"It just doesn't happen. Unless you're Aberdeen."
Willie Miller, the youngest captain in Aberdeen's history, talks about the moment provincial Scottish side Aberdeen became the kings of Europe when they defeated Real Madrid 2-1 in the 1983 Cup Winners Cup final. Alongside Miller in the Aberdeen line-up were plenty of future talents in Gordon Strachan, Alex McLeish, Jim Leighton and Eric Black, creating a youthful, but solid spine to the Scottish Cup Winners.
Not since the Lisbon Lions defeated Internazionale in 1967 to become European champions had a Scottish side been quite so forceful in Europe, beating European giants Bayern Munich 3-2 on aggregate along the way to the final in Gothenburg, Sweden. It all started on a bleak night at Pittodrie in front of a nervous home support when they faced FC Sion of Switzerland. Speaking to BBC Alba, Sir Alex Ferguson recalls the match.
"I saw Sion playing in a friendly against Lyon, in a tournament, and I thought they were a decent team. And we got 'em over to Pittodrie and beat 'em 7-0.
"And after the game they did a wind down on the pitch, after we beat 'em 7-0. I always remember saying 'God almighty, how do their players feel doing a wind down after getting' beat 7-0!', ya' know."
Aberdeen won the second leg by a measly 3 goals in Switzerland, winning 4-1 on the night and 11-1 on aggregate, enough for the FC Sion general manager to tell Alex Ferguson that he thought the young Aberdeen team would win the cup.
"I think you'll win this cup, you know. The ingredients of your team are perfect for Europe: energy, youth, good players, determination. You've got a great chance."
It was not just footballing ability that was helping Aberdeen reach their goals, assistant manager Archie Knox, recalls the great team spirit and camaraderie in the dressing room, giving the feeling that everyone was in it together, or not at all.
Knox joked, "We were in Teddy's (Scott) room, and they hijacked me, there was maybe 10 of them, maybe more at the time. Stripped me naked, carried me out into the middle of Pittodrie, dumped me, and started pelting snowballs at me, the lot of 'em."
This team spirit carried through into the next round with a comfortable 3-0 aggregate win over Polish side Lech Poznan, leading to a quarter-final tie with German force Bayern Munich. With the German league being the strongest in Europe at the time, Aberdeen were expected to be heavily beaten in this now historic tie. However, the first leg in the Olympic Stadium ended in a stalemate, with the Bayern Munich players quipping after the match that they were not worried as 'they always score away from home'. True to their word, Klaus Augenthaler opened the scoring in the second-leg at Pittodrie after just 10 minutes and heads dropped all around the stadium, with fans thinking this was the first of many.
"We've never beaten a German side, in any cup competition, we thought that's it, we're on our way out." John McRuvie, Aberdeen supporter.
Just before half-time, however, Neil Simpson grabbed a goal back for The Dons, breathing life back into the tie and the teams went in for half-time oranges with the tie wide open. After a poor clearance from Alex McLeish, Bayern Munich took the lead again through a decent finish from Pflugler in the 61st minute, with Ferguson later blaming McLeish for the goal. Time was not on Aberdeen's side and the Germans were looking confident on the ball away from home, rarely relinquishing possession. Things were about to drastically change for the young Scottish players, though, with a training ground free-kick regime outwitting the Munich defence and allowing Alex McLeish to make up for his earlier error to nod home from the deep in the box. Aberdeen weren't finished there though as only a minute later substitute, John Hewitt, scored what is now known to be the winning goal, with Aberdeen holding on for the final 12 minutes to thwart the German giants and reach the last 4 where they would face Belgium team Waterschei Thor. The first leg of the tie was played at Pittodrie and the contest was over before it had started, with Eric Black scoring in the first minute of the game before Simpson doubled the lead in the 4th minute, leaving the Belgians with a monumental task if they were to qualify. The first leg ended in a 5-1 thrashing, allowing the Scots to relax when they went over to Belgium, where they lost 1-0 to send them through to their first - and only - European final.
Awaiting them in Gothenburg were multiple European champions Real Madrid, who defeated a strong Austria Vienna team in the other semi-final and were managed at the time by club legend, Alfredo di Stefano. This
Aberdeen team was not daunted by the occasion though, much to the surprise of their opposition, with Sir Alex Ferguson commenting that they were ready for this tie, saying it had been coming.
"We've played in Europe now for years, we have a format for playing in Europe and we have good players. So because of that I'm not expecting a situation where our players are gonna' be walking about in Gothenburg, amazed and asking what it's all about."
Alex McLeish confirmed his manager's thoughts, recalling that the Real Madrid players seemed aloof before the game, whereas The Dons were raring to go.
"I could see the Real Madrid players looking across to us, and some of them were kind of laughing, you know as if, 'look at this bunch here'. But it looked to me as a kind of nervous laugh.
"I couldn't see the same team spirit in the Real Madrid team that there was in that Aberdeen team."
Despite the torrential rain the game kicked off as planned and Aberdeen got off to a dream start with Eric Black scoring a true poachers goal from a Gordon Strachan corner. Aberdeen lead Real Madrid within the first 7 minutes, time was not on their side. The sodden pitch came back to haunt Aberdeen, with another undershot back-pass from Alex McLeish forcing goalkeeper Jim Leighton to bring down Real Madrid forward Santillana and Juanito stepped up to level the match with 15 minutes gone. Alex McLeish mentions Sir Alex Ferguson's now infamous hairdryer treatment, claiming he tried to hide from his manager during half-time.
"He just let rip. I tried to hide behind 3 or 4 of the players going in the dressing room, but he was 'what you 'f*#king thinking about' and I was like 'ahh, I didnae 'f*#king mean it.'"
With the second half coming to a close with not much happening, Eric Black was forced to come off and the man that got them to the final, John Hewitt, was coming on to replace the injured Black, with only extra-time to play. This turned out to be just what The Dons needed with Mark McGhee going on one of his mazy dribbles down the left-flank before crossing the ball to the edge of the six-yard-box where super-sub Hewitt was duly waiting to head the ball home and send the traveling Aberdeen fans into raptures. With just five minutes left on the clock The Dons tried to sit it out and hold onto possession, but nerves got the best of them and they conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box with only moments to spare. To make matters worse, the referee ordered a re-take after the first attempt was missed and Pepe Salguero lined up his second attempt and rocketed it straight into the stands. The next kick of the ball from Jim Leighton assured victory was theirs, Aberdeen: European Cup Winners Cup champions, beating the might of Real Madrid in extra-time to take the trophy home to Pittodrie.
Many of the team went on to make great careers for themselves, winning titles in England, Scotland and Europe, especially their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who left Aberdeen to take charge of Scotland before becoming Manchester United manager in 1986. However, this Scottish farming city will never forget where it all started for their heroes and their historic moment will last forever in the memories of all involved. Losing manager, Alfredo di Stefano, summed it up perfectly after the game:
"That was a team with a spirit that was undying."