Ross County’s Championship title triumph was cause for celebration, but also the ideal time for reflection.
Amidst the euphoria it was only natural co-manager Steven Ferguson’s thoughts drifted to the beginning of his Staggies journey, as he poignantly remembered his late former boss Neale Cooper.
Midfielder Ferguson was among Cooper’s first signings after taking over at Victoria Park in 1996, as County first dipped into the full-time market just two years after stepping up from the Highland League. The pair also worked alongside each other among Derek Adams’ coaching staff between 2012 and 2014.
Ferguson has become immersed in all things County across various roles from player to academy director, to his current position as joint-manager along with Stuart Kettlewell.
After the pair picked up the Ladbrokes Championship manager of the season award, along with the monthly award for April, Ferguson paid tribute to former Aberdeen midfielder Cooper, who died following a fall on May 27 last year.
Ferguson said: “It’s really poignant. Sometimes the strangest things pop into your head. When you are standing on the pitch watching the players celebrate and smile, with champagne flowing everywhere, your mind wanders away.
“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 had as a coach with Stuart.
“They are the nice bits you can think about in your own time, but I’m sure big Coops would have had a smile on his face.”
County’s Championship success comes 20 years after Ferguson won the Third Division as a player with the Dingwall side under Cooper, with the 41-year-old proud to come full circle in his role as co-manager, adding: “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 – with 17 goals in 25 games – was really pleasing.
“I had actually broken my jaw when the celebrations were going on, so I wasn’t smiling in any of the photos.
“There was a reason for that but nobody else knew, they were trying to keep it quiet.
“I had broken my jaw, while Kenny Gilbert lost the sight in his eye.
“His eye was stitched shut, while my jaw was wired shut.
“When we went to Magaluf I had to read the menu for him, and he had to order it.
“There were a lot of characters in that squad, real warriors, and none more than Kenny.
“To go and win the Championship 20 years later, and to be affiliated with a club like Ross County for that long as a player, and now as a manager is also pleasing.”
Kettlewell remained grounded following the awards which resulted from County’s league and cup double winning campaign, and he said: “It’s a nice way to cap what has been a brilliant season. I must admit I don’t get too lost in these types of things, it was always about Ross County trying to win games this season and succeed which we have managed to do.”