ankles brought an end to his United career.
In my time following the Gulls Steve Cooper was one of if not the bravest centre forward I have ever seen. He was a chaser of lost causes and had a never say die attitude.
Coops, you were magnificent!