on 30 April 2014
You can scarcely believe it nowadays, but there was a time when Europe’s superpowers could be regularly overcome by a provincial team from a less fashionable league. Given the right circumstances, smaller sides could rise up and beat the behemoths of the game, clinching major European silverware as they did so.
One of the more stunning examples of such a tale was the 1982-83 Aberdeen side, led by a certain Alex Ferguson and featuring a host of famous names, many of whom were embarking on what would become illustrious careers. I can just about recall the images of a rain soaked John Hewitt celebrating his late headed winner which beat Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in a sodden Gothenburg. It didn’t seem such an astonishing shock to my youthful mind, but with the benefit of a little time and a little perspective it can’t be classed as anything other than a phenomenal achievement.
Just how did this happen? Now it would be beyond Aberdeen’s wildest dreams to merely compete domestically with the relative financial giants of Celtic, and Rangers once they climb their way back. In 1983, it was another matter altogether.
By using that most golden of seasons in Aberdeen’s history, Gordon traces the rise through chapters looking jointly at the progressing season and the key men involved in making history for the Dons. Working through the whole line up from that famous Final flourish in Gothenburg from Jim Leighton, Willie Miller and Alex McLeish at the back, to Gordon Strachan, Neale Cooper, Eric Black, John Hewitt and Mark McGhee further forward and all those in between, Gordon tells each players’ tale with the benefit of first hand interviews from each player.
The players’ own stories are told in mini-biographical form within each chapter, but of course focused on their time at Aberdeen and in that European run in particular. What strikes is that in almost every case, the memories are fresh and clear, barring the seemingly forgetful Gordon Strachan. For many, it was the pinnacle achievement of the playing career, and is looked on fondly by them all. Even for those who went on to achieve more elsewhere, or at least of a higher profile in later years, the pride of those astonishing years in Aberdeen are clear for all to see.
At the helm there was of course the dominating figure of Alex Ferguson; a relative whipper-snapper at the time. Given what he went on to achieve, it is fascinating to note the effect he had on the team he made his reputation at, with examples of his infamous temper (such as after Aberdeen’s 1983 Scottish Cup win) and also his softer sentimental side (allowing an injured player to warm up in front of the fans so they would sing his name). What is clear is that even for those he subsequently fell out with, the respect is absolute from those that made it at Aberdeen. His ruthlessness may mean that some of those who fell by the wayside feel differently, but that would be another story; this is all about those who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Given this influence it is a shame that Ferguson is the one key protagonist who wasn’t interviewed for this book; the reasons are explained, but it’s a shame nonetheless. But there is so much revealing testimony from the players about Ferguson that it actually paints a detailed picture of the big man’s early managerial years. The lack of a Ferguson interview doesn’t impact overall on the impression of a thoroughly well researched book, mixed in with Gordon’s own personal recollections of that Aberdeen team and that night in Gothenburg.
For an Aberdeen fan, this book will bring the glorious memories flooding back, but for fans of other clubs it serves as a reminder that things weren’t always this way. There was a time when money wasn’t the be all and end all, and that given the right circumstances and the right people, others could rise to the top and achieve the impossible. Fascinating reading for football fans of all persuasions.
Review from my website thesportsbookreview
on 18 July 2013
I love the lines at the end about how the Gothenburg team should be celebrated. It is not about living in the past and hoping the glory days will return. It is highly unlikely they will. However, this is a great insight into the building of a team. A provincial club will never do this again as after winning the first league title most of the squad would be off elsewhere in these days. But the best bit, is finding out about the players after football. How times are different and these players could not retire to the good life at the end of their career. When ever I see Hewitts goal in Gothenburg I am immediately back in the living room in Woodburn Avenue as an 9-year old watching the match well past my bedtime. Pages of this book did the same thing as I remember matches it talked about such as the opening match of the season vs Dundee.
on 14 June 2014
Oh, the memories....I grew up supporting Aberdeen, my local "big" team, and such was the quality of the sides then that one just took it for granted that every game would end up in a win. As for Gothenburg itself, I was allowed to stay up to watch the game, and again, the result was never in doubt!
Well written, well researched and a fascinating insight into the formative years of one of, if not THE greatest manager this country has ever produced. Richard Gordon has pinned his red colours to the mast and written the ultimate Aberdeen fans book.
on 14 January 2013
A well written account of an incredible time, by using an individual player and a particular match as a heading for each chapter, the significance of this period to Scottish football is subtly underlined.
It is also interesting to here about what happened to these players after their spell playing for AFC.
To put it simply, Aberdeen Football Club were the best team in Europe for a time and only through these face to face interviews do you realise why. It was the instilled attitude from one of the greatest managers of all time.
on 17 March 2013
I really enjoyed reading this book. I was quite young during this period but remember Aberdeen winning the cup well. This book covers the games from the player's perspective and catches up with them now. What struck me was how young the payers were at the time, being young myself I had ever realised they had such young players who helped to win the cup. The other thing was how many of those in the book has fallen out with Sir Alex over the time. Whether you are a supporter of Aberdeen or not this book is an excellent read and highly recommended.
on 15 January 2013
I'm only half way through, but so far it's a very good and interesting read about the road to Gothenburg.
Richard has nicely formatted each chapter with an interview of each of the players in the squad for each game on that great European Cup Winners winning run, whilst also reflecting on his own experiences as a Don's fan at the time. The players talk about their experiences and stories surrounding the games, how they broke into the Aberdeen team, and what they have done since.
A good read for every Dandy or football fan.
on 23 March 2013
I'm not an Aberdeen fan but watched this side regularly humble my team (Celtic) and every other team in Scotland during this particular season and a few others.
Richard Gordon has a genuine love of Aberdeen and these players, which comes across in the way he writes about this season & the seasons leading up to, & after, it.
A great read and highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of football - and this Aberdeen team had few equals.