MARK GORDON recalls Aberdeen’s Dutch mystery man and his instant love affair with the Don’s faithful
Hans Gillhaus’ first season at PSV Eindhoven turned out to the best in the club’s history, culminating in a European Cup triumph against Benfica. Gillhaus scored three goals in the cup-run, in a side which also featured Ronald Koeman. The soon-to-be Aberdeen bound striker played 105 minutes in the final which PSV eventually won courtesy of a penalty shootout.
That summer the newly crowned European Champions splashed the cash as Brazilian goal-scorer extraordinaire Romario arrived. The Brazilian’s arrival pushed Gillhaus on to the substitute bench in Eindhoven and towards the exit door as he sought first-team football ahead of the 1990 World Cup.
Aberdeen had started the 1989/90 season well and had already won the League Cup by beating Rangers 2-1 after-extra-time at Hampden Park. Despite this early season success, manager Alex Smith was keen to bolster his firepower and find a regular strike-partner for Charlie Nicholas.
Gillhaus joined the Dons in November of 1989, just weeks after the League Cup win. His debut would come at Dunfermline’s East End Park on Saturday 18 November 1989. Aberdeen paid a then-club record fee of £650,000 for the services of the left-footed Dutchman.
Dunfermline themselves had started the season well, Jim Leishman’s side going into the game with a 9-match unbeaten streak. At the heart of their good form was the consistency of selection which saw the same XI starting all nine of those games. Legendary Dons defender Doug Rougvie lined up for the Pars against his former side.
Another Aberdeen legend, however, was missing from the match, Willie Miller had undergone surgery earlier that day and was replaced in the side by Brian Irvine. The new Dutch signing made up for that disappointment by taking his place in the starting line-up alongside Nicholas in the attack.
To score just 11 minutes into your debut is impressive, but to do it in the fashion that Gillhaus did was sheer brilliance. The striker won his side a free-kick wide on the left-hand touchline, about 16-yards from the corner flag. Midfielder Robert Connor took the kick left-footed, sending a looping ball towards Brian Irvine at the back post, on the angle of the six-yard box.
The ball was slightly too high for Irvine but the big defender managed to stretch his neck muscles to get his head on the ball. Irvine’s header looped back into the box where Gillhaus lurked seven-yards out from Ian Westwater’s goal.
Gillhaus was alive to the dropping ball but with his back to goal, he had to improvise. As the ball dropped out of the grey Fife sky, the Dutchman almost balletically left the ground. He connected perfectly with an overhead-kick which wasn’t powerfully struck but which had faultless accuracy.
As the ball left Gillhaus’ right-foot there were two Dunfermline defenders, as well as the goalkeeper, between the striker and the goal. As the spectacular effort travelled over the heads of the defenders the ball seemed to move in slow-motion. Goalkeeper Westwater threw himself into the air in almost as acrobatic a fashion as his opposing striker, in an attempt to prevent his team going behind. His efforts were in vain as the ball fell beneath the crossbar by a hair’s breadth to give Gillhaus his debut goal.
It’s easy to forget that back in 1989 players plying their trade on the continent were not as well known here as they are now. It was very rare to get television coverage of games and when your team did sign a player from overseas, there was no internet to provide footage of the new man. Essentially, the Aberdeen fans had no idea what kind of player they had bought.
Just five minutes after his spectacular opening goal, Gillhaus left the Dons fans in no doubt as to the calibre of player that they had purchased. Aberdeen had a corner-kick on the right and again, the defenders had gone forward to add their height to the threat facing the home-side.
After a spot of head-tennis on the edge of the box, Nicholas squeezed the ball out to left-back David Robertson, left-footed he clipped ball the toward the head of Brian Irvine. The defender once again headed back across goal towards Gillhaus.
This time the Dutchman leaped as if he were a salmon emerging from the River Dee. His powerful header again evaded Westwater and two of his defenders on the Dunfermline goal-line. The Aberdeen fans were almost as stunned as the Pars defenders as their new hero celebrated with his team-mates.
Aberdeen ran out 3-0 winners in the end with David Robertson adding a third in the second half. Gillhaus continued to impress throughout his time on the pitch, his running style appeared almost languid as he glided over the East End Park turf that day. His class was obvious as he understanding of the game saw him strike up an almost instant understanding with Charlie Nicholas.
Hans Gillhaus won the Scottish Cup with Aberdeen that season. He went on to play for the Netherlands at Italia ’90 before leaving Scotland for Vitesse Arnhem in 1993. Although he scored two that day, his debut will always be remembered by the Aberdeen faithful for that gracefully acrobatic opening goal.