Aberdeen Change

Aberdeen Sean Graham

ABERDEEN 2 REAL MADRID 1 May 11th 1983

Many Aberdeen fans would have been upset after seeing their team lose to Motherwell at Pittodrie and lose out on finishing second in the league this season but they have ended a 19 year trophy drought when they won the League Cup this season and they are improving under Derek McInnes.

Dons fans of a certain age will remember the vintage Aberdeen side of 1983 who went on mix it with the big boys on the European scene as they went on a never to be forgotten adventure back in 83 which would see them head all the way through to the final giving the fans a European adventure they would never forget.

Players who would be household names in Aberdeen would soon become legends on the European scene as the world would soon know all about Aberdeen Football Club.

The Dons had safely seen off lesser known opposition on route to their biggest match of the competition on what a match that proved to be, Aberdeen had been paired with

German giants Bayern Munich and after holding the Germans to a 0-0 draw in their own Olympic Stadium the Dons knew that a win at Pittodrie would see them through to a Semi-Final and the old Granite city was buzzing at the thought of the German giants coming to town.

The script did not quite go to plan with Bayern taking the lead before the Dons equalised but with 15 mins to go the Dons found themselves 2-1 down and looking out of the competition until a piece of magic and a work of tactical genius by Alex Ferguson bringing on John Hewitt.

The Dons got themselves a free-kick not far from the Bayern box and what looked to be a mix up between Gordon Strachan and John McMaster caught the Bayern defence off guard and that allowed big Alex McLeish to stretch those neck muscles and head the Dons level but still that would not be enough but a minute later that did not matter, the Dons won the ball back straight from the Bayern and Eric Black won a high ball and as the ball dropped, there was super sub John Hewitt on hand to knock the ball into the net and knock the Germans out of the competition.

The Dons knew they had a chance and Captain Willie Miller perhaps was quietly confident after beating Bayern.

“That was probably the point at which we did actually believe we could win it. The German League was the best in Europe at that time and knocking them out gave us the added confidence to think that this could be our year".

The Dons still had to overcome Belgian side Waterschei in the Semi-Finals but they were magnificent and took a 5-1 lead to Belgium with them after a master class from Dougie Bell whose running and ball playing totally out foxed the Waterschei defence.

The Dons midfielder has fond memories of that match and is delighted the fans still remember that night.

“It is good to be remembered for the Waterschei game but I think I played a few good games at home in Europe but I think because I had a few good runs early in the game and set up the first goal for Eric Black, people remember that I did have a good game that night.”

The only blight on their run was a 1-0 defeat in the return leg, their only defeat on their Cup run to date but they soon got over that, there was a Final to prepare for.

Going into a European Final, especially for the first time in the club’s history, you may think that the players would have been nervous but Willie Miller lets us exactly how the mood was.

“The atmosphere was relaxed and certainly we'd no fear even although it was Real Madrid we were up against. We felt we could do it and the confidence had been building up, the further we progressed. Alex Ferguson and Archie Knox had made sure the pre-match atmosphere was jovial as opposed to tense."

Dons midfielder Neil Simpson recalls the build up to the match

“The build-up was good because we did a record and a few promotional things it was a big build up to the game but what I remember most was how relaxed all the team were, some of the boys were quietly confident and determined, “the way we had our build up was just like a normal game really, you just went about your routine like any other game.

One of the promotional things the Dons did on the build up to the final was release a record called, European Song, could these players be any more talented?

“I think Eurovision can relax for another few years, you will not see the likes of that lot again! Unfortunately if we were singers we might not have made as many finals but thankfully we could pass the ball to each other now and again!” laughs striker Eric Black.

As the teams walked out on the pitch, the Dons players and fans must have thought that they had landed back in Scotland such was the heavy rain fall but it certainly did not put them off their game.

“Yes, it wasn’t the best of night’s obviously but in saying that we went to the stadium before and had a look around the dressing rooms and things and on the night and even the night before, Alex Ferguson’s talk was very calm and we were very sure that we could take them on, you are never guaranteed in a final that you are going to win but we were certainly not frightened of it as Fergie and Archie had worked very hard all week in getting that belief and making sure that nobody was overawed because it was Real Madrid, we went into the game believing that we had every chance of winning it!”

“ It turned out it was a poor night and many people would have said that this would have suited us and that maybe the case but you still have to win the game and thankfully on an extremely wet night we performed” said Eric Black.

The Dons took the lead in a rain soaked pitch when Eric Black pounced as an Alex McLeish header caused the Real defence all sorts of problems. For any player, scoring in a European final must have been a dream come true, Eric Black was no different.

“It was great, I had a chance early on which I hit the bar with and that gave me a bit of confidence, obviously I would have rather it went in and it helped through the final but I must admit it was just like another game, although it was a big final, with the quality of player that we had we knew that we had a belief in each other we knew that we had a real chance of winning it.

“Well it is obviously something that nobody can ever take away from you scoring a goal in a European final, it was something that you can only dream about, obviously I had dreamt about it and on the night it landed at my feet fortunately, it wasn’t exactly a 25 yarder but I have managed to toe poke it into the net and as the say it’s a strike and they all count, it was a wee bit unbelievable, the next five or ten seconds after the celebration, we’re back and have to start the game and we’re focused again.”

Not long after the Dons scored, Real would be back in the game when an Alex McLeish back pass was caught short in the rain and that forced Jim Leighton to concede a penalty, which Real scored from, this could have upset or unsettled many a player but Willie Miller knew just how focused his defensive partner was.

“Big Alex really rallied himself and put the incident firmly behind him and went on to have a fantastic game. As Captain, you want to lead by example but to be honest, the lads didn't need much lifting.”

Eric Black remembers the Real equaliser well and how the Dons coped with it.

“I think obviously maybe not deflate but it put things in perspective that we were back on level terms again, the pitch contributed enormously to the back pass and they have taken full advantage of it but we had to dust ourselves down and go again but as I said I think there was a belief that was running through Aberdeen at that time that we could overcome most hurdles that were put in front of us, there was no way that the heads went down it was more a let’s go again and that is obviously what happened.”

The match then went into extra-time and the while many teams would not relish going into another half an hour with the Spanish giants, the Dons skipper looked forward to it as most of their

Cup wins against the Old Firm came in extra-time in any case, Willie Miller had no problems with the match going into extra-time.

“We were a fit bunch, extra-time had become something of a habit and we trained hard so we were actually looking forward to it!”

Aberdeen had chances to win the match but were foiled as they tried and possibly they feared the worst when scorer Eric Black went off with an ankle injury.

“Obviously I am disappointed at coming off and if I remember correctly, I did have a fitness test with the reserves five days before the final on my ankle and it felt great but I had gone up and landed on it and come over I could see the ankle coming out the side of my sock and I thought that I didn’t look great, it was the same injury so I went off but Johnny had a great record as a goal scorer and coming on in the game he brought something else to the team and he is always that threat, ultimately it is a great goal. It is a great piece of play first of all from Peter and then from Mark McGhee and Johnny’s on the end of it with a very brave header to send us all into heaven!”

Aberdeen had some good young legs on the bench and none better than the man who would come off the bench to play his part in the final, could the man who had scored the winner against

Bayern Munich, enter Super-Sub-John Hewitt.

“John was good off the bench and certainly at the back of my mind was the fact that he had a good record in this type of situation”.

“When John did score I was elated naturally! To score a goal like that and take the lead late in extra-time, was similar to the Bayern game in that there was also the very quick realisation that it was my job, along with the rest of the defence, to make sure they didn’t get the chance to level. “Said Willie Miller.

Willie and the rest of his Dons team-mates survived a late free kick scare but held on until the final whistle and no amount of rain was going to spoil this momentous night for Aberdeen Football Club.

“At the time it was a feeling of pride for everyone concerned as to what we’d achieved and that pride has increased over the intervening years as you realise the magnitude of what you’ve done, it was a wonderful feeling!”

“The Manager was delighted of course and you only have to see the footage of the mad dash from the bench at the final whistle to see how much it meant”.

“Some celebrated more than others! For my part, I went for something to eat, had a few drinks and chatted to a few others. As I said, we’d always felt that we could do it so it wasn’t a case of being in shock at managing something we felt unattainable, more a feeling of “job done”.

Not everyone was a calm as Willie Miller as Eric Black explained what happened to Sir Alex Ferguson at the final whistle

“I don’t know, I only remember seeing him under Bryan Gunn’s feet that was the last I saw of him! He came flying off the bench and I think the gaffer slipped and big Ben wasn’t in any mind weather to stop or not, he just trampled over the back of him, I don’t think that he has ever forgiven him for that!”

Could the players actually believe that they had won the Cup?

“I don’t think it did till well after that because I remember after the game it being so subdued at the hotel as I think everybody was just exhausted mentally and the way the pitch was we were all drained physically ,I don’t know if it sunk in until the next couple of days but it really sunk in when we got back and went through the streets and I have never seen anything like it ,there must have been a quarter of a million people in the streets of Aberdeen and then at the stadium, I have never seen scenes like it, I was humbled by the response of the Aberdeen supporters.” Eric Black

Midfielder Neil Simpson gives his opinion on why he feels the Dons won on the day and why standing next to Willie Miller guaranteed you a decent photo opportunity!

“I suppose they could not play their one touch fancy football and patterns of play that they were used to doing, I think it could have benefited us a little bit but in a Cup Final, no matter what, they had world class players that could adapt their game to suit whatever conditions but I think we had a better team on the day and more determined to actually win the game.”

“We should have won in normal time the chances we had, we did miss quite a number of chances during the game.”

“You always have it at the back of your mind that we’ve blown it here but then John has come on again and the rest is history!”

“It was fantastic just to be able to get your hands on the trophy, when I look back I always seemed to be standing next to Willie Miller in the photos and I have said to people that if you stood next to Willie, you were always guaranteed to get in the photos! It was pure chance to be honest, I must have been excited to get my hands on the trophy.”

Aberdeen as a club made sure that everyone shared in their success as Brian Mitchell explains

“I think you only feel really part of the success totally if you were
involved in the games although it was very much a whole club/family culture
that Fergie created. From the dinner lady to the cleaners to the grounds man
there was a strong bond between us all created by the manager and the
success we had. Everyone likes a winner and we were winners all the time in
that era. We had a really strong squad at the time and a lot of players
were part of the success and even the youth team and reserves were winners
nationally so we all experienced great highs. However it was the big
European games, cup finals and league championships that really made your
name and we all wanted to be part of those games.”

When you think of the players and the transfer fees that are paid in this day and age, what does Sir Alex Ferguson think those legends of 83 would be worth in today’s market?

“It is always difficult to back track 27 years and try and put values on players but I do think Kennedy, Miller, McLeish, Strachan and Weir would be worth a lot of money probably totalling 50 million, seems a lot, but when you consider that some clubs have paid between 10-20 million for defenders then my value is quite conservative.”

The players sum up what Sir Alex Ferguson meant to those Aberdeen players who played under him.

“He was an inspiration who gave me many good habits early on in life and a strong work ethic with a disciplined approach. A one off whose success will never

be repeated!” Brian Mitchell

“That year was great, we went to play Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium and all the lads played great but Fergie made me man of the match that night, which was great for me hearing something like that but on the Saturday we had to travel to Rugby Park and I was still on a high from the performance against Bayern Munich , playing well and then I found out I was 14th man, left out of the team after bumming me up all week after the Bayern performance, I had to sit in the stand and watch the game, but that was Fergie, he was good at those sort of things and made sure you kept your feet on the ground.”

“That Aberdeen team worked as a unit. When we came up against the top sides we all played, we had great players all through the team, up front we had guys like Mark McGhee and Eric Black who were fantastic and John Hewitt or the flair players like Gordon Strachan and Peter Weir, all the players we had could play football and worked hard for each other as a team and I think that’s what Fergie liked about us.” Dougie Bell

Many folk say that the Dons will never see their likes again, 83 was a one off and can never be repeated but as the season has come to a close and European football returns to Pittodrie in July, it won’t stop the Dons fans dreaming of another European adventure under Derek McInnes next season.


Sean Graham

Follow on Twitter @FeaturesSean

"I am just a guy who has over 40 years of memories of watching various clubs and matches since my Dad took me round the grounds in Glasgow each week before we went to meet my Mum after work and we always went to the Berni Inn where I had scampi and chips !

From watching Aberdeen, Celtic, Rangers, Partick Thistle, Maryhill juniors and Scotland as well as watching Everton and Manchester United, I have plenty of memories to share for fans to hopefully enjoy and remember."

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