How I avoided England v Germany in 1990 with help from Ben Elton and Hugh Laurie.

alex smith northern light
alex smith northern light

My first Northern Light front cover.

“To protect your management status we will title it as co-manager and Drew will be the first team coach”

Alex Smith, a very long time after

Smiffy must go!

Smith was appointed first team coach by Porterfield who was clearly fishing to see if he was going to get the sack. Ever so nice club Aberdeen had never sacked a manager before. The way too weak Aberdeen directors let Porterfield appoint Smith. A few weeks later, they finally sacked Porterfield. Then were stuck with Smith. That’s the level of competence that was governing AFC post Fergie, post the tragic passing of Chris Anderson.

I was contributing cartoons to the Northern Light fanzine and The Press and Journal during the Smith/Scott era. I was at the games, I was in the demonstrations. It put that time into sharp focus for me. The ‘rewriting of history’ after his sacking I always found odd.

That of course doesn’t mean I am right about back then. It’s fitba, it’s all about opinions.


Strengthen your resolve

Alex Smiffy Smith. Let’s get to it. Shit manager. Shouldn’t have gotten the job. Co-managers, laughable compromise from people who didn’t back either one, inherited the guts of Fergie’s team via Porterfield, pissed all the money away. Largely bought shite, almost always from St Mirren. Crap tactics, crap substitutions, didn’t develop talent at all, just played young players irrespective of whether they were any good or not. For Eoin Jess and Scott Booth, there was Greg Watson and Michael Watt, and quite a few others who shouldn’t have gotten past one game. Was properly found out as Fergie’s team was starting to age, he’d spent all the money and Jocky Scott left.

Career management

Jocky Scott’s reputation suffered by not having the self publicity skills of Alex Smith. Football is unusual from most careers in that it is merit based, but after the event, career management comes into play. If someone doesn’t have the skills they are quickly found out in football. Someone like Glass could undeservedly land a job through connections, just like in other careers, but he was found out very quickly and had to be removed. Through skilled self promotion Craig Brown has convinced most Aberdeen supporters he ‘stabilised the club’. A quick look at Wikipedia, and he got a high budget SPL team consistently to ninth. Exactly what McGhee did. McGhee is seen as an abject failure, but Brown ‘stabilised us’? Career management over actual ability. They were both very poor, equally poor, for us. But perceptions…

If you followed Smith’s career afterwards the same patterns repeated, spent all the money, team doesn’t improve, fans protest, Smiffy sacked, poor old Smiffy, blame those Aberdeen supporters. Oh and he was a self righteous prick. His greatest skill, the ability to keep landing jobs based on fuck all. And I can already hear the arguments. “That was the beginning of the end, that’s where it all went wrong, sacking Smiffy, he won two cups, what we’d do for that now…” 

Alex Smith didn’t win those cups, Alex Ferguson did. Without even being in the fucking building. Ferguson generated the cash that got us Nicholas and Gillhaus. Miller, McLeish, McKimmie, Bett, the spine of the team, Ferguson players. Ferguson’s winning mentality flowing through their veins. Jess and Booth? The seeds on a quality youth system needed to be planted well in advance… guess who? Even the tip off of Theo Snelders, Paul Mason and the Dutch agent came from Ferguson, or he’d have signed Campbell fucking Money from fucking St Mirren.

Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest manager there has ever been. Eight years at the club, he left behind a fair bit of inbuilt momentum. Those last two trophies were the bonus points from Ferguson’s legacy. That legacy was burned away pretty quickly, and a lot of very bad investments were made. It was however the beginning of the end, only in the sense it’s where TV revenues, and Bosman and the soon to arrive Champions League circus was going to rig football for a tiny elite of clubs transforming it to what it is today. The end of an era for football, not just Aberdeen Football Club.

If you know the history…

Appointing Willie Miller didn’t work out (we finished second under Willie Miller twice, before it all went tits up). It could be argued he managed to reconnect the club to Fergie’s momentum, that Smith had completely lost, and only came undone when McLeish and Bett moved on, the last of the great Fergie players, the spine of the team. Poor old McKimmie last man standing. You can understand his frustrations near the end. And history fans, no one was ever calling for Willie Miller to get the job. He was backed when he got it, but no one demanded he get it. The real catstrofuck was appointing Aitken (based on nothing, the internal appointment always the lazy option for directors) and the double catastrofuck the new contract for Aitken rolling into Alex fucking Miller (the start points of the Milne regime, after destroying the stadium with that stand and… probably best I leave that one there, he “saved us from ourselves”).

Just because the directors during the post Fergie years, got pretty much every appointment they made wrong, doesn’t for a second make the sacking of Smith wrong. He also was a bad appointment, as was Porterfield, based on weakness, laziness, compromise and incompetence from directors that continued pretty much right up until McInnes got the job. I’m sure from now on they’ll get all decisions correct… (Update: we are in the future now, how’s that one going?)

Who do they think they are?

Then you’ve got the media. A narrative developed that wasn’t based on reality. Who do they think they are, hounding out this lovely man who won two cups? Important to understand the Glasgow media hated the Fergie years. Their sectarian peddling darlings were humiliated regularly, and Fergie would regularly get it right up them. Once Fergie was gone, it was open season on Aberdeen. The Simpson Durrant tackle (a story still going – no other bad tackles in Scottish football ever?) was another chance for their revenge.

There were hundreds of people demonstrating outside Pittodrie to get Smith removed after a number of games. Crowds were low because the football had become so poor. Those demonstrating were the hardcore support, who were at all the games. Prepared to stay behind after a game they felt so strongly about how bad he was. Jocky Scott had already left the club.

Alex Smith was sacked by St Mirren prior to Aberdeen, after supporters started demonstrating for his removal. He would go on to do literally nothing as a football manager anywhere after Aberdeen. Sacked again and a again. The narrative that Aberdeen made a terrible decision pumped out by a media not fit for purpose.

Smiffy’s sacking

Alex Smith was sacked after Jim Dolan in The Press and Journal (the only place for Afc info back then) took him apart in a quite brilliant, and deserving take down after what would become his final game. But ultimately he was sacked at Aberdeen, just like at most of his jobs, as he was a shit manager. He also did a lot of media in the days immediately after the sacking. This got him an enormous amount of sympathy as he immediately began controlling the narrative with an easily compliant Glasgow media.

And I would just leave it, but his career management skills has him appearing very late in the day to say Jocky Scott wasn’t actually co-manager, and the laughable narrative of what he would have done had he not been sacked is a joke. It is the equivalent of someone saying in three years time, ‘if only we’d given Stephen Glass more time’, then it gets repeated a couple of times by a few people, and then suddenly it’s a fact

If paying football supporters ever demonstrate against a football manager, using their time to stay at a football stadium after a game, and do it repeatedly, it is because that manager is shit, and should not be in the job. Everything else after the event is people who were not at the games, or a media narrative that is a nice opportunity to take a pop at Aberdeen supporters.

If your memory remembers total football, sunshine and Dutch internationals, yes, there was a period where it worked. The inheritance of Fergie’s team (via Porterfield), the money to spend that was the Fergie era profits effectively (that was spent with indecent haste and with no thought for potential resale value – we signed Gillhaus (little or no resale value), PSV signed Romario – world record fee to Barcelona) and then it all went to pieces because he wasn’t a good football manager, massively accelerating as soon as Jocky Scott left.

It is important no one’s career management writes Jocky Scott out of that era, however hard someone may try.

Lights out

This next content I have no right to reproduce here. They are from one of the final Northern Light’s before Smith was sacked. However the article first left, is about me. Cheers guys! Particularly for spelling my name wrong. The article to the right of that, is quality. More importantly, these pages give a sample of that last eighteen months of Alex Smith, also of the real quality of The Northern Light. TNL wasn’t just a fanzine, it was a brilliant one, and was highly praised within what was a huge UK wide movement at the time. Pre internet, pre radio phone ins, pretty much the only outlet for supporters’ opinions. 

the northern light

bob harper

The genius of Bob Harper

aberdeen fanzine


bobby's blouse

The genius of Gio Alzapiedi (just the first page of a much longer strip)

gordon reid

The genius of Gordon Reid

alex smith

Meanwhile I was at the P&J (readership 220,000 per day – a lot less since my cartoons stopped!)



We all know Ally Begg. TV producer, former boy band member, former TV presenter, makes excellent AFC videos with football A listers, comes over like a thoroughly decent, self effacing bloke, and most importantly a passionate Dandy.  Big on Twitter, big on Facebook, he’s Afc celebrity royalty. Dundee Utd have that drunk woman from the telly, we’ve got Ally Begg.

I appear to be sucking up. Or about to say something not that nice, maybe.

I don’t know him, but I’ve met him. A long, long time ago.

1990 to 1993 I worked in the old caseroom at Aberdeen Journals as a layouter. We had a five aside football team that played twice a week, every week. This was a phenomenal achievement, a phenomenal piece of perseverance, as we never once won a game in that time. That may have changed after I left.

We played at Sheddocksley Sports Centre in Mastrick. Not far from the Journals building at Lang Stracht, not far from where quite a few of the guys in the team would have lived.

I don’t remember anyone else who worked at Sheddocksley Sports Centre, but there was this one guy who appeared for a few weeks I do remember.

Sheddocksley Sports Centre

White, flat, overhead strip lighting. The least flattering lighting that can be found. The stench of heavy duty disinfectant, possibly undistilled bleach, a lot of stale sweat, and I’m getting just a hint of hangover farts and a dash of Kouros. Welcome to Sheddocksley Sports Centre. Every sports centre in Scotland.

He looked like Tom Cruise. But much, much taller. Ally Begg is the only person in the history of anything, who has looked good, in an Aberdeen District Council shell suit. It is almost impossible to describe the unnatural juxtaposition of someone who would shortly be joining a boyband, to this council building. What the fuck is he doing in here, what is he even doing in Scotland, making the rest of us look and feel bad.

But that’s not why I remember him. Despite the fact we always lost, we’d started out losing 28-0, we’d gotten better, (it’s been pointed out to me a new player had joined, by the player! Ego?) and we were closing in on games losing 7-4, 6-3. This was bringing out the competitive edge, this would involve trying to pull in outside help. One of the guys must have asked Ally to join the team. Of course he’s good at football. Gritted teeth. I forget the rest of the game, I know we lost, but I remember very, very clearly being shouted at for making a mistake. By Ally Begg.

I am an artist, with an artist’s sensitive soul, and two left feet. The bad man shouted at me. That’s why I remember Ally Begg.

Oh we’re not done yet.

London Calling

After the Journals I moved to London. I’m at my desk drawing, listening to the radio one evening. It’s either Radio 1, or Capital Radio. A boy band is being interviewed. I’m not really paying attention.

It starts to become clear something is wrong. The USP of a boy band, is very good looking people, who dance and sing/mime a bit. However being interviewed in a radio studio, they are just some blokes talking. There is clear inter band tension. The normal show business professionalism has been eroded by either shaggin’ too many groupees, taking too much drugs, or just getting on each others nerves 24/7. This is car crash radio. This sounds like it could end in a fight.

Now I’m listening.

One of them is Scottish. I don’t know how many boy bands there were back then. Probably through the Journals I’m aware that bloke from Sheddocksley Sports Centre is in a boy band, I don’t know which one, I won’t have remembered his name either back then. Pre-internet.

In true Smash Hits, Just Seventeen magazine, bubble gum nonsense style, the interviewer is asking incredibly inane questions that listeners are calling in with. I still remember two of the questions.

What is your favourite thing?

Each member answers with various stock answers, it comes to the Scottish one, he answers ‘chocolate’. A perfectly fitting boyband member answer. This is pissing one of them off, I’m fascinated at what’s going down.

Next question. What do you hate the most?

Various stock answers.

Our man, the Scottish one answers:

Wait for it.


At this there is an audible, ‘oh for fucks sake’ from the other band mates, followed by ‘there goes that demographic from the fan base’. And I am on the floor laughing. I think I’ve found our man. And, I’ve just forgiven him for shouting at me during the game.

Maybe there was another boy band with a Scottish member who didn’t like Rangers back then, who knows…

Update: After a wee chat with Ally on Twitter (cheers Ally) ‘That was definitely us’.

Ally has a book you can buy here, a fantastic blog you can read, with all sorts of brilliant Afc interviews and videos.


It’s all very well wallowing in the brilliance of Charlie Nicholas’ goal against Celtic, that hit the back of the net without touching the ground from the keeper’s hands, without mentioning the rest of the game. 

If you were at that game, you remember that goal. I’ve been to lots of games I remember almost nothing about. This game I remember.

I had this flatmate Kev from Essex. A post grad something or other. Kev was a Gooner (Arsenal fan). Kev was so laid back to be almost asleep. Kev had an incredibly dry wit and he knew how to wind me up no end.

He once said he thought sex was overrated in a nonchalant way, and he didn’t really enjoy it. His girlfriend was stunning. I was single. He was that guy, and still infuriatingly likeable.

Kev would say ‘Scottish football is rubbish’, and ‘never got what the fuss had been about Charlie Nicholas when he had arrived at Arsenal anyway’, ‘He was supposed to score all these goals…’, ‘just because he scored in a cup final’, ‘always thought he was shit’.

I won’t take the bait, I won’t take the bait, I won’t take the bait…

I took the bait, and then off he’d fuck to his room, having riled me up, and him still as calm as the proverbial cucumber.

So me and Kev were at Aberdeen v Celtic. Bobby Mimms kicks, Gillhaus’ head, over Charlie’s shoulder, BANG. Pittodrie erupts. I erupt. On my way back down from ten feet in the air, I remember what was really important at that moment. Amongst all the celebration in the South Stand, I turn to Kev, look him straight in the eyes, and nod, THERE!

This goal.

Thanks to that goal, I have won. Scottish football is not rubbish, it is fantastic, Charlie Nicholas is a brilliant player, and Aberdeen are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen…

Of course Kev doesn’t respond, as he is too laid back to show any emotion, but there is a hint of defeat on his face. All I needed for victory. So I sit back and wait for Aberdeen to kick on. A packed Pittodrie, Gillhaus and Charlie have just combined for that goal, let the show really begin.

They did literally fuck all the rest of the game. With every passing minute, I could feel my victory slipping away. Celtic equalize. Maybe this will wake them up to kick on. They’ll hit the ‘total football button’, and push on to a brilliant victory against a pretty piss poor Celtic team.

Did they fuck. I’m not sure if Charlie Nicholas even touched the ball again that game. Like a collection of mercenaries who believe they’d done what they were paid for, and are just going through the motions.

As the game goes on, I stupidly glance towards Kev. The hint of a smug little grin is back. No words are being spoken, he doesn’t need to. I’m getting angrier and angrier. With Scottish football, with Charlie fucking Nicholas, with that bastard Kev. 

Training days

charlie nicholas aberdeen training

Charlie Nicholas training at Aberdeen. You see if ye tuck yer sweatshirt intae yer troosers, yer gonna look a wee bit fat there Charlie.

I took this photo when I was an art student. I got permission from the club. A letter from Ian Porterfield himself! The idea was I’d take photos with a view to an illustration project. Little bit of a problem, despite having borrowed a zoom lens from a fellow student (nothing like what the pros use) being a shy young fella, I didn’t get close enough to them, for it to make any difference.

willie miller aberdeen training

Yeah, the coolest man on the park, the coolest man in the world…
Peter Nicholas on the ball (he would shortly leave for Chelsea). Not sure the two behind him. Big Bri, Wullie, and a young Michael Watt, who was third keeper then. I remember a huge cheer from all the players after a good save. I think probably very new to first team training.

aberdeen fc training

I lost about a half a stone that day from the sheer anxiety of the experience.  I don’t think Wullie was impressed with the far off, anxious looking art student in his torn denim jacket… I suspect the great man knew I was using the wrong aperture and shutter speed, and was too far a f*cking way.
Tom Jones, Paul Wright, Peter Nicholas, I think Ian Robertson, Willie Miller, Alex McLeish.

john hewitt aberdeen

Aye is it. And the illustration project, well it took me a wee while, but that’s it on the Facebook page.

dandy lion

It was the beginning of the Souness era. We had been top dogs, they were trying to take that from us, spending vast sums of money.

I was at the game, tensions were very high. They had signed a Gothenburg Great, Neale Cooper from Aston Villa. As I remember, there was a photo in the Evening Express of Neale training with the Aberdeen squad a couple of days before the game. It had come that close. It was heartbreaking. A tie that always would have had an electric come poisonous atmosphere was dialed up to eleven. The Aberdeen support were angry and upset. Not just in the stands.

There had been difficulties between Aston Villa and Aberdeen when Neale left. Haggling over the fee by Villa.  When it didn’t work out, and Aberdeen tried to bring him back, they started haggling the other way. I believe ‘Deadly’ Doug Ellis would have been there then, quite the ‘character’. On a point of principle, Aberdeen backed out of the deal. Souness stepped in. Something very similar happened when Peter Weir was to return to Scotland from Leicester. So he went to St Mirren. Aberdeen FC directors’ principles.

At the game, who scores for them, but Neale. The atmosphere is just horrible. So many emotions. A couple of odd things I remember at the game. Two old guys in front of me, criticising the Aberdeen players during the warm up, they never stopped moaning. There was a lot of noise, unfortunately all my ears could hear was those two. As if it was the only channel my antenna could pick up.

I also remember the photographers after half time. Something very new then happened. There were far more photographers back then for a game like that. Print media was bigger, and no digital photography. It was one nil them at half time, almost all the photographers went behind the Aberdeen goal (expecting Rangers goals) for the second half. We won 2-1. The photographers were behind the wrong goal.

The tackle. I had a good view. For the first and last time at a football match, I turned my head away instinctively. At the time, you’ve no idea how bad someone is hurt, the only instinct, hope Simmie isn’t sent off. The two old guys in front of me, then come into their own. ‘Didnae look like a foul to me’. No word of a lie.

After a very long delay, off goes Durrant. Very unprofessionally, on a physio’s back.

The sad but ominous site of Durrant piggy-backed off. The two old guys, ‘Well that’ll be Rangers excuse the morin’. I’m warming to them now.

Afterwards was horrific. The Glasgow media showing themselves for the vile, dangerous, pig ignorant arseholes that they are. Simmie was in a Scotland squad at the time, forced out, never picked again. Every game, they’d bring it up, we were their biggest rivals. I’d say also the Glasgow media wouldn’t have enjoyed the Ferguson years. This was payback now Fergie was gone.

There was another element with Souness. As a Scotland player playing for Liverpool, then Sampdoria, he was deeply unpopular with the Glasgow media. Any bad Scotland result or performance and the Glasgow media would blame the strutting ‘Anglo-Scot’. The ferocious back peddling they then had to do when he took over at Rangers, to prove their loyalty to Souness, was nothing short of sick, and also kind of funny.

Whatever footballing rivalries, no matter what is done, or said in the height of passion of a football match, no-one wants another human hurt (seriously hurt).

When I first became a Pittodrie season ticket holder as a student it was the Porterfield years. Not that much excitement. One of my fondest memories was one sunny day at Pittodrie, Simmie after being out for a spell injured, starting to warm up from the substitutes bench. The buzz, the atmosphere, the anticipation, the sheer love that came down from the support just as he warmed up, was amazing.

He made a mistake, we are all human, let him and Durrant forget it. What is the worst in my opinion, is the absolute legend that is Neil Simpson, a sensational hard, but fair and incredibly skilled midfielder, (look at that goal against Waterschei) is remembered for THAT tackle, and not everything else. Neil Simpson is a legend. Show him the respect he deserves.


My connection with world class footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović.


Painting Eoin Jess onto blackboards in London, because it had to be done.