Aberdeen - the forgotten Ferguson team

To talk about Scottish football is to talk about the Old Firm, Celtic and Rangers. These two clubs have historically dominated the football environment in that country, so much so that 86% of the Premiership have been won by the two Glasgow giants, which is equivalent to 108 editions of the 127 contested in history. This same dominance applies to the rest of Scotland's national competitions, which is why it draws attention every time a club other than the Old Firm wins a tournament in the British country.

Now, today's story speaks of a club that not only won a title in Scotland but also became dominant for several years and was even considered one of the best teams in Europe. It is more striking when that team was coached by a true football legend such as Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson

We all know Sir Alex's career in England and his great time at Manchester United, but not everyone knows what the previous stage of the great Scottish coach's career was like. In fact, some ignore that Ferguson was a professional football player and a prominent one within Scotland. Sir Alex was a striker with great scoring ability that he demonstrated from his beginnings at amateur level at Queen's Park (not to be confused with the English QPR) and that he continued to show throughout his career.

Possibly his highest point was in 1967 when he debuted with the Scottish national team and also completed his signing for Rangers, where he would remain for two seasons. In 1974, he retired from Ayr United and quickly received the opportunity to begin a managerial career with East Stirlingshire, a club that played in Scotland's second tier. Despite being only 32 years old at the time of accepting the proposal, he quickly demonstrated the strong character that would later characterize him.

He would only remain at East Stirlingshire for a few months as St Mirren, who were lower in the standings but were historically a higher caliber team, offered him a contract. He would spend four years at St Mirren, where he would boost the careers of several of his players such as Billy Stark (who would later join him at Aberdeen) and win the First Division (second tier at that time) in 1977, guaranteeing the club's promotion to the Scottish Premier League. In 1978, after a controversial departure from St Mirren, Ferguson joined Aberdeen, a position he had rejected a year earlier.

Arriving at Aberdeen

Sir Alex arrived at a club that was not particularly bad, in fact, the previous manager, Billy McNeill, had gone to coach Celtic, after he led the club to a second place in the league and an important unbeaten run in several months. Ferguson, still a young coach (36 years old), had a difficult first season in which he finished fourth in the league, with problems both personal and with the management of the team. In his second season in Aberdeen, the start would not be good either, although as the weeks went by, the team's performance grew progressively, to the point that they became league champions.

Up to that point, Aberdeen had only won 5 trophies in their 77-year history and only one of those trophies was a league, won in 1955. Ferguson brought the second but not the last. The coach himself went so far as to declare that the success had been the result of the players believing in him, clearly denoting that this had affected the team in the previous season. By then, Ferguson had become an entity within Aberdeen, controlling almost every detail within the club.

Discipline was a fundamental element for the Scottish manager who had very clear rules on both sporting and non-sporting issues and a way of interacting with the press in which he developed an idea that the Glasgow giants were favored by the Scottish football environment. In this way, the "us against all" mentality grew at Aberdeen, something similar to what we saw several decades later in coaches like Mourinho. Also, Sir Alex had brought and promoted some future legends of Scottish football such as Alex McLeish, Gordon Strachan and Jim Leighton.

In the following two seasons, Celtic once again dominated the league, leaving Ferguson's team in second place on both occasions, although in 1981-82, Aberdeen managed to lift the Scottish Cup. The cup title allowed them to play in the 1982-83 European Cup Winners' Cup, a competition that would catapult Aberdeen to a new level.

European glory

Ferguson's team started the competition in the preliminary round and made their way to the final, defeating some important rivals such as Bayern Munich, whom they faced in the quarterfinals. In the final, Real Madrid awaited them, the most difficult rival that a team can face in European competition. On May 11, 1983, at the Nya Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg, the most important match in the history of Aberdeen FC was played.

More than 12,000 Scots made the trip to Sweden to witness how, on a very rainy day, Ferguson's team quickly took the lead on the scoreboard, scoring just 7 minutes into the game, through Eric Black, who took advantage of a rebound which disconcerted Agustin, goalkeeper of Real Madrid (and of CD Tenerife in the remembered Tenerife leagues). In the 15th minute, Juanito equalized the final from the penalty spot.

The rain continued and the pitch was getting worse and worse, which was noticeable in Real Madrid's game, which began to be less fluid and slower and favored the British, who were more accustomed to playing in those conditions. The result stood for 90 minutes and the game went into extra time. In the 112th minute, Mark McGhee went over the left wing to make a great cross that was finished off by John Hewitt, who had entered the game in the 87th minute. And thus, Aberdeen won their first European competition.

Alfredo Di Stefano, Real Madrid coach at the time, would declare that "Aberdeen had what money cannot buy: a soul, a team spirit built from a family." As if this were not enough, Aberdeen would beat Ernst Happel's Hamburg in the European Super Cup that same year. All of this led France Football to name the Scottish club as the best European team of that year.

Ferguson would remain at Aberdeen until 1986 (when he would sign for Manchester United) and would win two more Scottish leagues, two cups and a league cup, to close the most successful cycle in the club's history with a total of 10 trophies in 8 years.
Nathan Annan is from South Africa and loves to write, and above all about his favorite sport, football. Nathan's interest in football was sparked late but after watching a few matches in his hometown of Johannesburg during the 2010 South Africa World Cup, he was hooked.