Players often trained on a local beach, stopping only when an incoming wave hit their makeshift goalposts. They remembered Alex Ferguson tying the hood of his red cagoule tightly to his face to keep out the howling wind.
They also trained in public parks and in the afternoons in the ash pit of the Pittodrie car park, much to the astonishment of a Bayern Munich scout who showed up to watch them.
But it wasn’t sheer brute force that made Aberdeen winners in the early 1980s. He listened when one of the coaches made it clear that he wasn’t giving him the freedom to coach players.
From then on, he stepped back from time to time, allowing others to take over and observe.
“It was amazing what you actually watched,” Ferguson said years later. “Seeing the habits of the players, noticing the little shortcomings in their performances. It could be a million things. I have always carried this observation with me.
Sir Alex Ferguson (left) brilliantly won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with Aberdeen in 1983
The way Ferguson has built an all-home team is a sensational coaching achievement
Below, Mail Sport columnist Ian Herbert (pictured) expresses his delight at the fact that the legendary Scotsman will finally be awarded a medal for his triumph 40 years later
Ferguson certainly breathed fire too, and Gordon Strachan, one of his key players, wondered where that came from. “There wasn’t just intensity in this match,” he says. “It was everything you wanted to go, what you wanted to do with your life.”
On Thursday it will be 40 years since the Aberdeen side achieved one of their greatest achievements, winning over Alfredo di Stefano’s Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final at Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium.
Ferguson will finally receive a winner’s medal. At the time, only the starting eleven and five substitutes were given them, but the new ones were filled from midfielder Neil Simpson’s original. They will be presented at the event in Pittodrie, where “The Greats of Gothenburg” receive the Freedom of the City.
City have been reminiscing about the match this week, including a win over Bayern Munich in a titanic quarter-final which saw Ferguson switch full-backs in the decisive second-half for Pittodrie.
It was a tactical master move, but years later he thought “it was really just math.”
There was also a catchy song recorded for the finale, “We’re the Dons from Aberdeen and we’re going to do it for you”, and Ferguson headed to the Aberdeen quay to wave the 493 fans off for the Gothenburg overnight ferry – St Clair – and promising to meet them with a trophy when they return.
Ferguson asked Jock Stein, his great friend and mentor, to travel with the team and Stein suggested to the Aberdeen manager that he seek out Di Stefano and offer him a gift of good whiskey beforehand. “Make him feel important,” Stein told him. “Like you’re delighted to just be in the finals and just to catch up.”
Strachan and the others felt that Stein’s presence reassured their manager. Ferguson’s nervous cough, which always appeared in the locker room before a game, did not appear that night.
The Aberdeen and Ferguson team (holding the trophy) on the city’s waterfront with the trophy as promised when the St Clair ferry returned from Gothenburg
It would be fascinating to see how some of today’s great managers would fare with such limited resources as those Ferguson (pictured in 1983) had to endure
But it was the manager who kept the spirit going. On the morning of the final, the team walked out feeling 10 feet tall, after an evening they will never forget at the Farzat Hotel in Gothenburg, something like Fawlty Towers.
It included a quiz organized by Ferguson and a game of Scrabble that ended in arguments over words he claimed didn’t exist. “Aberdeen have something money can’t buy,” said Di Stefano as his side lost 2-1 after extra time. “A team built on family tradition.”
Aberdeen were one of the last clubs to win a European trophy with a team composed entirely of players from their home country, though it was the minimal amount of money spent on building the team that made the feat so remarkable.
Six from Ferguson’s team were inherited. Six were his own men, of which only two, Mark McGhee and Peter Weir, were bought. The central midfield pair, 19-year-old Neale Cooper and 21-year-old Simpson, graduates of Aberdeen’s youth teams, were the youngest pair to feature in the European final. They did well.
We will certainly never see such an organically developed team win a European trophy again, and it would be fascinating to see how some of today’s outstanding managers would fare with such limited resources.
Such a hypothesis was presented to Pep Guardiola four years ago. After Manchester City’s routine Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk, a Ukrainian journalist asked him how he would feel if he was coaching a less talented team than the top teams he had always dealt with.
“If I had to train teams a bit lower, it wouldn’t be a problem for me,” he thought after joking about local real estate prices. Of course, we’ll never know the answer. Ferguson held Guardiola in high esteem, but what he achieved on a night of biblical weather in Sweden was much purer.
As promised, he was on the quay with the trophy when the St Clair ferry sailed back to Aberdeen. All the fans touched him as they got off.
Ferguson (left) celebrates with his longtime assistant Archie Knox (right) in Gothenburg
It wasn’t until many years later, in Never Give Up, a great movie made for Amazon Prime, as he was recovering from a serious illness, that Ferguson perhaps summed up best why his Aberdeen side beat Real Madrid.
“Forget all the work we did with them on passing the ball and technical skills,” he said. “If they’re not winners, it’s still a waste of time. When they go out on the pitch, they can’t leave their personality in the locker room. You’re trying to instill that character in the person you’re dealing with.
The case against Man City must be heard… quickly!
One of the leading football podcasts addressed this problem by introducing the sound of a herd of elephants, which basically contained it.
Amid a legitimate celebration of all that is great about Manchester City football – described by Graeme Souness in this publication as the greatest gathering of players that British football has ever known – there will be a disclaimer and stars as long as 100 Financial Fair Play charges have been leveled against them by an independent the Premier League committee, remain untested.
The impeccability of the Premier League and Manchester City would be well-served if the problem was resolved quickly.
This requires a full and free exchange of information, which should not be a problem for a club that claims there are no irregularities.
So when can this be resolved? The Premier League will not provide any guidance. Lawyers say it could take years.
Man City’s great achievements will have disclaimer and stars as long as the 100 FFP allegations levied against them by an independent Premier League commission remain unproven
City owner Sheikh Mansour (left) talks to club president Khaldoon Al Mubarak (right)
Pre-Hollywood Wrexham was also full of legends
The BBC documentary Hollywood or Bust tells the story of Wrexham FC before the arrival of Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds.
It features so many characters, including Mickey Thomas, his great friend Joey Jones and manager Brian Flynn, who should have been doused in champagne after plotting a legendary FA Cup win over Arsenal in 1992.
Instead, he’s clutching a cup of coffee as he’s being interviewed on the pitch. Great footage. great days.
Lawrence deserves credit
The world has moved on after the Worcester Warriors rugby team were shattered by their own managerial incompetence, but the honesty and class that Ollie Lawrence showed amid the club’s demise last September has not been forgotten.
Center of England Lawrence, now in Bath, has spoken out demanding accountability and transparency.
The Rugby Players’ Union votes for Player of the Year tonight.
It should be Lawrence, a mile out of the country.
The way Ollie Lawrence behaved after the collapse of the Worcester Warriors means he should be Rugby Players Association Player of the Year in my eyes
Surviving at Cambridge shows why we do it!
The brilliant Twitter account Football Away Days shows what promotion, relegation and survival at all levels mean.
I recommend their clip of Cambridge United fans celebrating the moment they against all odds avoided relegation over the weekend.
Priceless. As Away Days notes, “Moments like this are why we do this.”