During the early to mid 1980’s the most keenly anticipated game in the Scottish calendar was not the Glasgow derby but the meetings of Celtic and Aberdeen, which as well as producing some great football also was what used to be described as ‘a rip snorting affair’ with both sides containing great players and going flat out for victory.|
Aberdeen had always provided stiff opposition for the Celts through the years but when Alex Ferguson took over at Pittodrie in 1978 the stage was set for the next eight seasons for many an epic battle between the two clubs. Unfortunately for Celtic the Dons had a splendid record against us and handed out many a drubbing, particularly in Aberdeen, where for a period they seemed invincible.
Fergie always had his team fired up for trips to Parkhead, where his ferocious competitive spirit and his ex Rangers credentials where sure to bring a suitable response from the Celtic fans, particularly in the Jungle. Many a titanic battle was had between the sides although the standard of football was not always as it should have been as the games were often physical encounters with feelings running high.
Between 1979 and 1983 when Billy McNeill pitted his wits against Ferguson, Celtic often made the mistake of attacking from the outset with reckless abandon which left gaping gaps for the Dons to exploit on the break. And they were very, very good at that, perfecting a style that they would use with great effect in the European arena. When Davie Hay took over as manager in 1983 he showed more of a tactical appreciation and although the Celtic fans didn’t always appreciate a Provan or Burns being left out to accommodate a Grant or a Sinclair, they were quickly to realise that to get a result against Aberdeen you had to fight fire with fire.
Picture 1 is from the 1971 Drybrough Cup final at Pittodrie. In it you
can see what the old Pittodrie looked like before it became Scotland’s
first all seated stadium. Actually this is a bit of a misnomer as the
‘seats’ were actually uncomfortable benches, but they were good for
standing on to get a better view especially from the back of the Beach
end of the stadium. It has to be said also, that the old Pitttodrie had
a wonderful atmosphere when it was full to capacity.
In the picture Celtic are on the attack with Lou Macari (9), Victor
Davidson (10) and Billy McNeill (5). The Aberdeen players are
goalkeeper Bobby Clark and the defensive pairing of Willie Young and
Martin Buchan who both went on to have magnificent careers with Arsenal
and Man Utd respectively. Look close and you can see the TV gantry
perilously perched above the enclosure, with the old gasworks in the
background. Aberdeen won this encounter by 2-1.
Picture 2 shows action from the 1970 Scottish Cup Final. For an older
generation of Celtic fans this one will bring back bad memories as
Celtic lost 3-1 in one of the most controversial finals ever. All the
key decisions went against Celtic ; a travesty of a penalty conceded
when an Aberdeen player fired the ball against Bobby Murdoch from 5
yards away ; a stonewall penalty was refused when Bobby Lennox was
fouled in the area in full flight ; and finally, a Lennox goal was
disallowed after Bobby Clark had blundered by dropping the ball at his
feet but the referee decided, wrongly, that Lennox had obstructed
Clark. Have a wee search on Youtube for this game and you can see the
key moments for yourself.
The offending referee was a certain Bobby Davidson who was (deservedly)
given severe abuse by Celtic fans at every opportunity for the
remainder of his refereeing career. In this pic Bobby Lennox and Jim
Hermiston are seen battling for possession.
Picture 3 shows big ‘Shuggie’ Edvaldsson marking wee Joe Harper from a
game at Pittodrie in 1978. Now, when I was younger, Harper was a total
pain every time he played against Celtic. No matter who we had in
defence it always seemed that wee Joe would score against us. Harper
was quite a rotund wee guy but what a goalscoring record he had to his
name, he is easily one of the greatest Scottish scorers of all time, a
wonderful talent. He was another that the Jungle would give a power of
abuse to although the ‘Harper’s a barrel…’ chant of the period was
distasteful to say the least. In fairness to Joe, at least he was
consistent , because he gave Rangers as much grief in his time as he
did to Celtic.
Picture 4 shows Frank McGarvey and Willie Miller fighting for the ball,
circa 1982. For a defender Miller wasn’t great in the air and lacked
pace…and yet I rate him (alongside David Narey of Dundee United) as the
finest centre back I have ever seen in Scottish football, above the
lauded names of Gough, Aitken, Butcher, McLeish and Elliott. He was the
best proponent of a penalty box tackler you will ever see. He was also
rock solid and read the game superbly and it’s incredible to think he
was 16 years in the Aberdeen side and is best remembered as their
legendary captain who lifted the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983
against Real Madrid. Willie Miller was the supreme competitor and a
wonderful player and a very inspiring and successful captain as his
trophy haul will show. He is deservedly spoken of with the same
reverence as Billy McNeill and John Greig.
With regards to Celtic I can recall him missing the vital penalty in
the dramatic penalty shoot out against the Celts in the League Cup
quarter final of September 1986, when Pat Bonner made a fine save. This
was one of the few occasions we got one over Willie and the huge Celtic
support celebrated a notable victory long into the night. After the
game, extra time, penalties and celebrations, it was 11 o’clock by the
time the Celtic fans exited the stadium for the long and happy journey
Now I have a confession to make here. To my eternal shame I wanted Real
Madrid to beat Aberdeen in their famous 1983 ECWC final and I can
easily admit that the green eyed monster of jealousy had me in its
hold. Celtic had a fine team at that period and in some ways it was
better than the Dons, but Ferguson, even then, had a tactical nous
which he put to good use in Europe, whilst Celtic’s European results
during that period, on the whole, were disappointing. Real Madrid,
Bayern Munich and Hamburg were all put to the sword during Aberdeen’s
golden period in the 80’s. Looking back now I can admire the talents of
Strachan, McGhee, Weir and Black and I should have been backing my
fellow Scots in that final in ‘83 and I owe them a belated apology for
Picture 5 has Eric Black and Murdo MacLeod from 1984. Black was a
superb striker and although not particularly tall he had a great spring
in his heels which allowed him to out jump taller defenders, much in
the way of our own Dixie Deans and Henrik Larsson through the years.
He was one of a few band of men to score a hat trick against Celtic at
Parkhead in February 1983. Unfortunately for him he moved to Metz in
France and had to retire with back problems. He reinvented himself as a
decent coach and is remembered as assistant coach to Jo Venglos and
John Barnes at Parkhead in the late 90’s.
The final picture is number 6 and shows Charlie Nicholas and Neil
Simpson. Alex Ferguson had his Aberdeen team as a very aggressive side
in the mirror image of his own personality and there were several
players in the Dons side of that period who were very forceful to say
the least. One of the worst culprits was Neil Cooper, who with his
noticeable blond curly hairstyle, fairly scythed his way through many
an opposition attacker. He infamously once received a yellow card after
13 seconds for a foul on Charlie Nicholas, straight from kick off, on
one particular freezing cold day at Pittodrie ! His partner in crime
was Neil Simpson who I always regarded as a hard but very fair player.
Unfortunately for Simpson his career all but came crashing to an end in
1988 after he was branded public enemy number one for THAT tackle on a
certain Ian Durrant. Now I’m not absolving Simpson from any blame
because it was a terrible challenge but it was no better, no worse than
some of the efforts that I’ve seen from such luminaries as Greig,
Forsyth, Souness and Butcher through the years. Celtic-Aberdeen games
were always keenly contested affairs but it has to be said that when
Graeme Souness took over at Ibrox in 1986 the Rangers-Aberdeen matches
had a nasty undercurrent which remains until this day.
I was fortunate enough to travel to Pittodrie many, many times through
the years. As I have said there was many a defeat up there, and some
heavy ones at that, such as the 4-1 drubbings in 1978, 1980 and 1985
when Frank McDougall went one better than Eric Black by rattling four
goals (surely a record ?) past the Celtic rearguard. But times changed
and as Aberdeen faltered, Celtic prospered and by the late 1990’s
Celtic were able to hand back thrashings on an even greater scale. In
December 1999, during John Barnes’ short reign, the Celts travelled up
and walloped Aberdeen 6-0 on their own patch. For someone like me who
had remembered some severe disappointments at Pittodrie, this was a day
to savour. One Celtic goal that day in particular was a joy to behold.
Morten Weighorst, on the touch line, showed a wonderful piece of skill
by twisting his right foot around his standing foot to cross the ball,
showing an exemplary piece of skill, and Regi Blinker gleefully
volleyed the ball in at the far post. Oh that today’s Celts could
conjour up such magic on the field !
The long journey home after any win up there was always a happy one.
All through the years there have been few better feelings for a Celtic
fan than a ‘carry out’ on the bus and a constant singing session on the
road back to Glasgow from Pittodrie.