A Night Of Infamy: Aberdeen vs Real Madrid In 1983 – Recounted 40 Years On

A Night Of Infamy: Aberdeen vs Real Madrid In 1983 – Recounted 40 Years On

Some nights are just meant to be etched into history. Some nights under the lights on the pitch live in infamy.

The backdrop was Gothenburg, Sweden in 1983 and a then younger Sir Alex Ferguson-led Aberdeen side faced European royalty, Real Madrid, in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. 11th May 1983, would be remembered and contrive to be told as bedtime stories and become ingrained in Scottish folklore for decades to come.

A night when the mighty Los Blancos were humbled by minnows from the Scottish highlands, in a game that typified Sir Alex Ferguson’s mentality and football tactical nous.

It’s now been 40 years since that fabled night and the group of players who won the trophy on that fateful night along with Fergie himself, look back on that particular game and that unparalleled victory.

“Aberdeen have what money can’t buy: a soul, a team spirit,” said then Real manager and club legend Alfredo di Stefano to Sir Alex as the Scotsman presented his Italian adversary with a bottle of whisky before the game.

And that truly was the case, Sir Alex forged this team filled with youngsters, much before his class of ’92 at Manchester United. Aberdeen’s squad that night comprised players all under the age of 28. The eventual goalscorers Eric Black and John Hewitt were 20 years old at the time and in midfield, Neil Simpson, was 21 while his midfield partner Neale Cooper was the youngest of the lot at 19.

What was even more remarkable was that Aberdeen beat the German heavyweights Bayern Munich 3-2 in a thrilling semi-final second leg at home on the road to the final against Real.

That night the Ullevi was packed with a crowd of around 18,000 people. Everybody expected Real to trounce Aberdeen but that young side led by Sir Alex would make a routine Real Madrid win into a tightly contested contest.

Perhaps every Sir Alex Ferguson team embodies a never-say-die spirit and an unhinged aggression, to press and fight for each 2nd ball and work together as a unit.

This was a fiery Ferguson, in his 30s, with more hunger and desire than his United days, and as Black recounts in the Guardian, “He was a ferocious leader at that time, because he was trying to build a reputation. He was incredibly demanding and he created an atmosphere that was semi-confrontational, within the players as well, to ensure we had that winning mentality and he got the last percentage out of everybody.”

The first half was a simmering boiling pot, tightly contested, between both the minnows and the giants.

Aberdeen took the lead after their star player Gordon Strachan’s corner was flicked by Alex McLeish for Eric Black to pounce and score the header.

However, Real would equalise after Aberdeen goalkeeper Jim Leighton fouled Santillana in the box. Juanito, Real’s mercurial captain at the time converted from the spot to make it 1-1.

The second half would end level at 1-1 after both sides missed chances. The Aberdeen fans, meanwhile, were at their vociferous peak, as thousands upon thousands of Scotsmen made the trip to Gothenburg for the game packing flights up to the rafters while some made the journey via fishing boats. There was something about this Aberdeen side and their to-be, all-conquering, star manager. It made them believe. Against Real Madrid managed by Di Stefano no less. They believed.

The winning goal, however, would come in extra time. In the 112th minute, Peter Weir took the ball through midfield and passed it to Mark McGhee, who beat his opponent on the flank and crossed a ball into the box.

Time almost stood still as the Aberdeen fans held their breath as the ball flew in the air toward substitute John Hewitt. It was almost reminiscent & similar to Zinedine Zidane’s famous volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League final for Real some two decades on. Those instances when the ball is in flight, and there’s the hope and tears of every watching fan, as the ball makes its descent towards a player, with the unknown and the possibility of a title-clinching goal; the stadium and viewers of the game on television in limbo.

Hewitt instinctively leaped to meet the ball and headed it into the back of the Real Madrid net.

And that was it. Their moment. Their story. Their history.

Only two ever Scottish teams had won European trophies: Rangers and Celtic. However, Aberdeen became the first team after the famed pair to lift a European cup.

To this day, no Scottish team has won a European cup since.

In their short documentary embedded below, 40 years since their triumph in Gothenburg, Sir Alex and his Aberdeen team of ’83 recount the historic moment with archival footage and their personal takeaways on the story of that fabled night.

A night of infamy.




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