Forty years on, what is there left to say about Aberdeen FC’s Cup Winners’ Cup victory over Real Madrid?
The weather this week in Aberdeen has been more than a little reminiscent of the deluge that had been immortalised in that famous video clip of Mark McGhee and John Hewitt combining to defeat the mighty Spaniards in the Ullevi Stadium on May 11, 1983.
A reminder that May in the North East of Scotland isn’t always as sunny as I remembered from school study leave – renamed school sunbathing leave by many – a t shirt-tan more realistically achievable than a decent grade or even a pass in Maths, so what was the point in looking at the books?
Achievable and realistic. Limits that Alex Ferguson and his players ignored, as most beyond Scotland thought this would be a formality for the Los Blancos.
The ‘mighty’ Real Madrid. Arguably it was Aberdeen who were the mighty – in the quarter-finals they’d beaten a Bayern Munich that had swatted aside FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur 5-2 in the second round, so heading in the final in Sweden the fear factor had evaporated. Alex Ferguson felt they could beat the Spaniards, and he was able to translate that confidence to his players.
The decades that have passed have only served to better frame the achievement – perhaps perversely, failing to repeat a historical feat tends to elevate the original’s standing year by year.
Much has changed in football to prevent it’s recurrence of course – it’s a debate that still bounces around any gathering of football fans when European football is on the menu.
At work here in STV , we have spent many conversations talking over the events of that week 40 years ago, some current colleagues were there as fans – on the St Clair, some working to cover it for local radio early in their careers, playing the ‘European song’ to fresh ears, dragging out the archive of the North Tonight special on the evening of the game and after…”Is that really Anna Soubry?” Introducing those born long after the events as to why Aberdeen, and its collection of local lads became a big deal – long before the Champions League and money, above all, ruled the game.
The victory over Real Madrid marked the pinnacle of that unmatched and perhaps unmatchable period of success under the management of Alex Ferguson.
It delivered global headlines and, crucially for fans, cemented Aberdeen’s place as one of the most respected clubs in European football.
After Celtic and Rangers, most erudite European football fans will recognise or conjure up the name Aberdeen without too much prompting, such is the legacy of that single rainy night in Sweden.
The players that propelled that Aberdeen team into folklore are still incredibly humble, all happy to have played their part – but always respectful of the collective that made it happen.
This week they’ll receive the freedom of the city of Aberdeen. Embarrassingly overdue without question, but yet another indelible recognition of an achievement that, currently at least, is peerless.
The Cup Winners’ Cup is no more – merging with the UEFA Cup over 20 years ago – but a new iteration of European competition, the Conference League, is potentially an avenue where a team like Aberdeen could conceivably find success and the way this season is progressing under new manager Barry Robson qualification is looking more than likely.
Aberdeen, European Champions in 1983, but 40 years on?
Achievable and realistic? Why not.