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Gothenburg Memories - Jack Webster


BigAl
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IT WAS the fairy-tale to end them all. If someone had told us that the mighty Cup-winners of Europe, from Scotland to the Soviet Union, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, would one day knock each other out until the great Real Madrid was left to face the Dons of Pittodrie, we would have sent for the men in white coats.

 

But it happened.

 

In 1983, the venue for that European final would be the Swedish city of Gothenburg and Aberdonians were poised for the greatest adventure in their sporting lives.

 

On the eve of that event, I urged readers of the Evening Express to throw their native, North-east caution to the wind and savour the moment, win or lose.

 

Just to be there was wonderful.

 

Upwards of 12,000 of us were on our way, 50 plane-loads augmented by motor-car and ferry-boat.

 

Aberdeen Airport had never seen anything like it as the Red Army took off via North Sea oilfields to skim the forests of Scandinavia and take total possession of glorious Gothenburg.

 

The folk of Madrid thought it so much of a formality that only small numbers bothered to come.

 

So we had the Swedes on our side, and Gothenburg belonged to Aberdeen.

 

From the day before the match, I have a snapshot of wandering across the pitch with fellow journalist Hugh McIlvanney, Dons vice-chairman Chris Anderson and that great legend of football, Jock Stein, whose invitation from manager Alex Ferguson was a master-stroke of psychology.

 

For this was the moment.

 

Quietly, there was a belief that the biggest upset in European football history might well be on the cards. It had all begun with the arrival of Fergie in the summer of 1978.

 

The new man appeared very modestly at the Capitol Cinema on the night my very first History of the Dons book, marking the 75th anniversary of the club, was published in the presence of 2,000 cheering fans.

 

How could I have guessed that, within the next eight years, the recently sacked manager of St Mirren would render that book out of date and set himself on the road to becoming the greatest club manager in the history of British football?

 

From the sunshine of that Tuesday in Gothenburg, the storm clouds gathered next day as we made our way to the Ullevi Stadium, built for the 1958 World Cup finals, when first we heard of Pele.

 

Now the heavens were opening as the Dons’ bus approached and the players filed into the dressing-room.

 

Gordon Strachan, always a great observer, told me later of the hush that descended as the players went into their own thoughts, their own prayers, and just looked at each other. He was looking at the young lads, Neale Cooper, Neil Simpson, Eric Black and John Hewitt.

 

“I was wondering what was going through their young minds,†he said.

 

Fergie gave his final words. It was now up to them. From the utter silence, there erupted a shouting and screaming, like a bunch of schoolboys. The rest is indeed history.

 

By the time Peter Weir had instigated that magnificent run on the left, chipping the ball to Mark McGhee, who sent the perfect cross for John Hewitt to head home the winner, a world-wide television audience of 800 million knew, if they didn’t know before, that a city called Aberdeen existed.

 

Grown men of Aberdeen granite stood on the slopes of Ullevi, the rain rolling down their cheeks, except that it was not all rain.

 

For once, they could let loose the pent-up emotions that are hard for a North-east man to release.

 

In days of greater patience, their fathers and grandfathers had lived through the first 43 years of Dons’ history without a single trophy gained.

 

Finally, on May 11, 1946, Frank Dunlop and his men beat Rangers at Hampden to bring home the Scottish League Cup.

 

We should have checked the omens.

 

Here we were, on that very same date, attaining the unimaginable pinnacle of experience. This was their finest hour.

 

Back at the team’s hotel at Farshatt (“Faar’s ‘at?†became the joke), the Dons filed through to the applause of Swedish diners.

 

In the banqueting room I noticed chairman Dick Donald heading for the buffet-table.

 

I knew he had not had a chance to speak to Willie Miller, his captain and most significant player in the history of the club.

 

Now was his chance, for Willie was just ahead of him.

 

Anxious as ever to record historic moments, I eavesdropped quite blatantly, waiting for the immortal words.

 

The conversation went like this:

 

Dick: “Well well, Willie, it’s been quite a night.â€

 

Willie: “Aye, so it has.â€

 

The brevity of two great and unflappable figures in the history of Aberdeen Football Club had surely said it all.

 

Next day, as the team returned to 100,000 welcomes, all the way from the airport, along Anderson Drive and down Albyn Place to Union Street, the men, women and children of the Granite City were not so reserved.

 

As the celebrations reached Pittodrie I paused to reflect – and suffered a pang of anti-climax.

 

Would we ever see a moment like this again?

 

Unlikely.

 

Then again, if we had had the choice, would we have preferred to miss out on that day of incomparable ecstasy?

 

Twenty-five years later, I feel exactly the same.

 

Gothenburg is not an albatross, as some would have us believe.

 

It is an inspiration to future generations to dream their dreams.

 

And to know that, in the mysterious workings of fate, they can actually come true.

 

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Guest swaddon

I've also still got the local newspapers from the day before the game, May 11th itself and the day after the game, I might have a look through them sometime this weekend. Hell, I might even stick the Glory of Gothenburg video on as well, if my video player still works.

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