The Gothenburg Project
Football fans of my era remember a time when pan-European competitions were reserved for the absolute elite: clubs whose domestic campaigns were secondary to the quest for glory on the continent and players who treated those matches as the pinnacle of their careers. We remember, in the pre-internet world, when a trip to the continent was literally a step into the unknown. We still cherish those special European games under the floodlights and count them among our best football memories. For us, the denigration of European competition since the advent of the Champions League has been particularly galling.
We are now left with the bloated “Champions” League, a pale imitation of the European Cup, where a band of super-rich mega-clubs play each other in a spiral of growing tedium, while a second tier of hangers-on scrabble to finish fourth in their domestic leagues so they can keep worshipping the sacred UEFA cash cow.
The once great UEFA Cup has been bastardised into the Europa League, essentially a third rate Champions League, designed to maximise revenue but unfortunately not enjoyment.
The affinity that my generation, and those before us, feel for these competitions of bygone years is inflated by the regularity of success that British clubs tasted. This is especially true of the period between 1976 and 1985 which represents the high water mark for British clubs in Europe. These were halcyon days in a golden era: at least one trophy returning to Britain every season during these nine years. Most notably, the European Cup was claimed by English clubs for six years on the spin between 1977 and 1982.
One of the most striking aspects of this golden era is the number of clubs who were thrust from relative obscurity onto the biggest stage. Some of names etched onto the European, UEFA and Cup Winner’s Cups during this period would have been unfamiliar to all but the most ardent foreign correspondents: Nottingham Forest, Aberdeen and Ipswich Town.
These were clubs who in their entire combined existences only had a few domestic honours to show for their efforts. They then found themselves in a perfect storm of supremely gifted players and iconic, one-off managers – Clough, Ferguson and Robson.
Talk of the Leicester City being the greatest fairy tale of all time is all the rage at the moment, but the escapades of Forest and Aberdeen trump anything Leicester have achieved. Their time in the wider public consciousness may have been fleeting but it was utterly magical. Their achievements are unlikely to ever be repeated but should certainly never be forgotten.
In my (maybe slightly biased) opinion, Aberdeen’s triumph in the 1983 Cup Winner’s Cup is the biggest football fairy tale of all time. This was a provincial team in every sense of word, made up wholly of Scottish players, whose previous glories had been strictly domestic and in short supply. Before ’83 the club had never progressed past the third round of European competition.
The road to victory in ’83 included a two legged triumph over the might of Bayern Munich, a team packed with stars including Augenthaler, Breitner and Rummenigge, and of course the final itself, in Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium against Real Madrid.
As a modern day Aberdeen fan you fall into three categories: you were at the game in Gothenburg and you’ll never forget it, you couldn’t make the game and you’ve never been allowed to forget it or, like me, you weren’t born at the time. If you’re part of that latter group you will have grown up steeped in the folklore of that ’83 side, surrounded by the memories, so familiar with the story that you almost feel like you were there. Any Aberdeen fan worth their salt, regardless of their age, will be able to reel off that team: Leighton, Rougvie, McLeish, Miller, McMaster, Cooper, Simpson, Weir, Strachan, Black, McGhee and Hewitt.
I’d always harboured a notion of somehow sitting down with these legends individually and getting to the bottom of what made them tick as individuals. I had no idea how to make this a reality and it was always filed in the “Never Going to Happen” folder. But then recently I thought, Why not?
So I set myself the massively ambitious challenge of interviewing each of the team individually and putting the resulting interviews up on the blog.
I was conscious that I didn’t want it to turn into a massive ego driven vanity project that no one would want to read. I was also worried that none of these legends of the game would want to talk to a no-mark blogger like me. So I decided to add a bit of weight to the project.
Backed by a very generous donation from Hugh Little, I have three programmes from that ’83 Cup Winner’s Cup Final that I will be getting signed off by each of the team during the interviews. Providing all goes well and I am able to speak to them all, I will then have three fully signed programmes which will be auctioned off for Archies, CLAN and Stand Free Youth Development.
The first piece of the jigsaw fell into place last Friday when Mr Neil Simpson, the midfield dynamo who played such a pivotal role in the team, very generously gave up his time and answered some of my questions. The interview contains some fascinating insights from one of the best midfielders this country has produced, hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed asking the questions.
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The ball is rolling. Let’s see where this takes us! One down, eleven to go.