'Force of nature' former Daily Mail head of sport Bryan Cooney dies aged 75

Former Daily Mail head of sport Bryan Cooney has died of prostate cancer in a Glasgow hospice aged 75.

Cooney began an illustrious, if nomadic career, as a racing sub-editor on the Press and Journal regional morning newspaper in his home town of Aberdeen.

Subsequently, in a career spanning four decades, he worked for the Daily Express, The Sun, was for ten years the Daily Star’s chief sports writer, and ultimately went to the Daily Mail.

He had been appointed sports editor of the Scottish Daily Mail when it relaunched as a stand-alone title in 1995 and the tabloid rapidly became a significant player in the Scottish newspaper market.

Cooney’s success on the sports pages, building and moulding an entire team from scratch, caught the eye of the Mail’s perceptive editor, Paul Dacre, who lured him to London in 1997 as an associate editor and head of sport.

The outwardly affable, loquacious Aberdonian had reached the pinnacle of his career and, egged on by Dacre, reorganised the Mail’s sports department with a firm, if perhaps a tad brutal, hand.

However, in 2001, he had to resign his dream job through ill-health arising from an excessive level of potassium in his body .

Cooney returned to Scotland and, as a freelance, wrote with striking elan for the sports pages of the now-defunct Sunday Herald for 11 years – and was three times voted sports journalist of the year in the Scottish Press Awards.

He fronted six series of sports programmes for BBC Radio Scotland. One series – The Pain of the Game – won a Sony bronze award. He also wrote several books – including a homage to his beloved Aberdeen FC and another on trail-blazing Scottish-born musician Gerry Rafferty. Just days before his death he did a video interview with former Scottish soccer manager Craig Brown.

His former Scottish Daily Mail colleague, John Greechan, in an in-paper obituary, wrote: “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.

“A hard taskmaster who was never anything other than demanding of his staff, Bryan had a backlog of stories about personal interactions – often arguments, funnily enough – with just about everyone in the game.”

Cooney, who experienced very dark and difficult periods with alcoholism, ultimately overcame his addiction during the latter part of his life. He readily owned up to vanity, and was always the dapper man about town – immaculately dressed and groomed. Although he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008, it wasn’t pronounced as terminal until two years ago.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, a Glaswegian to whom he was very happily married for 45 years, sons Glen, Scott, Mark and Darren (who is a journalist with the Daily Record), and five granddaughters.

The eulogy at his funeral at Linn Park Crematorium, Rutherglen, was given by Jim Black, former chief sports writer of the Scottish Sun for 24 years, a close friend for 46 years, and co-founder with Cooney of a lively and entertaining sports website.

In his tribute, Black told mourners, which included six former Daily Mail colleagues among the restricted Covid-19 pandemic attendance quota of 20: “He 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.”

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