Russell passed away on the 1st of August 2022. He was 81 years old.
Hall of Fame
4th XI Premiership Captain
Russell Cooper is a true legend of this Club, making an enormous contribution stretching from the late1960s through to the mid-90s.
While many of the current Club members only know Russ as the wheelchair-bound ex-player and great supporter of the First XI, his legacy is so much more than that. Precious few people in the Club’s history have made such a large and diverse contribution.
Russ joined the Club in the 1969/70 season when he was 30 – at one stage the Club had all 8 Cooper brothers in our playing ranks – Ian, Russ, Ray, Bill, Laurie, Colin, Graham and Noel. A strapping fast bowler and hard-hitting middle order batter, Russ was a highly competitive and combative player in, and then leader of, the 4th XI on the ‘mats’ as they were in those early days, before transitioning to turf.
Although capable of playing at a higher level, Russ found his niche in the 4th XI where he was a great on-field leader as captain from 1972 to 1978 and winning the premiership in 1974 (despite missing the GF due to suspension!). He won the bowling average in 1974/5 with 63 wickets, one of the biggest hauls in the Club’s history. Russ was Club Champion in 1974/5, Runner-Up in 1976/7 and, not surprisingly, took out the Best Clubman award in 1982/3.
Russ was a character both on and off the field.
Playing in the Old Boys XI in the early 90s Russ channelled W. G. Grace when he thought he had been unfairly impeded by the wicketkeeper when run-out and, ignoring the umpire’s call, he reset the wicket and instructed the bowler to bowl the next ball – which he did. Russ and Denis Bouyer then added another 80 odd runs before they were separated.
However, Russ’s greatest contributions were off the field. Jim Kenny accurately described him as “the cornerstone of the Club” and that it was “impossible to overstate his influence and achievements”. Quite some accolade!
Despite not always embracing the formal processes and procedures of Committee deliberations, Russ was one of its most effective members in shaping and implementing key decisions for more than 20 years. He worked hand in glove with key administrators Doug Powell, Peter Wright and Jim Kenny, serving as vice president on many occasions. His wisdom, foresight and ability to get things done should never be underestimated and he was aptly described as the ‘heavy lifter’ of the administration.
At one meeting Russ floated the idea of purchasing bar stools and furniture from the Terminus Hotel in Brighton Beach which was being renovated. There was much debate over the cost and suitability before it was finally agreed. When asked how we go about getting them, Russ replied – no problem, they’re in the back of the truck!! He had already bought them.
John Wintle tells the story of when his mother had a boarder who wouldn’t move out of the bungalow at the back of her house. Wints had been asked to confront the boarder but wasn’t overly keen on the prospect as the bloke was a Hell’s Angel member. On hearing this, Russ drove Wints to the house, kicked open the bungalow door and, brandishing a cricket bat, turfed the boarder out, loading his possessions into his van and depositing them on the nature strip of an ‘agreed’ location in nearby Earlsfield Road. The boarder never returned. Problem solved.
Russ was our project manager in the laying of the first ever turf wicket at David Road in 1976. Jim Kenny said that Russ ‘employed a beg, borrow or steal approach to get the job done within a ridiculously inadequate budget.’ Hampton had been required to pay for and install the wicket after receiving grudging Council approval but no funding. This was a vast undertaking and, along with the completion of the social rooms shortly after, effectively the birth of the vibrant senior Club as we know it today. Russ also sourced and purchased the first ever mechanical roller for the David Road wicket – a secondhand road roller for $350.
Later when searching for a ground for our new Women’s teams the Club identified the Highett High School oval as a possibility. Small problem – it had no cricket wicket. Cutting a deal with the school, Russ led a small team who dug out, formed up and then laid a concrete wicket over a single weekend. Problem solved.
To say Russ was a doer and problem solver is selling him short. There are just so many examples. Here are a few.
- At the Club’s inaugural Cup Eve Ball at Elwood in the mid-70s, the band failed to materialize. Not an insignificant problem. While others wrung their hands, Russ phoned every pub in the area until he found a band who had finished their gig. Similarly at the Country and Western night when the barrels did not turn up as ordered, Russ door-stopped the proprietor of Hampton Cellars at his home and convinced him to return to his shop and provide the necessary victuals.
- Russ was personally responsible for recruiting Peter Bedford – Brownlow medallist and State cricketer – turning up, unannounced, on the doorstep of his Middle Park terrace one Saturday morning and convincing him Hampton was the place to resurrect his career.
- Sunday morning clean-ups: if we agreed to meet at 9am Russ typically had most of it done by the time the rest of us turned up.
- Russ was the ‘legs eleven’ caller for the Club’s foray into Bingo as a fund-raiser each Wednesday night at the Hampton Hotel in the late 70s. A tough gig with a very demanding clientele!
- It would be difficult to count how many teammates Russ helped ‘move house’ providing both his van and a helping hand. Russ also organised the working-bee to help paint Jim Kenny’s house – to make sure nothing would keep Jim from playing!! Nothing was too much trouble for Russ.
- Russ conducted all the interviews of past players for the Club’s Centenary video. A major undertaking over several weeks for a great result.
In recent years we have been in awe of his courage and resilience in the face of the huge health challenges in his life. Stoic and uncomplaining, Russ maintained a sense of humour and a great affection for the Club. “Watching” the First XI each week when legally blind and wheelchair bound must have been frustrating in the extreme – but he never lost his enthusiasm for the contest. Russ still lived and breathed the game.
The role his wife, Josephine, Jo – a Life Member of the Club in her own right – played in all of this cannot be overstated – she has been simply magnificent in her love, care and devotion to Russ, as have the entire family.
Condolences to Jo, Nicki, Joely, Matt and to his siblings Bill, Colin, Noel, Laurie and Heather and the wider Cooper clan.
We have lost a wonderful character and a ‘one of a kind’.
A great Hampton man.
RIP Russell Cooper
Note: The photograph of Russ and many of the stats and memories of Russ are taken from Jim Kenny’s amazing history of the Club ‘There’s a bit of a Larrikin Element down there…