Aberdeen F C won the European Cup Winners' Cup on the 11th of May, 1983, by beating Real Madrid 2-1.
In the football season of 1982-83, the 23rd European Cup Winners' Cup final was won by Aberdeen F C through an extra-time victory in the match, played in the Nya Ullevi stadium, in Göteborg, Sweden, against the mighty Real Madrid team. On a Wednesday evening, in 1983, a crowd of 17,804 spectators saw Aberdeen win the match 2–1, thanks to goals by Eric Black and substitute, John Hewitt. It was the second time that the cup had gone to Scotland; Rangers having won the Cup ten years previously, in 1973.
The Aberdeen team on the night was comprised of: Jim Leighton, Doug Rougvie, John McMaster, Neale Cooper, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller (captain), Gordon Strachan, Neil Simpson, Mark McGhee, Eric Black (sub: 87 John Hewitt), Peter Weir. One notable statistic involving Aberdeen’s players, is that all of them, like those of Celtic in 1967, when the European Cup was won for the first time by a team from the British Isles, were native Scots.
Of course, this team was managed by the then Mr. Alex Ferguson and he was pitted against the legendary Alfredo di Stéfano, the coach of Real Madrid. It’s doubtful whether di Stefano had heard of Alex Ferguson at the start of the season. However, on the eve of the final, the confident young manager, with the present of a bottle of malt whisky for the Spaniard in his hand, was destined to become a legend in his own right.
The gift of the whisky was the brainwave of Jock Stein, who had guided Celtic to European Cup glory, in 1967. Stein was there as an official guest of Ferguson's and offered the voice of experience. As Ferguson later recalled in his autobiography, Stein said, “Let the wee man feel important. Act as if you are thrilled just to be in the final and let him think you’re only there to make up the numbers.” Judging by the result and the effective annihilation of Read Madrid (never mind the extra time and the scoreline), it must’ve had an impact.
At the start of the 1982-83 season, Willie Miller's decision to stay put, instead of defecting to Rangers, spoke volumes. Other than Steve Archibald, Aberdeen hadn’t lost a star player for five years. There was a new sense of expectancy at Pittodrie and team-spirit was as high as anyone could remember, despite the roll-call for the Cup Winners’ Cup including Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid, Barcelona (the holders), Internazionale, and Bayern Munich.
The quarter-final engagement with Bayern Munich was to write a significant chapter in Pittodrie folklore. Bayern had lost to a jammy Peter Withe goal in the 1982 European Cup Final and eight of that side, including Breitner, Augenthaler, Hoeness and Rummenigge lined up against the Dons. However, Aberdeen stunned the Germans with a scoreless draw in Munich and, in probably Aberdeen’s most notable European result, apart from the final, was unlucky not to get an away goal. The Dons still had it all to do, but the doubters were proved oh so wrong on the most ecstatic night in Pittodrie's history. In a prequel to the final, John Hewitt popped up to stab the ball between Muller’s legs for the winner and Pittodrie erupted.
On paper, the final against the all conquering, six times European champions, Real Madrid, was the mismatch of all time. Who would bet against the multi-millionaires of Spain versus a team in which most of the players cost nothing. Besides the Dutchman Metgod and the German Stielike, Real was packed with Spanish internationals. Camacho and Santillana, for example, had both faced England in the 1982 World Cup.
It’s fair to say the venue was in the Dons' favour as the Ullevi Stadium became Pittodrie for a day. In addition, pre-match rain left the pitch sodden and full of puddles, which favoured the Scottish players far more than those of Real. However, Aberdeen’s spell-binding dribbler, Dougie Bell, was missing, along with Stuart Kennedy, which might have been significant, nevertheless, it all came down to the players on the night.
The first action saw Eric Black lean into a volley that crashed back off Augustin's crossbar. Then, shortly afterwards, Aberdeen got the first goal, from a McLeish header, which was deflected, but turned in by Black from six yards. The lead had gone to the better side as Madrid had carved out little by way of chances. Unfortunately, Aberdeen’s lead lasted only seven minutes, before Real were awarded a penalty. McLeish’s back pass stalled in the wet and Leighton brought down Santillana. Under today's regulations, Leighton would have been sent off, but in any case, he didn’t stop Juanito scoring.
Aberdeen also had the better of the second half, but despite the marauding of Weir and McGhee, the score remained unchanged. Only once did Real threaten, when from a twice-taken free-kick Salguero drove the ball past Leighton's far post. Extra-time saw the introduction of sub, Peter Hewitt and, with eight minutes to go, penalties were looming. Then came the moment history was made. Weir skirted past two players down the left touchline and chipped the ball on to McGhee. His cross tempted Augustin off his line and he missed the ball by inches and there, rushing in, was Hewitt once again, to head into an empty net. The hero of München became the hero of Göteborg and guaranteed his place in Pittodrie’s hall of fame.
Against all odds Alex Ferguson and his indomitable Dons had won the European Cup Winners’ Cup.