Fergie at Aberdeen – The Making of a Legend

Laddie From Govan That Created History at Pittodrie

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by Ross Kilvington

As Sir Alex Ferguson pulls his emotions together for one final walk out of the fabled Old Trafford tunnel for his last home match in charge of the finest team in the land, his journey to the pantheon of managerial greats had been turbulent to say the least. Actually, that’s a lie; the first four years in charge of Manchester United had been the hardest period of the young manager’s career, fighting constantly to build United how he wanted them to be built, the way Matt Busby had done things. Using the young players he had developed to be part of the forefront of change and to create a dynasty that no one in England had seen before. This initial teething period at Utd went a long way to securing his legacy; it was in the North East of Scotland that made him though. The Granite City allowed him to shape his philosophies and with time, excellent scouting and an abundance of youth prospects, he challenged the hegemony of the Old Firm and established Aberdeen as the best side in Scotland.

When Ferguson arrived at Aberdeen in the summer of 1978, after turning down the job the previous year, no one could have foreseen the impact he would have on the Scottish game. He inherited a Dons side which had underperformed in recent years. It was the new manager’s ambition to slowly, but surely, create a team which could win trophies and compete in Europe.

His first season had teething problems, as any manager in their first role at a big club will testify. Aberdeen tasted defeat in both the Scottish Cup semi-final and the League Cup final. As Ferguson ended the season trophy-less, the job looked even more daunting, respect had to be gained from his players; winning trophies was the only solution!

The Dryburgh Cup won’t go down in history as the most revered cup competition, open to the top four highest scoring teams from the Scottish top flight and second tier, however it would prove to be Ferguson’s first silverware achieved at Hampden. Even though the League Championship was won in the 1979-1980 season, the Dryburgh Cup triumph would be the catalyst for Fergie’s Aberdeen to prove their mental strength and win regularly at Hampden.

That title triumph, and subsequent Dryburgh Cup win at Hampden, began an almost six year period of dominance, in which almost no team out with the duopoly of the Old Firm had ever achieved before. Ferguson was beginning to build and formulate a plan to not only conquer Scotland, but also to prove to the continent that there were more than just two teams in the country!

Even though Ferguson had his ideas and theories on how to make Aberdeen untouchable, he needed a squad who wanted to be part of the success, to want it more than him. Throughout his tenure, he could count on a backbone of his team, comprising of Leighton in goal, Miller and McLeish reinforcing the backline and forming a formidable partnership. The talent in midfield included Gordon Strachan, Neil Simpson and Eric Black, who all provided excellent service to various strikers such as Mark McGhee and John Hewitt.

The fiery Scotsman had it all in place – a team brimming with talent, leading The Times’ Hugh Taylor to proclaim ‘…he has formed a squad who were the envy of every team in the

land.’ He also instilled in his team an “us against the world” mentality, claiming the media favoured the two Glasgow teams. Ferguson told his players to go to places such as Ibrox and Celtic Park and win to prove them wrong.

The 1980-1981 season had ended without any silver to have on show, however it was all about the team gelling and falling into place. The Scottish Cup was claimed in May 1982 with a 4-1 win against an erratic Rangers side, who had slipped into an unlikely recession. This result made others stand up and take notice, Aberdeen were not just a flash in the pan, but a formidable opponent who could win when it really mattered. Nobody knew it at the time, but Aberdeen were about to have the season of their lives.

Aberdeen entered the European Cup Winners Cup for winning the Scottish Cup the previous season. A preliminary round was played due to Scottish teams lack of recent success in Europe and the Dons made a statement of intent by cruising through against Swiss side Sion, 11-1 on aggregate. The first and second rounds saw triumphs over Dinamo Tirana and Lech Poznań. Ferguson was taking to Europe like a duck to water, his Aberdeen side motivated by the bright lights of continental competition and the incentive of becoming the first Scottish side not from Glasgow, to win a European trophy.

Although steady progress was being made on the continent, Ferguson and his young Aberdeen side had new competition in the Scottish Premier Division under a certain Jim Mclean and his energetic Dundee United team. The two managers were friendly and the constant need to defeat the Old Firm lead to a new moniker for the teams, the New Firm (original I know). Fergie and Mclean took part in regular five a side tournaments with the differing teams support staff and due to Fergusons competitive nature, games would turn into next goal wins, then two legged affairs. Is there any wonder his Aberdeen side became a winning machine and an advert for consistency? He had installed his desire and addiction to success onto the team with great affect.

Mclean’s United won the league in 1982-1983 but league success was put firmly on the backburner as they chased European glory. The draw for the quarter finals was made and Bayern Munich were pulled out of the hat. The first massive task was ahead of the Dons and Ferguson pulled of a masterclass in the first leg, coming back to Aberdeen with a credible 0-0 draw. It was all to play for and the second leg would be the scene of one of Aberdeen’s greatest ever nights.

Aberdeen shocked the continent that night, sending the mighty Bayern home with their tails between their legs after a fantastic 3-2 victory, sending Aberdeen through to the semi-finals. Fergie and his young team were buoyed by the fact other title favourites such as Barcelona and Inter Milan were also knocked out, leaving the door ajar for much easier run to the final.

The draw could not have been kinder, with Aberdeen facing off against the Belgian team Waterschei Thor. Aberdeen thoroughly dominated the first leg to prevail 5-1 and even though the return fixture was lost, it didn’t matter as the Dons had qualified for their first ever European final!

Göteborg was the destination and the fabled Real Madrid stood in their way. The conditions could be said to favour the Scots, with the torrential rain making it look like a typical Scottish day. Real Madrid had been the kings of Europe more than any other European club; however, this wasn’t the level they wanted to be competing at.

Aberdeen’s young boss knew this was the moment he had dreamed off at the start of his reign and after asking Jock Stein for some advice, he presented a bottle of whiskey to the legendary Madrid boss Alfredo Di Stéfano. It was to prove a masterstroke in psychological warfare, signifying that his Aberdeen side were honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as Real, never mind having the audacity to actually win the trophy.

Ferguson had set his side up to go and take the game to the Spaniards, and as Eric Black scored the opener within the first ten minutes, this decision seemed justified. Real Madrid drew level after 14 minutes however, as Juanito scored a penalty. The game drifted into extra time, and with the weather getting worse by the minute, no team fancied a penalty shootout.

Enter John Hewitt, catapulting himself into Aberdeen folklore, as he launched himself at the ball from a cross by McGhee to score an almost unlikely winner. The Dons had won and Ferguson had claimed his first piece of European silverware. The celebrations were frantic. The high standards that he set for his team came to fruition.

In the very next game however, although Aberdeen defeated Rangers to win the Scottish Cup, Ferguson gave us a glimpse of what the future held for players who would not pull their weight, launching into an astonishing tirade criticising how his team had played. For some it was maybe an over the top reaction, but it demonstrated just what standards he had set at the club and anyone that couldn’t follow them would soon be shown the door.

1983 Scottish Cup Final Programme

The trophies were arriving by the bucket load, in the 1983/1984 season; he nearly led the team to an unthinkable treble. The league and Scottish Cup were won and the defence of the Cup Winners Cup ended at the semi-final stage, however it was no mean feat to become the first side out with Glasgow to win the domestic double.

The league title was retained for the first time in the clubs history; however their stint in the European Cup ended in a first round defeat. Aberdeen had now established themselves as top dogs in Scotland, with a manager in high demand. Ferguson had turned down jobs in England and also Rangers to continue his managerial education in the North East, there was only one club which could tempt him to leave the Granite City…

A domestic Cup double was attained in Ferguson’s last full year at the club. In the summer of 1986, Graeme Souness became player manager at Rangers in a move which dramatically changed the landscape of Scottish football. He didn’t know it at the time, but there were rumours of discontent at Manchester United. The once fabled darlings of England had slipped into mediocrity ever since Matt Busby departed in 1971. If anyone could bring them back to the top of the English game, then it was surely Ferguson?

All good things have to come to an end and by November 1986, Ferguson left Aberdeen and was appointed the new manager at Manchester United. A club in turmoil, this would be his biggest challenge to date. Only time would tell if he would be able to drag the club up from the post Busby doldrums and “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch.”

Sir Alex Ferguson forged a reputation at East Stirling and St Mirren and was made at Aberdeen but it was at Manchester United that he achieved god like status. The godfather of modern management and his consistency and longevity, will surely never be repeated.

Not bad for a wee laddie from Govan eh?

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by Ross Kilvington

As Sir Alex Ferguson pulls his emotions together for one final walk out of the fabled Old Trafford tunnel for his last home match in charge of the finest team in the land, his journey to the pantheon of managerial greats had been turbulent to say the least. Actually, that’s a lie; the first four years in charge of Manchester United had been the hardest period of the young manager’s career, fighting constantly to build United how he wanted them to be built, the way Matt Busby had done things. Using the young players he had developed to be part of the forefront of change and to create a dynasty that no one in England had seen before. This initial teething period at Utd went a long way to securing his legacy; it was in the North East of Scotland that made him though. The Granite City allowed him to shape his philosophies and with time, excellent scouting and an abundance of youth prospects, he challenged the hegemony of the Old Firm and established Aberdeen as the best side in Scotland.

When Ferguson arrived at Aberdeen in the summer of 1978, after turning down the job the previous year, no one could have foreseen the impact he would have on the Scottish game. He inherited a Dons side which had underperformed in recent years. It was the new manager’s ambition to slowly, but surely, create a team which could win trophies and compete in Europe.

His first season had teething problems, as any manager in their first role at a big club will testify. Aberdeen tasted defeat in both the Scottish Cup semi-final and the League Cup final. As Ferguson ended the season trophy-less, the job looked even more daunting, respect had to be gained from his players; winning trophies was the only solution!

The Dryburgh Cup won’t go down in history as the most revered cup competition, open to the top four highest scoring teams from the Scottish top flight and second tier, however it would prove to be Ferguson’s first silverware achieved at Hampden. Even though the League Championship was won in the 1979-1980 season, the Dryburgh Cup triumph would be the catalyst for Fergie’s Aberdeen to prove their mental strength and win regularly at Hampden.

That title triumph, and subsequent Dryburgh Cup win at Hampden, began an almost six year period of dominance, in which almost no team out with the duopoly of the Old Firm had ever achieved before. Ferguson was beginning to build and formulate a plan to not only conquer Scotland, but also to prove to the continent that there were more than just two teams in the country!

Even though Ferguson had his ideas and theories on how to make Aberdeen untouchable, he needed a squad who wanted to be part of the success, to want it more than him. Throughout his tenure, he could count on a backbone of his team, comprising of Leighton in goal, Miller and McLeish reinforcing the backline and forming a formidable partnership. The talent in midfield included Gordon Strachan, Neil Simpson and Eric Black, who all provided excellent service to various strikers such as Mark McGhee and John Hewitt.

The fiery Scotsman had it all in place – a team brimming with talent, leading The Times’ Hugh Taylor to proclaim ‘…he has formed a squad who were the envy of every team in the

land.’ He also instilled in his team an “us against the world” mentality, claiming the media favoured the two Glasgow teams. Ferguson told his players to go to places such as Ibrox and Celtic Park and win to prove them wrong.

The 1980-1981 season had ended without any silver to have on show, however it was all about the team gelling and falling into place. The Scottish Cup was claimed in May 1982 with a 4-1 win against an erratic Rangers side, who had slipped into an unlikely recession. This result made others stand up and take notice, Aberdeen were not just a flash in the pan, but a formidable opponent who could win when it really mattered. Nobody knew it at the time, but Aberdeen were about to have the season of their lives.

Aberdeen entered the European Cup Winners Cup for winning the Scottish Cup the previous season. A preliminary round was played due to Scottish teams lack of recent success in Europe and the Dons made a statement of intent by cruising through against Swiss side Sion, 11-1 on aggregate. The first and second rounds saw triumphs over Dinamo Tirana and Lech Poznań. Ferguson was taking to Europe like a duck to water, his Aberdeen side motivated by the bright lights of continental competition and the incentive of becoming the first Scottish side not from Glasgow, to win a European trophy.

Although steady progress was being made on the continent, Ferguson and his young Aberdeen side had new competition in the Scottish Premier Division under a certain Jim Mclean and his energetic Dundee United team. The two managers were friendly and the constant need to defeat the Old Firm lead to a new moniker for the teams, the New Firm (original I know). Fergie and Mclean took part in regular five a side tournaments with the differing teams support staff and due to Fergusons competitive nature, games would turn into next goal wins, then two legged affairs. Is there any wonder his Aberdeen side became a winning machine and an advert for consistency? He had installed his desire and addiction to success onto the team with great affect.

Mclean’s United won the league in 1982-1983 but league success was put firmly on the backburner as they chased European glory. The draw for the quarter finals was made and Bayern Munich were pulled out of the hat. The first massive task was ahead of the Dons and Ferguson pulled of a masterclass in the first leg, coming back to Aberdeen with a credible 0-0 draw. It was all to play for and the second leg would be the scene of one of Aberdeen’s greatest ever nights.

Aberdeen shocked the continent that night, sending the mighty Bayern home with their tails between their legs after a fantastic 3-2 victory, sending Aberdeen through to the semi-finals. Fergie and his young team were buoyed by the fact other title favourites such as Barcelona and Inter Milan were also knocked out, leaving the door ajar for much easier run to the final.

The draw could not have been kinder, with Aberdeen facing off against the Belgian team Waterschei Thor. Aberdeen thoroughly dominated the first leg to prevail 5-1 and even though the return fixture was lost, it didn’t matter as the Dons had qualified for their first ever European final!

Göteborg was the destination and the fabled Real Madrid stood in their way. The conditions could be said to favour the Scots, with the torrential rain making it look like a typical Scottish day. Real Madrid had been the kings of Europe more than any other European club; however, this wasn’t the level they wanted to be competing at.

Aberdeen’s young boss knew this was the moment he had dreamed off at the start of his reign and after asking Jock Stein for some advice, he presented a bottle of whiskey to the legendary Madrid boss Alfredo Di Stéfano. It was to prove a masterstroke in psychological warfare, signifying that his Aberdeen side were honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as Real, never mind having the audacity to actually win the trophy.

Ferguson had set his side up to go and take the game to the Spaniards, and as Eric Black scored the opener within the first ten minutes, this decision seemed justified. Real Madrid drew level after 14 minutes however, as Juanito scored a penalty. The game drifted into extra time, and with the weather getting worse by the minute, no team fancied a penalty shootout.

Enter John Hewitt, catapulting himself into Aberdeen folklore, as he launched himself at the ball from a cross by McGhee to score an almost unlikely winner. The Dons had won and Ferguson had claimed his first piece of European silverware. The celebrations were frantic. The high standards that he set for his team came to fruition.

In the very next game however, although Aberdeen defeated Rangers to win the Scottish Cup, Ferguson gave us a glimpse of what the future held for players who would not pull their weight, launching into an astonishing tirade criticising how his team had played. For some it was maybe an over the top reaction, but it demonstrated just what standards he had set at the club and anyone that couldn’t follow them would soon be shown the door.

1983 Scottish Cup Final Programme

The trophies were arriving by the bucket load, in the 1983/1984 season; he nearly led the team to an unthinkable treble. The league and Scottish Cup were won and the defence of the Cup Winners Cup ended at the semi-final stage, however it was no mean feat to become the first side out with Glasgow to win the domestic double.

The league title was retained for the first time in the clubs history; however their stint in the European Cup ended in a first round defeat. Aberdeen had now established themselves as top dogs in Scotland, with a manager in high demand. Ferguson had turned down jobs in England and also Rangers to continue his managerial education in the North East, there was only one club which could tempt him to leave the Granite City…

A domestic Cup double was attained in Ferguson’s last full year at the club. In the summer of 1986, Graeme Souness became player manager at Rangers in a move which dramatically changed the landscape of Scottish football. He didn’t know it at the time, but there were rumours of discontent at Manchester United. The once fabled darlings of England had slipped into mediocrity ever since Matt Busby departed in 1971. If anyone could bring them back to the top of the English game, then it was surely Ferguson?

All good things have to come to an end and by November 1986, Ferguson left Aberdeen and was appointed the new manager at Manchester United. A club in turmoil, this would be his biggest challenge to date. Only time would tell if he would be able to drag the club up from the post Busby doldrums and “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch.”

Sir Alex Ferguson forged a reputation at East Stirling and St Mirren and was made at Aberdeen but it was at Manchester United that he achieved god like status. The godfather of modern management and his consistency and longevity, will surely never be repeated.

Not bad for a wee laddie from Govan eh?

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