There was a special poignancy for Graeme Shinnie in winning his first Scotland cap in the same week that Neale Cooper died.
The Aberdeen captain, who came on as a 76th minute substitute in the 2-0 defeat by Peru, knew Cooper well and was shocked to hear of the death of the Pittodrie great this week following a fall in the city.
“I found out on Monday and I was absolutely gutted when I heard the news,” Shinnie said. “He was a great guy and an absolute gentleman. He was a laugh-a-minute and everybody loved him. He was a legend at Aberdeen FC and was an unbelievable footballer. He has gone too soon and all our thoughts are with his family, friends and all his loved ones.”
Cooper, who was just 54 when he died, broke into the Aberdeen first team as a teenager and enjoyed a rapid rise, with the high point being the club’s remarkable win over Real Madrid in the final of the 1983 European Cup-Winners’ Cup in Gothenburg.
He also won two league titles, four Scottish Cups and one League Cup but, remarkably, never a full Scotland cap.
“I didn’t even know that Neale had never won a cap,” said Shinnie. “It is amazing a player as good as Neale never played for Scotland.
“He achieved so much but you would never know because he was so grounded. Neale was just a lovely, lovely guy. I was involved in a few golf and radio events with Neale and also a few times in the hospitality lounges at Pittodrie. Everybody will tell you what a great guy he was and that is there for all to see with the tributes on social media. Being a local lad from Aberdeen he is somebody young kids can look up to.
“He is and always will be an Aberdeen legend and that is why everyone connected with the club is so devastated by the news.”
For Shinnie, 26, the wait for his first cap has been long, so his appearance in the second half as a replacement for Dylan McGeouch was a moment to savour. The Aberdeen skipper, who was one of seven Scotland debutants against Peru, had been an unused substitute in the friendly against Netherlands at Pittodrie in November so was delighted to get on the park in Lima and is now hoping to start Scotland’s final tour match, against Mexico in the fabled Azteca Stadium on Saturday night.
“My first feeling was one of relief at finally getting on and getting my cap,” he said. “I have been desperate for it for so long and everybody knows that. It means absolutely everything to me.
“It has come around now and maybe I can play a part in the Mexico game and maybe get my first full international start. That has to be my next aim. I just want to keep progressing and to get better and better every time.”
With Peru playing their final match before heading to Russia for the World Cup finals the atmosphere was lively inside the Estadio Nacional. The South American nation have qualified for the first time since 1982 and their supporters were in the mood to celebrate.
“It was amazing, one of the best atmospheres I have witnessed,” said Shinnie. “The crowds outside and in the stadium were absolutely unbelievable. It is different and it is good because as a footballer you are always learning from games and experiences like this.”
The Scotland bandwagon rolls on to Mexico City now for what is perhaps an even tougher test.
Once again, the Scots are providing the opposition for a side saying farewell to their fans before they depart for Russia and the World Cup finals and Shinnie is expecting another lively atmosphere in the Azteca.
“I have heard a lot about it,” Shinnie said of the stadium in Mexico City “90,000 capacity – it is an opportunity of a lifetime. I am just delighted to be here and part of it. I think it will be slightly warmer in Mexico so that will be another challenge as well.”