Alex Ferguson had become the first Aberdeen manager since Dave Halliday to lead the Dons to two major prizes. But it had taken him four years. In the next four he would mastermind eight more trophies. Willie Miller's decision to stay put, and not defect to Rangers, spoke volumes for Pittodrie's new sense of expectancy. Other than Steve Archibald, Aberdeen had not lost a star player against their wishes for five years. Team-spirit was as high as anyone could remember.
Circumstances conspired to make this the most congested start on record. Aberdeen had drawn the short straw and had to squeeze in a preliminary Cup-Winners' tie with Sion of Switzerland. Eleven goals over two legs would have been unremarkable had the opponents hailed from Iceland or Luxembourg. But the Swiss were no dunces, and four years later would teach the Dons a lesson.
Eighteen League Cup goals in Section 2 carried the Dons into the quarter-finals. Dundee United yet again ensured that Aberdeen got off to a losing start in the league, and then, to rub it in, dumped them from the League Cup. It was the third time in four seasons United had done so. Rangers, meanwhile, won at Pittodrie for the first time in the Premier League, leaving the Dons with three points from four games. It was early days, but with his team out of one competition and lagging in another, Fergie needed to put his finger on the pulse quickly.
Whatever medicine he prescribed it was certainly potent. In Europe four clean sheets against Albanian and Polish opposition kept the Dons alive till the spring quarter-finals, which was uncharted territory. Hibs, Dundee and Partick were barged aside in the Scottish Cup, while in the league Aberdeen were piling up the points. The championship developed early into a three-horse race between Aberdeen, Celtic and Dundee United. Aberdeen showed their mettle in beating Dundee United 5-1 and 3-0, and Celtic 3-1 at Parkhead. Other than Celtic's December revenge at Pittodrie, Aberdeen went five months without losing to anyone.
At one stage they looked on course for a monumental treble. As the players awoke on Wednesday, 16 March 1983 the Dons were top of the league, through to the semis of the Scottish Cup, and that evening had a Pittodrie engagement with Bayern Munich in the quarter-final of the Cup-Winners' Cup. The circumstances of that match would write a chapter in Pittodrie folklore.
Ferguson had been in the game long enough to know that Wednesday's wizards are often Saturday's flops. He needed to bring his players back down to earth quickly for the clash with Dundee United, and no one was more pleased with the Bayern result than Jim McLean. In fact, the Dons lost three out of four, leaving them too far adrift to recover. Two more points and they would have been champions of Scotland.
The explanation for Aberdeen's triumphs in 1982-83 was simple: they had the meanest of defences, coupled with a potent strike-force which saw no fewer than six players score ten goals or more.
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Match of the Season (1)
Cup-Winners' Cup, Quarter-Final, 2nd Leg, 16 March 1983
Aberdeen 3 (Simpson 38, McLeish 76, Hewitt 77)
Bayern Munich 2 (Augenthaler 10, Pflugler 61)
Aberdeen: Leighton, Kennedy (McMaster), Rougvie, Cooper, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, Simpson (Hewitt), McGhee, Black, Weir
Bayern: Muller, Dremmler, Horsmann, Grobe, Augenthaler, Kraus, Pflugler (Mathy), Breitner, Hoeness, Del Haye, Rummenigge
Referee: Monsieur Vautrot (France)
The roll-call for the 1982-83 Cup-Winners' Cup included Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid and Barcelona (the holders) from Spain, Internazionale of Milan, Bayern Munich, Paris St Germain, Austria Vienna. Those who mischievously suggest that the Cup-Winners' is the softest of the three European competitions argue from a false premise. Though many continental countries give lower priority to domestic knock-out tournaments, it does not follow that the winners will be any less formidable on the European stage.
By the quarter-finals all the big guns were still around, with the exception of Spurs, toppled by Bayern Munich in Round 2. It was Bayern who were now paired with the Dons. The draw was made in December; the games were not played till March.
In their mid-1970s heyday Bayern had been European champions three years in a row. Though relinquishing their German crown in 1981-82 to Hamburg, Bayern would still have contested the Champions Cup had they not lost to Peter Withe's mis-hit from two yards in the 1982 European Cup Final against Aston Villa.
Eight of that Bayern side - including Breitner, Augenthaler, Hoeness and Rummenigge - lined up against the Dons in the Olympic stadium, where Spurs had recently crumbled 1-4. If one detected a certain cockiness in German attitudes, these seemed well-founded. Scottish clubs in recent years had not lingered long in Europe, their record against German sides was poor, and in Aberdeen's case, woeful. Over the years the Dons had lost to Borussia Moenchengladbach, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg. There were few reasons to suppose Bayern would end their duck.
Aberdeen played with unexpected discipline in Munich - unexpected, that is, to the Germans - and McGhee might even have turned a 0-0 draw into a 1-0 win. Even so, it was probably the most notable result Aberdeen had posted in Europe.
Sceptics were quick to point out that without the cushion of an away goal the Dons still had it all to do. The Germans would go through with a 1-1 draw and were still favourites.
What followed was to be the most ecstatic night in Pittodrie's history. It was the manner of the win that was astonishing. Bayern were good enough to snatch an away goal - two, in fact. Leighton's finger-tips were almost severed by Augenthaler's blazing shot, and Pflugler's volley inside the near post, after Neil Simpson had bundled an equaliser, should have extinguished Aberdeen's last hopes.
With fifteen minutes left Aberdeen needed to conjure two goals. A well-practised Strachan-McMaster free-kick led to Alex McLeish heading one of them.
With the crowd agog and the TV cameraman distracted, Eric Black powered in another header. Muller plunged to keep it out, only for John Hewitt to stab the ball back between his legs.
Pittodrie erupted. It did so again when the final whistle blew, and again when Ferguson ordered his players back on to the pitch to acknowledge the delirious fans.
Match of the Season (2)
Cup-Winners' Cup Final, 11 May 1983
Aberdeen 2 (Black 7, Hewitt 112)
Real Madrid 1 (Juanito 14p)
Aberdeen: Leighton, Rougvie, McMaster, Cooper, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, Simpson, McGhee, Black (Hewitt), Weir
Real Madrid: Augustin, Juan Jose, Camacho (San Jose), Metgod, Bonet, Gallego, Juanito, Angel, Santillana, Stielike (Salguero), Isidro
The quarter-finals saw not only the demise of Bayern Munich, but also Barcelona, Internazionale and Paris St Germain. All of a sudden the path looked enticingly clear, especially when Aberdeen drew Waterschei in the semi-final. The Belgian side had recovered from a two-goal deficit to put out Paris St Germain and would be accorded all due respect. For all that, this small provincial team, which had never won the Belgian championship, was there for the taking.
Losing two goals in the first four minutes was a blow from which Waterschei never recovered, enabling Aberdeen to contest their first European final. On paper, Real Madrid versus Aberdeen sounded like the mismatch of all time. The six-times European champions against the two-times Scottish champions, the multi-millionaires of Spain against a homely, tightly-run club most of whose team cost nothing.
Real Madrid were coached by one of their greatest players, Alfredo di Stefano. From his standpoint, facing Aberdeen was a mixed blessing. Real should win, provided he could guard against complacency. It would be the same for Aberdeen if contesting a cup final against a Raith or an Airdrie.
Aside from the Dutchman Metgod and the German Stielike, Real were packed with Spanish internationals. Camacho and Santillana had both faced England in World Cup 82.
Ferguson played every psychological card he knew. In the Dons' favour was the venue, Gothenburg, easily accessible from Scotland, a journey and a half from Spain. The distance, coupled with unglamorous opposition, encouraged a mere handful of Spanish fans to make the trip. The Ullevi Stadium became Pittodrie for a day.
Jock Stein was invited along to add his massive experience to the Aberdeen cause. A third 'plus' was the weather, hours of pre-match rain leaving the pitch sodden and puddly, conditions with which Dons players were far more familiar than Real's, even if they were not to the liking of tricksters like Strachan and Weir.
In the end, of course, it all came down to players. The loss of Stuart Kennedy through knee injury in Belgium meant Doug Rougvie played right-back and John McMaster left. Both performed so well that Kennedy was barely missed. That spell-binding dribbler, Dougie Bell, was also missing, though with hindsight the aquatic pitch might have dampened his contribution.
The first action saw Eric Black lean into a volley that crashed back off Augustin's crossbar. One did not know whether to marvel at Black's athleticism or curse his bad luck. With chances likely to be at a premium, that one might prove costly.
The debate was shelved when Aberdeen scored. It was a strange goal. McLeish's header was deflected to Black, who turned it awkwardly inside a post from six yards. TV evidence suggests Black mistimed his contact, almost screwing the ball wide.
But Aberdeen had their goal, and on the evidence of what had passed before it had gone to the better side. Real Madrid carved out little by way of scoring chances, and their equaliser was due not to their enterprise but to the conditions, which Aberdeen had reckoned in their favour. McLeish's back-pass braked sharply in the wet, Leighton brought down Santillana, and Juanito scored from the spot. It is a sobering thought that under today's regulations Leighton would have been sent off for the foul.
For McLeish, whose wondrous cup-final goal had helped make it all possible, his error must have left him close to despair. Should Aberdeen lose he would be inconsolable.
Aberdeen had the better of the second half, but despite the marauding of Weir and McGhee the score remained unchanged. Extra-time saw Black's withdrawal and the introduction of super-sub Hewitt. Eight minutes from a shoot-out which Real confidently expected to win, Peter Weir skirted two players down the left touchline. He chipped the ball on to McGhee, whose cross tempted Augustin off his line. The keeper missed contact by inches and there, rushing in, was John Hewitt to head into an empty net.
Only once did Real threaten, when from a twice-taken free-kick Salguero drove the ball past Leighton's far post. Then it was over, and players and supporters indulged in celebrations unparalleled in the history of Aberdeen FC. For John Hewitt, whose quick-fire goal at Motherwell set the whole caboodle rolling, his would be a special place in Pittodrie's hall of fame.
As with Celtic in 1967 and Rangers in 1972, Aberdeen's European glory was achieved with a team composed entirely of Scots. The Dons picked up just one yellow card in eleven European ties.
There was icing on the Aberdeen cake. English clubs' six-year monopoly of the European Cup was over, enabling Aberdeen to hog the limelight. It was typical that the Cup-Winners' Cup Final should be televised in 42 countries, but not England.
Match of the Season (3)
Scottish Cup Final, 21 May 1983
Aberdeen 1 (Black 116), Rangers 0
Aberdeen: Leighton, Rougvie (Watson), McMaster, Cooper, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, Simpson, McGhee, Black, Weir (Hewitt)
Rangers: McCloy, Dawson, McClelland, McPherson, Paterson, Bett, Cooper (Davies), McKinnon, Clark, Russell, McDonald (Dalziel)
One would think the Cup-Winners' Cup would satisfy any appetite. But Aberdeen returned from Gothenburg with two games to play and two more trophies to win. First they met Hibs, who graciously applauded them out at Pittodrie before being sunk 5-0. Results elsewhere meant Aberdeen finished third. Their 55 points remains a record for a team finishing in bronze medal position and was seven points more than when winning the title in 1980.
Many considered the championship would have been just reward for Aberdeen's heroic exertions. But the fact that Dundee United had themselves played eight ties in reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, not to mention beating the Dons four times out of six, suggests they were not unworthy champions.
Aberdeen's win over a surprisingly physical Celtic had earned them a place in a second successive Scottish Cup Final. Rangers were their opponents yet again. As in 1982 the form book suggested an emphatic Aberdeen win. Ferguson stayed true to the eleven who kicked-off against Real Madrid.
Incredible to say, what would have been the highlight of any other season was for Aberdeen just another game. It was a poor final. The Aberdeen players looked lethargic and uncoordinated, unable to raise themselves a second time. They failed to score in ninety minutes and required a slick Leighton save to deny Jim Bett in the dying seconds. An untidy goal four minutes from the end of extra-time decided a game which most neutrals thought Rangers had shaded. McGhee's cross looped off Craig Paterson for Black to head into an unattended goal. For the first time but not the last, Aberdeen had won two trophies in one season.
Rangers were unlikely beneficiaries of Aberdeen's success. With the Dons qualifying as holders for next season's Cup-Winners' Cup, Rangers took the place assigned to the Scottish Cup winners. Aberdeen had enjoyed the same in the past, of course. Now they were dishing out favours to the Old Firm. How the worm had turned.
Words and research by CaddyCarhandle
Edited by StandFreeEd