A wet, muddy pitch at the Nya Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg in 1983, a European Cup final, a familiar team in Real Madrid, and an unfamiliar team in Aberdeen. And it was the unfamiliar team that won 2-1. Surprising, but true.
Let’s have a look at the 1982-83 season in Scottish football. Dundee United had won their maiden league title. It was a closely contested season with three teams i.e., Dundee, Celtic, and Aberdeen in contention and with only one point separating the teams. Aberdeen won that season’s Scottish Cup, beating Rangers in the final. This win meant that they qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Now, for the football fan who has no idea what the European Cup Winners’ Cup is, it was a competition organized by UEFA for teams that had won their respective cup competitions. The most notable teams that took part in the competition that season was Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur, Diego Maradona’s Barcelona, and Inter Milan.
Aberdeen, then coached by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, managed to beat both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the competition that year. Aberdeen beat Bayern in the quarter-finals. The first leg ended in a goalless draw in Munich.
However, the second leg was entertaining, to say the least. Bayern defender Klaus Augenthaler smashed the ball into the top corner in the early minutes of the game. Aberdeen then pulled one back midway through the first half. Bayern took the lead again in the second half with a left-footed volley from Hans Pflugler. But goals from Alex McLeish and John Hewitt in two successive minutes meant that Aberdeen progressed through to the semi-finals. The semi-final was nothing but a breeze for Aberdeen. They smashed the now-defunct Belgian team Waterschei Thor 5-2.
On a wet May evening in Scandinavia, the final was held between the European powerhouse Real Madrid and the surprise finalist Aberdeen. Real Madrid, then coached by the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano, set out in a 4-4-2 formation. Sir Alex Ferguson did the same. Real were coming off of a strong defensive record under Di Stefano, with less than 0.82 goals conceded per game.
Aberdeen nearly took the lead in the first five minutes with forward Eric Black’s volley hitting the crossbar. Black later found the back of the net in the 7th minute, with McLeish’s powerful header falling straight to his feet and Black slotting the ball home.
Real Madrid got back into the game with a penalty awarded to them after goalkeeper Jim Leighton took down an onrushing Santillana as he was trying to collect McLeish’s pass, which couldn’t reach him due to the mud. Captain Juanito sent Leighton the wrong way and smashed the ball into the bottom corner. And thus, ended an eventful first half with a goal each.
The second half was no different, with both teams trying to score. Both sets of fans at the top of their voices cheering their respective teams on. A classic European night, I should say. But unfortunately, the scoreline read 1-1 at full-time. So naturally, extra time, more drama.
Substitute John Hewitt, who had come on for Eric Black in the 8th minute, finally gave Aberdeen the lead in the 112th minute. Weir lofts the ball to McGhee, who then puts in a cross for Hewitt to head it home. This was the first time Hewitt had scored in an Aberdeen shirt and what a time to score.
There were two things I had learnt from this match. One is that Sir Alex Ferguson made his name that night. Clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham wanted him as manager but Manchester United succeeded in bringing him in. I think we all know what happened next. Second is that this match taught me the importance of classic European nights like this where anything can happen and the need to enjoy nights like this. Here’s me wishing for more matches like this.