MARK GORDON on Aberdeen’s historic goal against Real Madrid, the team that just doesn’t lose European finals
Real Madrid are the most storied team in European football history. The 12 times European champions also have two UEFA Cups and four Super Cups on their honours list. It’s been 35 years since Real last lost a European final, and this is the story of the goal that beat them that day.
The rain lashed down on Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium on the 11 May 1983 as it hosted the Cup Winners’ Cup final. Spanish giants Real Madrid lined up against the reigning Scottish Cup holders Aberdeen in a true ‘David versus Goliath’ match-up. Aberdeen had already had their giant-killing moment in the competition, a come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Germany’s footballing colossus Bayern Munich in the quarter-final. Madrid, led by legendary former player Alfredo Di Stéfano, were the clear favourites to beat their opponents from the north-east of Scotland.
However, the young Scottish side ripped up the script to take an early lead. Alex McLeish came up from the back and met Gordon Strachan’s corner with a trademark powerful header. The ball broke loose and 19-year-old striker Eric Black reacted quickest to fire the ball into the net. The upset was on.
An uncharacteristic error by McLeish led to the Spanish giants being awarded a penalty kick later in the first half, which Madrid captain Juanito dispatched for the equaliser. As the game went on the rain continued to pour down, conditions which were surely more common on Scotland’s north-east coast than in the Spanish capital.
With the underdogs on top, but unable to get themselves a winner, the game went into extra-time. Just three minutes before the end of normal time Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson, pre-knighthood, had replaced goal-scorer Eric Black with fellow youngster John Hewitt. The 20-year-old forward was a product of the club’s youth system and a local lad. Incredibly, seven of Aberdeen’s starting 11 that day were produced and developed by the club from schoolboy age.
Infuriated by how his substitute was performing Ferguson, who had spent much of the extra-time period screaming instructions at Hewitt, considered substituting the substitute. In the biggest game of the young Aberdonians life that would have been a heart-breaking and embarrassing way to be remembered. It wasn’t to end that way though.
In the game’s 112th-minute winger Peter Weir, with Real players closing in on him from both sides, clipped a lofted pass along the left wing to Mark McGhee. Collecting the ball with his right foot McGhee closed in on the penalty area and shaped to move inside before shifting the ball quickly outside of his marker and on to his left foot.
The game was being broadcast live in Scotland and England with legendary commentator Brian Moore providing the English viewers his description of events, whilst Scottish commentator Jock Brown lent the Scottish viewers a more familiar voice. As Mark McGhee clips a left foot cross across the face of Madrid keeper Augustin’s goal both Brown and Moore utter the same line: “Hewitt waiting in the middle….”
McGhee’s cross travels across the 18-yard-box and Augustin reaches out in vain as the ball just passes by his out-stretched gloves. The ball is met perfectly by John Hewitt, as he sends a header into the back of the now unguarded net. As the ball nestles in the goal a voice can be heard shouting “YES” so loudly that it features on both the English and Scottish commentary. It was the cheer of Liverpool legend Ian St. John who was providing co-commentary alongside Moore, the proud Scotsman unable to contain his delight at his countrymen taking the lead.
The goal is the most famous moment in the history of Aberdeen Football Club after they held out to win the club’s first European trophy. I doubt there is an Aberdeen fan alive who hasn’t watched the goal over and over and over again. David had beaten Goliath and it was a local lad, in a team full of young Scottish talent, which provided the slingshot which headed the Dons to victory. They would go on to defy the odds again by winning the Super Cup against European champions Hamburg to become the first and only Scottish side to win two European trophies.