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ebbe-skovdahl-aberdeen

A look at the late great Ebbe Skovdahl and his time at Aberdeen. This is built on a previous article about the Skovdahl years and has been amended to reflect his passing. The person writing it isn’t a journalist or writer.

Aberdeen post Fergie

Of those who became Aberdeen manager after Alex Ferguson up until Derek McInnes arrived, every single one was sacked, except Ebbe Skovdahl.

Of all the football managers Aberdeen had post Sir Alex Ferguson, Skovdahl is probably the only manager who left behind a significantly better team, than the one he inherited.

It is worth looking back at what Skovdahl inherited, and from who. One of Stewart Milne’s first pieces of work as Aberdeen chairman was offering Roy Aitken a new contract. I think Milne later said he was a bit star struck by Aitken. Then as the team were atrocious Aitken had to be sacked, as he was never a football manager, and in came, unbelievably, Alex Miller. A man who had been sacked as Hibs manager as his team were nothing short of abysmal, and somehow became highly rated on the back of a successful spell as assistant manager in England. Well that’ll work.

In a complete surprise to no-one who had been paying attention, Alex Miller was an abject failure, a huge amount of money was wasted and yet another manager left with a massive compensation cheque in their pocket. This is where Aberdeen were going seriously into debt.

Aitken into Alex Miller into around five months of Paul Hegarty as interim manager running the club into the ground led to Skovdahl arriving at Aberdeen FC at ‘ground zero’. Post Alex Ferguson Aberdeen were as low as they could be. An absolute shambles.

Skovdahl wasn’t found by Milne, a team of headhunters were sent into Europe to find the next manager.

Skovdahl was a very successful manager at Brøndby in Denmark, (with his passing he is still their most successful manager, winning four Danish championships and three Danish Cups) they won trophies, they developed talent, and sold talent expensively, and they did it on similar budgets to Aberdeen. Skovdahl regularly stated how important it was training facilities were needed, requesting multiple times publicly.

It’s interesting listening to some of his former players being interviewed about him. To be fair they are hit with leading questions, designed to get them to laugh at him or belittle his ways, which they do, and then they say something properly enlightening like ‘but it was weird, as he introduced stuff like weight training which was unheard of then, but everyone does it now’. Yeah lads, you had a state of the art European coach!!

The first year would lead to avoiding relegation by the skin of our teeth, but two cup finals, and the crowd were firmly with Skovdahl. There was hope. The team were improving from a very low position. Young players were getting better.

The team would come together to form quite a unit, manager, players and support. We missed out on third to a high spending Livingston that would eventually be liquidated. We won nine games in a row. There was a Danish Day to celebrate the renaissance of the club. See the artwork below.

There was a dark thing that kept happening. The team kept being turned over by Celtic. Huge terrible defeats, that blighted everything. It’s worth remembering what that Celtic team had back then. Larsson was reputed to be on 42k per week. At that time, that was as high as the highest EPL salary (Ryan Giggs may have been earning less at the time). Sutton and Hartson were in the 30k pay bracket, again EPL players, on top EPL salaries. Barry Ferguson at Rangers was on about 30k a week (which ended well for his employer).

Aberdeen players were on a fraction of that. They still are almost twenty years later. The team was young, and they went to pieces many times. On top of that there was the Glasgow media. Led by Traynor then at the BBC and the Daily Record Aberdeen were and still are a very easy target for the Glasgow media to go after. They went at Skovdahl constantly.

At that time the Scottish national team was appalling and we really were not developing talent in Scotland. Not once did I hear Skovdahl get asked about it. At the same time as Denmark had players playing all over Europe at the highest level. Many of those players Skovdahl had a hand in their development, Brøndby had some of the best youth development in Europe, he was related by marriage to the Laudrups FFS (European football aristocracy). The lack of journalistic curiosity that so… maybe not today.

So Skovdahl was on a hiding to nothing from the media. During his time when things were going well for Skovdahl at Aberdeen, Scottish football got hit by a TV deal collapsing, and for a variety of reasons Skovdahl got a significantly reduced budget. Not long later he announced he was leaving.

One of the very telling parts regarding Ebbe is during his time at Aberdeen and since, whenever he is mentioned someone always has a story to tell of meeting him. And he was always the loveliest guy, who showed great interest in the person he was talking to. By all accounts an absolute gentleman.

Ebbe Skovdahl 1945-2020 RIP

Danish Day illustration.
bern-1984
bern-1984

On the 16th of May 1984 Aberdeen should have played in The Cup Winners’ Cup final in Basel against Juventus. This didn’t happen as Aberdeen were cheated by Porto in the semi final. Porto bribed the referee, and were later convicted and punished for it.

Fernando Barata, the former coach of first division side Farense, admitted this week that he acted as a go-between to bribe a Romanian referee when FC Porto beat Aberdeen in the 1984 semi-final of the competition when Alex Ferguson was in charge of the Scottish holders of the title.

The Irish Times 1996

That would have been Aberdeen’s third European final in a row. Up against the mighty Juventus managed by Trapattoni, with Michel Platini in his prime. France would a short time later win Euro 84 with Platini as top scorer. Would Aberdeen have won? Would they have made it three European trophies in a row? That would also have gotten them a place in their fourth European final in a row in the 1984 Super Cup, against Liverpool. A chance for revenge.

Who knows. Highly unlikely I’d say. About as likely as them beating Real Madrid in 1983.

In the second week of November, Fernando Barata, currently president of third division club Imortal, announced that on behalf of FC Porto president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa he ‘bought’ the Romanian referee, Ion lgna, before one of the semi-final legs of the Cup-Winners Cup tie against Aberdeen in 1984.

When Saturday Comes

One thing we do know for sure is, had the Aberdeen support descended on Basel, and The St Clair found a way to port in a land locked country, (the Rhine does flow through it…) there would have been a familiar sound all over the Swiss capital. The same sound that echoed around Gothenburg the previous year, the sound of exasperated Aberdonians saying ‘How much for a pint?!’.

Porto clearly learned their lesson from the scandal. Until they were caught doing it again in 2003. And they are still in football.

European soccer’s governing body UEFA excluded Porto from next season’s Champions League on Wednesday, saying the Portuguese club had tried to influence the outcome of matches by allegedly bribing referees in the 2003-04 season.

France 24

The free Gothenburg 83 book of fans’ stories.

alex smith northern light

A look at the Alex Smith years, and The Northern Light fanzine.

plane aberdeen

plane aberdeen

I saw Ronaldinho play for Barcelona in the Nou Camp, Camp Nou (make up yer feckin’ minds) while he was the best player in the world. Rijkaard had taken over as manager, it had started badly, then *Bartha* went on a run of about eleven wins in a row, the beginning of the little bit too short window of Ronaldinho being the man.

It was about game seven of that run, Davids got sent off. Athletico Madrid they were playing I think. Ronaldinho was just incredible, unstoppable. I was with a Danish girlfriend (number 3 in a series), the loveliest, coolest Scandinavian chic you could ever meet (of course I’d go on to self destruct it)  but for that magical weekend in Barcelona, with that football match, with Ronaldinho at his prime, I was in heaven.

Best footballer I ever saw, the greatest footballing experience of my life, Peter Weir in an Aberdeen shirt.

Everyone connected with Gothenburg is a legend. Everyone worthy of unending gratitude. But it was Weir and Willie Miller who had their own special stratosphere. My greatest footballing privilege. To see Peter Weir play.

I have a late memory, a sad memory. Can’t remember who we were playing. Mystified at Peter not getting a game. For Gary Hackett? This had been going on for a while, before a game all the players warming up, Peter started doing this incredible bit of skill by himself. I can’t remember what it was, but the crowd got behind it. Were watching him, were with him. He was making a statement. I think he was gone within a few weeks. Our next decent left winger was Jonny Hayes. Three decades later. Jonny is a lovely guy by all accounts, and was a great Dandy, but not a tenth of Peter Weir. Porterfield you blundering thundercunt.

We can’t end with that. I will badly paraphrase a story left on the page a couple of years ago. Apologies to whoever left it, if you recognize it, want your name on, want it revised, let me know.

A plane full of Dandies flying to Gothenburg for the final. A wee bit fired up. The stewardess starts doing the safety instructions, before take off. Every time she mentions the rear of the plane, the whole plane keeps bursting into a round of ‘Peter Weir, Peter Weir, Peter Weir’ (to the Here we go song). The safety instructions take quite a while. Finally the plane takes off, literally bouncing up the runway to the sound of Peter Weir, Peter Weir, Peter Weir…

I put it forward, Peter Weir is not just a legend, not just a Gothenburg Great, perhaps, the greatest of them all.

charlie-nicholas

It’s all very well wallowing in the brilliance of Charlie Nicholas’s 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. It’s football, it’s never just one thing, it’s never straight forward.

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. 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’s 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. 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 denim jacket and jeans, a wee bit too far away…
Tom Jones, Paul Wright, Peter Nicholas, I think Ian Robertson, Willie Miller, Alex McLeish.

john hewitt aberdeen

Aye is it.

charlie nicholas aberdeen celtic

charlie nicholas aberdeen

How Charlie Nicholas signed for Aberdeen was a fascinating story. This is all pre Sky TV where very little football was on TV, live at any rate, and the money in England was nothing like now. Charlie had been the most sought after player in the UK while at Celtic. He turned down Liverpool. The all conquering Liverpool of the seventies and early eighties. He chose Arsenal. Odd to think now but Charlie Nicholas was considered a looker, a sex symbol, was on the covers of magazines, was quite the star. And had probably quite the lifestyle to go with it.

Then George Graham took over at Arsenal. Graham decided he didn’t want him.

But why did we get him? One reason was, we had the cash. Aberdeen FC were a very cash rich club for a few years. The Ferguson legacy money. All those trophies, all that success, buying cheap, selling expensive, developing talent, not paying exorbitant salaries. A very well run club, who’d had the manager of a generation in charge. They had even developed parts of the stadium, something very unusual at that time in British football. All very sound management.

Ian Porterfield who came next, said after he had left the club, ‘you’ve no idea, how much money I had to spend. But I wouldn’t just blow it’. Something like that. But he did sign Charlie Nicholas. And unforgivably punted Peter Weir out the door almost the same day. Because the one thing Charlie Nicholas wasn’t going to need was a winger to supply him with ammo…

When Nicholas signed, Brian Clough made an odd comment, ‘that’s a long way to go for a game of football’. It seems Graham wouldn’t sell Nicholas to any of Arsenal’s rivals. Any of the clubs that could have afforded his then wages, or with managers who could have gotten the slightly wayward Nicholas back on track.

I saw an interview with Nicholas recently where he said he was lined up to go to France, Graham scuppered it for him (this is pre-Bosman) and Nicholas believed it was out of jealousy.

For the next few years George Graham’s Arsenal would go onto huge success. Not only shafted by Graham, but to sit back and watch him, and his former team mates doing very well, must have been incredibly hard, or at least very mixed emotions.

Charlie himself never showed it, publicly at least. He was always very positive about the city of Aberdeen, and the club, without ever patronising us supporters either. There must have been a fair bit of tabloid pressure on him. From Stringfellows nightclub to training at Balgownie kind of thing.

The Wenger years

As it turned out, Graham was sacked by Arsenal when he got caught stealing. He then went to a couple of different clubs where a pattern emerged. At Leeds Utd, their star striker Yeboah, dropped, finished, Thomas Brolin the same. At Spurs, Ginola, dropped, finished. What they all have in common with Charlie, they were presumably underperforming, but they were probably the most naturally gifted players in their respective squads, and as flair players, loved by supporters. Was it to engender team spirit, or to show who was in charge, or did Graham just like to destroy a career?

I went to an Arsenal game once at Highbury under Graham when I moved to London in 93. It was against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, in what would become Clough’s last season. Inside twenty minutes Ian Wright had scored two sensational goals. Incredible to see. English football was fab. www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2byTsNG2FA (looks like a Pathe Newsreel now…)

They then 30 minutes in, proceeded to park the bus. 2-0 up, playing at home, against a Forest team that would eventually be relegated. So ‘boring boring Arsenal’ wasn’t just a bit of football banter. George Graham’s teams were horrible to watch.


Update: After posting this I bumped into Graham Hunter’s interview with Charlie Nicholas. Highly recommended listening. www.grahamhunter.tv/category/the-big-interview/. The rest of his work is also outstanding.

———————–

Why the bottle of Becks in the illustration? Whenever Gordon Reid drew ‘Champagne Charlie’ in The Northern Light fanzine, he invariably had a bottle of Becks in his hand. It was never the main part of the joke, it was never explained, it was just there. I always thought it incredibly funny. Cheers Gordon!

And the Mimms, Gillhaus, Charlie goal. www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFhbeK_vu2M

“These guys have contacts in Dubai and one of them had asked if it would be possible for Ed Sheeran to play there and they then asked me.

“When I first considered it, I thought ‘How the hell do you go about that?’ and then I realised he was playing at Hampden in the summer so I contacted those in the know.

“They put me in touch and I quickly established he had been there last year and wasn’t coming again, so within a couple of days I had them a very clear answer.”

Mark McGhee. www.bbc.com/sport/football/45573933

So, you want to contact Ed Sheeran’s manager?

Now we’ve all got Ed Sheeran’s manager’s contact details, because it’s not a fucking secret!

And it took, seconds to find. And if we got in touch, we’d probably have a reply from one of his assistants within the hour. Probably with a ‘no, but thanks for your enquiry’, Sheeran’s probably booked up at least two years in advance at any given time.

Meanwhile back in Mark McGhee world

Ring ring.

Hello, The Scottish Football Association, how can I help you?

Oh hi Mark, what can I help you with?

Sorry what?!

Yeah boss, it’s Mark McGhee on the phone.

Oh yeah, how can we help him.

We-ell, he’s after Ed Sheeran’s contact details.

Sorry what, I thought for a second you said…

We’re the SFA, we can’t organise Scottish football, why on earth would…

Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me make a phone call.

Hello is that Craigie Broon, how are ya?

Didn’t one of your ex girl friends used to go out with Ed Sheeran?

Thought so, do you have his manager’s number? Can you dig out your filofax?

You can contact the Mark McGhee Detective Agency on fax number 9-0…

___________

Does anyone else think the Mark McGhee Detective Agency would make a brilliant Sunday evening crime drama. Does anyone have the number for a BBC commissioning editor? What am I thinking, I’ll call the SFA…

___________

Still love the man to bits. Always a legend. Just go watch the CWC Final.

dandy lion

dandy lion

With discussions getting heated between supporters over the merits of singing the Durrant song, I will go into how I remember the event and the aftermath. 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. I don’t know the details, but as I remember, there was a photo in the Evening Express of Neale training with the Aberdeen squad. It had come that close. As I remember 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 Doug Ellis would have been there then. 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. Fantastic Aberdeen FC directors principles. Again, I wasn’t there, I haven’t researched it, it’s how I remember it.

At the game, who scores for them, but Neale. The atmosphere is 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 ears 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 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. As a football supporter, 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. Unbelievably unprofessionally, and doing immense damage to his knee I’d imagine, 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, never picked again. Every game, they’d bring it up, we were also their biggest rivals. I’d say also the Glasgow media wouldn’t have enjoyed the Ferguson years. This was payback.

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 and the Glasgow media would blame the strutting ‘Anglo-Scot’. The ferocious back peddling they had to do when he took over at Rangers, to prove their loyalty to Souness, was nothing short of sick. A precedent that would lead to the death of Rangers, and a bad word on Sir David Murray yet to be written in the Scottish MSM.

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). Last week people shouting at Jack in the back of an ambulance? We saw him walk off the fucking pitch. He was clearly not out for long.

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 at Pittodrie, was 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 was amazing. And that was before that tackle.

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. And singing that fucking song, is continuing that. You want to provoke The Rangers, why are you singing a song that relates to a dead club? And why sing it at Dens Park? There’s a million ways to provoke them. But that isn’t one of them.