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Friday 14th June 2024

Euro 2024 - 🇩🇪 Germany v 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland - kick-off 8pm

Hewitt in today's Herald

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JOHN HEWITT is perched on the edge of the armchair in his living room, asking me to imagine that his front window is the goalmouth in the Ullevi Stadium and Mark McGhee has just crossed the ball through the door from somewhere in the hall. He is wearing slippers and the family's dog is playing at his feet, but in his mind he is in Gothenburg. "Open goal. I couldnae miss." With a small flick of his head he has just re-enacted the moment which changed his life, and buried an imaginary ball somewhere underneath his television.


As part of their centenary celebrations five years ago, Aberdeen gave supporters the chance to pay for permanent, engraved messages on granite slabs in the shadow of Pittodrie's Richard Donald Stand. Many fans took up the offer and left their dedications, but one stood out from the others. It featured the three-word message: "I scored it!"


Today John Hewitt is a 45-year-old father of two, a contractor in the oil industry who commutes to work in Peterhead and unwinds by playing golf or walking Rosie, the dog. But next weekend he will be fussed over again and remembered as the quiet, 20-year-old north-east loon who scored "it", the extra-time goal in Gothenburg which brought Real Madrid to their knees and won the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup for Aberdeen.



A weekend of events is being held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Gothenburg including a screening at which members of the team and hundreds of supporters will watch the whole match. It will be the first time in a quarter of a century that Hewitt has sat through coverage of the entire game. The evening after the final he made it home from Gothenburg to discover his video had stopped after 90 minutes with the score at 1-1. "That was the ironic thing: when I went across I never actually set my video for extra time. I came back and I'd taped the game but not the extra time. Thankfully I had umpteen people who said they'd easy get me a copy of the whole thing. Obviously I've watched the goal on clips on television, but I can honestly put my hand up and say I've never watched the whole game. I don't know why I never watch it, I just dinna. That's just me."


He was uneasy about the "I scored it" phrase carved in the granite. "I had nothing to do with that, the football club worded it. I thought it was a bitty cheesy, that maybe people would think He's a bit big-headed'. I don't really dwell on the past."


AS a tournament, the Cup Winners' Cup is slowly fading from memory. It became a casualty of the Champions League's success and declined in status until fading away for good in 1999. In the 1970s and '80s it was regarded as Uefa's second most prestigious club trophy. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Inter Milan were all in the quarter-finals the year Aberdeen won.


For Aberdeen supporters the word Gothenburg no longer means the Swedish city itself but the summit of May 11, 1983; two gruelling hours in torrential rain on an Ullevi mudbath. It was so wet that when Gordon Strachan came in from the warm-up his soaking hair was in his eyes. Alex Ferguson reached for a pair of scissors to cut it until Strachan quickly agreed to do it himself. It was the start of a long, dark night, gloriously illuminated at the end by Willie Miller, arms outstretched, holding the cup in his right hand and raising it for the photographers and 14,000 Aberdeen supporters.


The average age of the Aberdeen team was 23. Respect for them and for Ferguson had grown since their epic quarter-final win over Bayern Munich, but across the continent they were unfancied for the final. Few outwith Ferguson's sphere of influence imagined that they would not only defeat Real Madrid but outplay them, yet they did both. Eric Black hit the crossbar with a volley even before he screwed a poacher's finish into the net for the opening goal in the seventh minute.


The night before the final, the squad had a quiz session which kept them until midnight - arguments over an answer continued at the breakfast table on the morning of the game - but Ferguson also gave them a team talk in which he warned that the ball would stick in the mud and any passes to goalkeeper Jim Leighton should be lifted slightly above the surface. Sure enough, Alex McLeish underhit one, Angel reached it before Leighton and was pulled down for a penalty which Juanito scored for a 14th minute equaliser.


The game then settled into a long, tense rhythm of hopeful passes and hard chasing on the long wet grass. Almost all of the threats on goal came from Aberdeen. Peter Weir came alive at half-time and tore at Real's right, creating two great chances for Black to score with headers.


Three minutes from the end of normal time Black succumbed to an ankle injury and Ferguson made his only substitution of the final. "Aberdeen have no qualms about putting John Hewitt on," said Brian Moore on the ITV commentary. "He really has a nose for goal."


HEWITT had missed much of the season with an ankle injury and knew he would not play from the start in Gothenburg. His fate was to be remembered forever as a substitute. He scored 52 goals in a decade with Aberdeen and only 13 of them came as a substitute. Because two of those were among the most significant in the club's history, the winners against Bayern and Real in the spring of 1983, he was saddled with a nickname he resented. "I never liked that Supersub' tag. I still tell people to check their facts when they say that to me. I actually started and scored in far more games than I did by coming on as a substitute."


On the bench in the Ullevi he was so cold that he came on wearing two Aberdeen tops. Later he swapped one with Uli Stielike and gave the other to a radio station's charity auction. It was hard to warm up and get into the game and Ferguson shouted and swore at him for dropping too deep as he chased possession. The message eventually got through, although when he began the run which ended with the winner in the 111th minute, he was 20 yards inside the Aberdeen half.


"The goal itself? Initially it was great play from Peter Weir. He waltzed past two or three players and clipped the ball up the line to Mark McGhee. Mark made a run and took it on, dragged it with his right foot and then played it over with his left. By then I had started making my forward run and I was basically there on my own. For some reason there were no defenders there. I was bearing in on goal with no marker to lose.


"It was about instinct. I was there on my own, staring at a goalkeeper and watching Mark. When he crossed the ball I could see the flight of it, the goal, and the goalkeeper rooted to his line. All of a sudden he decided he had to come for the cross. I thought to myself, There's no way he's going to get this cross'. He was just far too late in making his move. Once it had passed his hands there was me, just about on my hands and knees. I didn't even really need to head it.


"Open goal. I couldnae miss. People say to me, You could have missed it' but nah, I'd have been severely disappointed if I'd missed that. I just had to direct it into goal. That was it."


Not quite. Hewitt was teased for his celebration, a little star jump which was neither one thing nor the other after he picked himself up from the goalmouth. "I keep getting a bit of stick about that. People say I was doing the Highland Fling or a star jump or whatever. When I headed it in I fell down on my knees, in the mud. I picked myself up and I was soaking. I wiped my hands on my shirt because my hands were covered in mud. Then I just jumped." He had just become the third and, for the time being, last man to score a Scottish club's winner in a European final.


THE game was touched by tragedy. A 22-year-old supporter, Phillip Goodbrand, collapsed in the Ullevi and died. The man who handed Miller the cup, Uefa president Artemio Franchi, was killed three months later in a car accident. Real's goalscorer, Juanito, also died in a car crash in 1992 aged only 37.


But all of the Gothenburg Greats' live on. They flew back from the final to find people standing on the roof of Dyce Airport to welcome them and more than 100,000 choking the city streets to see them on their open-topped bus. "It was amazing. The players were asking each other Where's a' these folk come fae'?"


A motion was tabled in the House of Commons congratulating them. Messages arrived from the president of Bayern Munich and Liverpool manager Bob Paisley among others. On BBC breakfast television that morning presenter Selina Scott wore her Dons scarf. Ferguson and some of the players went on to more, sometimes greater, achievements, but for the club, Gothenburg was the pinnacle. Hewitt left Aberdeen in 1989, played for Celtic and St Mirren and dabbled in coaching before leaving football in 1999. These days he goes regularly to Pittodrie, an ordinary fan who just happens to be extraordinary.


There is not an industry around Gothenburg like Celtic have about Lisbon, but as well as the screening next weekend a couple of dinners will be held and Ferguson's Manchester United will be at Pittodrie for a testimonial match on July 12. Most of the 1983 team will attend although Strachan, McLeish, McGhee, Black and Neale Cooper may be preoccupied by managerial duties of their own. It is several years since the entire team was last together.


"In my lifetime it will never, ever happen again for Aberdeen," says Hewitt. "It might never happen again for any Scottish club. When you're out socialising in the town you will get fans coming up and wanting to shake your hand and say Thanks for 1983'. More than anything I enjoy meeting up with all the guys again because we never really see each other. Everyone is dotted all over the country."


Aberdeen are putting together a commemorative DVD which may involve Hewitt flying to Gothenburg for some filming on the Ullevi pitch. He tells me it will be his first time back since 1983. "I've not been back to the Ullevi, I've not been back to Sweden at all." Footballers travel so much that one stadium or even county can seem much like another. When checking something later I discover that his mind was playing tricks: he played from the start when Aberdeen were back in the Ullevi for a 1986 European Cup quarter-final against IFK.


Imagine John Hewitt, of all people, forgetting Gothenburg.



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Cracking article. I was in southern Sweden yesterday and whilst strolling around I saw a sign for the road leading to Goteburg and got a wee bit excited. I had to explain to my girlfriend the significance of my child like behaviour but she just didnae get it.

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More wonderful stuff re the pinnacle of AFC. Met Hewitt at an amateur golf open three years ago. Really unaffected, great guy. First "met" him over 30 years ago picking the ball out of net three times. Did save his penalty though, but couldn't prevent his hat trick. Hilton were the best with him in it.

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