The Real Madrid View

by | Gothenburg Project | 1 comment

As the old adage goes: history is written by the victor, and football is no different.

Following epic struggles of Herculean proportions, microphones are thrust under the noses of winning players, interviewers earnestly ask how they feel, triumphant platitudes are mustered through the exhaustion, the crowd goes wild and everyone goes off merrily into the night.

No one cares what the losers have to say in the aftermath of a defeat. The world has enough real tales of tragedy, sports are there to provide an escape; a modern-day heroes journey beamed into our living rooms to alleviate the impending sense of doom permeating the real world.

But as with most things in life, the really interesting stuff is found in the margins. The hollow platitudes fade and the enduring stories happen far from the bright lights and TV cameras – often from those who ultimately came out on the losing side.

One of the most fascinating aspects of researching the recent Neil Simpson article was curating stories from the often overlooked Real Madrid perspective of the 1983 European Cup Winner’s Cup Final.

Tales from inside the Madrid camp, including the narrowly averted half-time punch-up described in the Simmie article, came from Dons fan David Massie. David’s incredible insights are a result of an unlikely friendship struck up with Madrid right back Juan José after the pair struck up a friendship in the early 2000’s. The ex-pat Scot was living and working in the Spanish port of Cádiz at the time while the erstwhile Spanish International was severely down on his luck: his demons having left him pushing a sweeping brush around local building sites to keep the wolf from the door.

The unlikely pair spent many a morning sharing a coffee while the Spaniard regaled the Aberdeen native with tales from his playing career and, at David’s happy prompting, the inside track on that famous game in ’83. The stories as recounted to me now provide an eye-opening insight into the mentality of a group of supremely talented players, ensconced in the comfortable surrounds of a European Super Club, when pitted against the rough and ready upstarts from Aberdeen. From the nocturnal antics of the Madrid goalie in the build-up to the game, to the cocksure Madrid players laughing up their sleeves at the less than imposing sight of a drenched John Hewitt waiting to enter the pitch for his game-winning cameo. Keep an eye on future Gothenburg Project articles for more…

Another great source have been the Spanish newspaper archives. One article in particular, published by Madrid-based daily El Pais in the build-up to the game, gives a brilliant insight into Aberdeen – the city and team – both unknown quantities in those pre-Internet days. The article is reproduced in full below. Enjoy!

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Football and oil have transformed life in Aberdeen 

Just as in 1981, when it lost 1-0 in Paris against Liverpool, Real Madrid has to face in an European final another British Red Devils. On this occasion, the rivals will be the unknown Aberdeen of Alex Ferguson, a Scottish team lacking European titles/accolades. Alfredo di Stefano’s men seem comfortable with a rival whom they consider beatable in the Gothenburg final and point to the fact that in a competition full of fearsome teams, like Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Red Star, Inter Milan or even Barcelona, the rival could have been a lot more uncomfortable. An El Pais correspondent was in the Scottish city which is living in hope of the European final. 

Life in Aberdeen has been transformed by oil from the North Sea and the European Final. This cold northern city is the main point of unloading of the black oil that brings an air of prosperity uncommon in a Scotland frightened by the ghost of unemployment.  However, in the neat Pittodrie stadium (with a 24,000 seat capacity), they say that the arrival of the manager Alex Ferguson in 1978 was more decisive than that of the oil. Ferguson’s team is a good reflection of the cautious character of the northern Scottish folk. There is some sort of caution in the presence of foreigners and although the players display a good sense of humour and cordiality, when interviewed, they prefer to hide behind ironic or humorous responses rather than telling truths or admissions of what they are really thinking.

“My success, I owe it all to my feet. The Tax Man is a tougher rival than Real”, says the great Aberdeen star, Gordon Strachan. Even the nickname of “The Dons” has an obscure origin to mislead the foreigner. Supposedly the club is nameed after the Don River, which goes through the city. But the true reason is that Aberdeen was funded in 1903 by a group of dons  (academics from the local university). 

Living under the shadows of the “big boys” 

Since its foundation, Aberdeen, just like most Scottish teams has lived under the shadow of Celtic and Rangers, the two Glasgow teams.  Until the arrival of Ferguson, they had won only one league title (1955), two Cups (1947, 1970) and three League Cups (1946,1956 and 1977). With Ferguson, the Dons have won one league title and a Cup in the last three years and in spite of this, Ferguson continues his work without a contract, “I don’t care about pieces of paper” says the coach, “and I trust the word of our president Dick Donald. This season is very important to us, because we are reaping the fruit of our work of the last five years. Our European Season and especially our victory against Bayern, has given us prestige and finally it has given us an identity within continental football”. Ferguson is a very colourful character. As a player he defended the colours of Queen’s Park, St. Johnstone, Dunfermine, Rangers, Falkirk and Ayr. Rangers sacked him abruptly after a 0-4 final loss against Celtic in 1980. The coach at the time tasked Ferguson the job of watching McNeill when this player when up for corner kicks. Within one minute of the game Celtic was up 1-0 thanks to a McNeill header from a corner kick. Ferguson started coaching in East Stirling, when to St Mirren and finally ended up in Aberdeen in 1979 when he replaced Billy McNeill, yes that one with the header from the corner kick! 

In Pittodrie, Ferguson has built a fearsome block around the red-haired central midfielder Gordon Strachan, the smallest from a squad where the average height is above 1.80 metres. Strachan impressed in the Scottish national team that played in last year’s World Cup, but as soon as he returned from Spain, asked for a transfer, saying that he wanted to seek “wider horizons”. “Gordon was happy to sign a contract for four years”, said Ferguson, “and he has to stay until 1984. Anyways, Strachan’s transfer is worth three million dollars (405 million pesetas), a very reasonable figure if we consider that for Maradona they paid eight million. In my opinion, Gordon demonstrated a lot more than Maradona in the World Cup”. 

A British styled team 

While Strachan captures most headlines, Ferguson prefers to talk of a team without cracks that practices a typical style of British football and that according to the critics; they practice it better than everybody.

The goalkeeper, Jim Leighton (24 years old) just earned a Scottish national team call. “He doesn’t look like an athlete, right?” smiles Ferguson, “but he is the best keeper in the country. He has a very peculiar style that not everybody likes but he stops the ball and that’s the most important thing”.

In the defence, the central defenders Willie Miller and Alex McLeish stand out. The sweeper Miller (27) already has more than 550 caps in the first team, while the stopper McLeish (23) has already represented his country 20 times. The right back Stuart Kennedy (30) is the most senior player of the team. Perhaps the weakest point of the last four could be the left back Doug Rougvie (26) who is more comfortable playing as centre back. Juanito, because of this could cause him a lot of problems. 

In the middle of the pitch play together with Gordon Strachan (26), Neil Simpson (22) and Doug Bell (24), or the blonde Neale Cooper (20). In front, stands out the tireless work of Mark McGhee (25) who has scored half a dozen goals in this competition. To his right plays Eric Black (22) and to his left, the skilled and quick winger Peter Weir, bought from St Mirren two years ago for an Scottish transfer record of 65 Million Pesetas.  On the bench, John Hewitt (21), a striker with a nose for scoring stands out. Jim Leighton, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, Gordon Strachan and Peter Weir are in the Scottish national team at this point in time. 

Aberdeen’s secretary, Ian Taggart, says that thousands of fans have already registered to watch the final in Gothenburg and it is expected that a lot more fans will do the ferry trip between the two cities that share their latitude as well as their climate. 

All the hotel rooms in Gothenburg have been taken by the Scottish fans who will travel either by plane or ferry. It is the first time a Scottish team makes it to an European final since the 1972 Cup Winner’s Cup, when Rangers beat Dynamo Moscow 3-2 and as a thank you they half destroyed the Camp Nou. However, Gothenburg Nya Ullevi stadium owner’s (with capacity for 53,000), should not be too worried about this, since The Dons followers so far have been exemplary in this competition. 

The Scottish show a great admiration for el Madrid, here it is considered a “magic name of world football” and they believe that in Gothenburg, awaits a fascinating mix of pure whisky with a fine jerez of Juanito, accompanied by a few drops of Metgod’s geneyer and the powerful Schnapps of Stielike.

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This article appeared in the printed edition of El Pais on Friday, 22nd April 1983. Many thanks to Juan Saavedra for the translation.