Saturday, May 11, 2013

#GothenburgDay



30 Years ago today I bunked off of a meeting at Bible College and headed off to a friends house in Retford to watch my beloved Dons.

Exiled in England far from the North East none of my friends understood any of the Doric words I was shouting at the TV for the rest of the night. Barred from attending the Gothenburg night in person because of some crazy college rule. For which I am still searching for the grace to forgive after 3 decades:).

But the piece below describes better than I could ever do the emotions of the night of glory, joy & even unexpected sadness.

GOTHENBURG, 1983: the time and the place, like the memories they evoke, are etched on the consciousness of a city, written through its recent history as though they were the message on a stick of granite rock.

Aberdeen, a band of upstarts from the north-east of Scotland, had come, seen and conquered no lesser a name than the incomparable Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup-Winners' Cup. Had anyone been fool enough to sleep through the drama, they wouldn't dare to have dreamt it.

The surviving images, resistant to the rub of time, are an indelible tribute to what was a momentous triumph. John Hewitt's extra-time winner, Alex Ferguson's stumble and fall as the coaching staff burst from the dugout, and Willie Miller's pose with the cup, an emperor before his people. All have run through the years like the ink from a tear-stained postcard. 

They won't forget that night in Sweden, when the Gods smiled down on 13,000 Aberdonians, and grown men cried in the rain. Not this week the 30th anniversary of an achievement they will never repeat. While details are blurred by the years, the most memorable moments have new definition.

The world has changed since May 11, 1983, when 12 home-grown players and a shipyard worker's son from Govan had the audacity to mess with the cognoscenti. Aberdeen are a shadow of their former selves, the Cup-Winners' Cup is defunct and Ferguson has long since departed the Scottish scene, knighted for his services to football, a behemoth to rank alongside the legends of Busby, Shankly and Stein.

Leighton, Rougvie, McMaster, Cooper, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, Simpson, McGhee, Black, Weir and Hewitt.

Their contact may be limited now, but in those days they were friends, their relationship strengthened by a shared adventure. Their other victims in 1983 were Sion, Dinamo Tirane, Lech Poznan, Bayern Munich and Waterschei. The team left no-one in any doubt as to the extent of their abilities.

In a thrilling demonstration of guts and guile, they set about their opponents from the start, Eric Black striking the bar with a portentous volley in the opening exchanges before putting Aberdeen ahead in the 18th minute. Although Juanito equalised from the spot 10 minutes later, Alex McLeish's short passback having forced Jim Leighton into a foul, the advancement of Peter Weir into a more dangerous position subjected Real to an uneasy second half. Their survival into extra time was merely delaying the inevitable. Substitute John Hewitt's header, a bent-kneed collapse at the ball, was followed by the most helpless of celebrations, drenched as he was by rain, sweat and tears.

When Real were awarded a free-kick in injury time, reserve goalkeeper Bryan Gunn, sitting next to Ferguson in the dugout, sunk to his knees and said: "Dear God, please let them miss it." Which, of course, they did. After the unthinkable euphoria of the final whistle, the trophy presentation and the parade of honour, the players retired to the dressing-room.

While the team were living it up in one section of the changing area, there was another room for the staff, where Ferguson was joined by backroom colleagues and club directors, including chairman Dick Donald. "I will always remember what it was like. When Dick came down, it was almost eerie, everything was so quiet. He was crying. He hugged me, and he was not the type of person to be demonstrative like that. He was the old school. He would usually just come up to me and say, 'well done Mr Ferguson, your Boys were good'. But he loved that club. That night ... it was his greatest moment." 

There are those who insist that the quarter-final defeat of Bayern Munich was a greater achievement. After a scoreless first leg in Germany, Aberdeen found themselves 2-1 down with half an hour left. Ferguson controversially replaced Neil Simpson with Hewitt and Stuart Kennedy with John McMaster, a gamble that turned out to be a masterstroke.

The now fabled free-kick, a deliberate mix-up between Strachan and McMaster, led to McLeish's headed equaliser. Then, just as he would in the final, Hewitt grabbed a sensational winner. "It was, and still is, Pittodrie's greatest night," says Ferguson. "We had 10 minutes to go, as well as time added on, with a midfield who couldn't tackle, and a front three who couldn't defend. But we were hanging on because, in Willie Miller and Alex McLeish, we had the two best centre-halves in Britain. The ball was like a magnet to Miller that night.

"In terms of leadership and determination, he was Aberdeen's best player at the time. He was the Roy Keane, the Bryan Robson if you like. But the key to everything was the team. Strachan was fantastic during that period, and when Weir was on song, they were a great team. They had a good balance, a real strength about them."

The Bayern Munich match reminds Ferguson that, however low a period it was in the history of Real Madrid, Aberdeen's achievement was huge. "The Cup-Winners' Cup was a competition won by teams who could maybe have a golden spell for two or three games, but I am proud to think back and say that we beat Bayern Munich, who had Rummenigge, Breitner, Augenthaler, some famous names. Without question in my mind, I am satisfied that it was a trophy to be proud of winning."

The triumph was tinged by sadness in at least two respects. One was Stuart Kennedy's confinement to the bench in the final. The injury he had picked up against Waterschei, his last competitive appearance for the club, forced the popular full-back to retire from football at the age of 29.

The other, altogether more tragic, blow was the death of a young Aberdeen fan, Philip Goodbrand, who collapsed at the match and never recovered. "I had a few friends who were with him when he was passed down through the crowd," says Ferguson. "It was terrible. We knew the young lad because he used to come to training. It was a great sadness. When you see what is happening over the next week or two, can you imagine what his family must be thinking?"

Joy has a disturbing capacity to exacerbate pain. Birthdays, wedding days, Christmas, the occasions that are supposed to be our happiest, can be a torment for those who are trying to forget. Anniversaries, for some, just won't go away, returning time and again to demand that we celebrate what is no longer there. For others, they are a comfort.

Few of those old enough to have understood Aberdeen's glory in Gothenburg will not remember where they were and what they were doing that night. Events such as these are the furniture of life, the moments that make us who we are. They may all be in the past, but for as long as there are anniversaries, they will also be in the future.

Stand Free

2 comments:

coliedog said...

Brilliant post Billy!!!!

coliedog said...

Brilliant post Billy!!!

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