Originally written for Turnstiles Magazine issue 2 (Subject of the issue being underdogs)
As the Swedish sky unleashed it’s most relentless of elements behind him, and with the fifteen thousand strong boisterous, drenched Red Army housed in the adjacent terraces making their presence felt , arguably the greatest British manager at the time made his feelings clear, “I think they are playing a myth tonight.” The manager was Jock Stein, the myth was Real Madrid and the team that were playing them were unfancied Aberdeen. The man from Burnbank was genuine in his belief that little provincial Aberdeen had a huge chance. With the Ullevi in Gothenburg quickly turning into a modern-day Atlantis in the background the Scotland boss was one of the coolest in the ground and predicted the Dons under the management of his prodigy Alex Ferguson would be victorious against the Spaniards. He refused to believe in the gulf that supposedly existed as they were changed times, “Twenty years ago there would only be one winner, but Aberdeen have improved tremendously in that time”. Some may have thought he had lost the plot, but he was adamant “Aberdeen would be my choice” he proclaimed.
The story started at Hampden the previous May when Rangers were put to the sword in Scottish Cup final 4-1. Celebrations followed at Gleneagles in the Hampden aftermath, randomly inclusive of Holywood tough guy Burt Lancaster joining in. Aberdeen were all set for the European Cup Winners Cup of 1982/83. Nobody would have even thought twice about how these celebrations were to be minor compared to what awaited the North East in 355 days’ time. Despite being the trophy that introduced the Dons to European football some fifteen years earlier with an emphatic 10-0 home victory over KR Reykjavik, it had not borne much fruit in past attempts. After despatching the Icelandic side forcefully in 1967 (14-1), Aberdeen were disposed out of the tournament 3-2 on aggregate by Standard Liege in the next round. Their following attempt in 1970 was even shorter lived with a first round exit to famous old Hungarians Honved. The result may have been a disappointment, but the significance of the match would enter both sides into folklore forever. This due to the fact it was decided by the first ever penalty shootout in European football. Eight years came and went before the Dons graced the tournament again. This time Marek Dimitrov of Bulgaria were defeated in the first round in 1978/79 but the second round saw Fortuna Dusseldorf send the men in red packing 3-2 over two legs. Four years later they were in the draw again and the rollercoaster that was around the corner would never have been imagined by even the most ardent Dons fan nor Jock Stein.
The campaign got under way on 18th of August 1982 when Swiss Cup champions Sion visited Pittodrie. They most likely wished they had stayed at home. With around half an hour gone the Dons had stormed into a four-goal lead then followed up by sticking another three by the hapless Pittier in the Sion goal by full time. The onslaught was unyielding, and the visitors returned to their alpine nation licking their wounds knowing that this was only half time and the formality of a second leg was still to come. A formality it was at Stade de Turbillon, with John Hewitt, Willie Miller and a double from Mark McGhee sending the Dons through comfortably with double figures to their name. So good was the first leg performance, Alex Ferguson revealed that the members of the Swiss outfit predicted big things as they felt Aberdeen had all the rudiments for the European game.
Fast forward two weeks and the Dons were under the lights again this time to unknown Albanian Cup holders Dinamo Tirana. A narrow 1-0 at home victory through the diminutive Hewitt who had now scored three in as many games. The away leg on the other side of the Iron Curtain was a trip to remember for the players as it was the first experience of the in your face different world that Eastern Europe would throw up. From the police and officials to the food. This did not deter the Dons who came away from the Dinamo Stadium with a 0-0 and a passage to the last 16.
Next up were it was again Eastern Europe opposition when Lech Poznan visited the North East. The Poles were despatched with relative comfort. The score line may have said 2-0 at Pittodrie but the Dons were on top throughout and hit the woodwork on numerous occasions with the goals coming from Mark McGhee and Peter Weir. The two-goal lead did raise slight apprehensions about the second leg. However, all worries were expunged in the Stadion Miejski fourteen days later when Dougie Bell scored on the hour to put the tie beyond all doubt and to the quarter finals the red machine rolled on.
A glamour tie was highly likely in the last eight with the likes of Internazionale, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain, and Bayern Munich in the hat. The Germans were out first, quickly followed by The Dons and a trip to the Olimpiastadion beckoned to face off with a side littered with International stars in the shape of Breitner, Rummenigge, Augenthaler, Dremmler and more. The task was a dauting prospect and the end of the road in the media’s eyes. The Dons however, had other ideas. In Bavaria, Ferguson produced one of his career great tactical European away performances by largely nullifying the Germans’ play. This heavily aided by Dougie Bells calling with the midfielder running things with arguably his best performance in red. Bells performance wasn’t the only outstanding displays on the night with special mentions for the dynamic duo of Alex McLeish and Willie Miller who ran a tight ship at the back limiting Bayern to a meagre amount of chances. The second leg was played in front of a capacity crowd at Pittodrie. The lively home support was soon silenced when Klaus Auganthaler thundered home a long-range effort early in proceedings, this making an already difficult task take a turn for the worst. However, the Dons were never out of it and equalised via a scrappy close-range Neil Simpson goal just before the half giving some much need confidence going not the break. Progress looked to be in serious doubt when Hans Pflugler expertly sent a volley past a helpless Jim Leighton on the hour. This leaving the Dons needing two goals to advance and with the clock ticking the Dons had to do something post-haste. With thirteen minutes to go a fairy tale began to unfold. The famous McMaster and Strachan dummy freekick routine caught Bayern cold as Strachan did eventually swinging the ball in perfectly for McLeish to nod home from five yards. Pittodrie erupted like never before and all hope was restored in the terraces. A newfound belief was found on the pitch as the Reds took the game to the visitors. Three minutes after the equalizer, Black pulled out a great save from Muller only for the ball to land at the anticipating Hewitt who slid in to nutmeg the German goalkeeper. If the leveller was heard across the city the winner was heard on the North Sea oil rigs. Arguably Pittodrie’s most glorious night.
The last four draw did not seem so intimidating with big hitters Real Madrid being joined by Austria Vienna and Belgian outfit Watershei Thor. The Belgians it was to be in a very one-sided semi-final. A first minute goal from Eric Black at Pittodrie settled any nerves and set the tone for the incoming assault. Blacks opener was followed by Neil Simpson doubling the lead in four minutes then a Mark McGhee brace with a Weir goal in between the two. The Waterschei consolation didn’t give much cause for concern. The flights were already being booked for Sweden. The trip to Genk for the second round may have ended in a 1-0 defeat but nobody in Scotland’s North East corner batted an eyelid. It was now Gothenburg or bust.
The biblical rain in Sweden was so relentless the match was on the verge of not being held on the night. The Ullevi pitch held on by the skin of its teeth and the Aberdeen players and fans alike were allowed their most important night of their lives. It wasn’t long until the one of the most important goals in the history of Aberdeen Football Club to date hit the net. Six minutes were on the clock when McLeish knocked a Gordon Strachan corner down where Eric Black was on hand to prod home from close range. The forward finding the net on this occasion after seeing an early effort thunder the bar. However, the lead did not last long. An error let the Spaniards back into the match when McLeish under hit his back pass. The big centre half did not consider the surface water the tempest like conditions had produced and out came Leighton who brought down Santillana. Jaunito buried the resulting kick, all square at quarter of an hour. The equalizer shook the Dons and allowed Los Blancos to take control of the game, but they failed to make any in roads prior to the break. The second half was in Aberdeen’s favour with most of the play stemming from the Reds, however they could not break down the Spanish rear guard who had looked like a team who knew they were struggling. The ninety minutes came and went, and extra time was upon the Ullevi. The rain continued to batter the Swedish stadium in the same fashion as the Dons who continued to have a go at Madrid. Then with nine minutes to go the magical moment came. Peter Weir stroked the ball out wide to Mark McGhee who swung in an inch perfect cross and with Hewitt waiting in the middle Aberdeen were in front sending the saturated red masses into unparalleled ecstasy. The Dons held out and wrote themselves into Scottish and European football legend. A team of Leighton, Rougvie, McMaster, Miller(C), McLeish, Strachan, Weir, Cooper, Simpson, McGhee, Black and substitute Hewitt ensured against all the odds had toppled the biggest name in the European game. These warriors had also confirmed for eternity, they would never be short of a beer when in the Granite City. It truly was one of Europe’s greatest underdog stories in a trophy that threw up a few over the years, with Slovan Bratislava, Magdeburg and Dinamo Tbilisi all previously getting their hands on the cup. But to Aberdonians the right hand of Willie Miller’s raising the trophy in the middle of the droukit Ullevi turf is the only hand that ever has or ever will matter.