Book Review – Aberdeen Greatest Games: The Dons’ Fifty Finest Matches by Kevin Sterling
Aberdeen are a powerhouse. One of only two teams in Scotland who have never been relegated, they have been there or thereabouts in cups, leagues and European competition for a long, long time. Kevin Stirling has brought 50 of their finest 90 minutes to print with a clear love for the club and for the people behind it.
As a club – aside from the 1980s and more of that later – there are plenty of cup triumphs and stories around their formation as well as more recent and more modest examples of their role at the pinnacle of Scottish football. As such there is a lot for a non-Aberdeen fan, like me, to relish. There are stories of yore including the Great Mystery scandal, their first Cup Final experience in front of a crowd of “at least” 146,433, a tour to South Africa in the 1930s by boat, their first cup final win in 1947 in front of a more modest 135,000, their engagement in the Scottish Qualifying Cup, the Victory Cup and the USA Presidents Cup, the emergence of one Teddy Scott from Sunnybank, their first floodlit match in Leeds, their first championship in ’55 and then the troubles of ’56 before the start of two defining decades. The 1970s began with a Scottish Cup and the 1980s ended with one of the most successful spells in Aberdeen history thanks to two Alexs – Sir Alex Ferguson and Alex Smith – who in 1990 ended the decade as they began 20 years before – with a Scottish Cup win.
As a fan of another club, I was obviously interested to see how a couple of ex-players fared as managers, Sir Alex Ferguson I knew, but Ally MacLeod, who had a successful spell at the club in the mid-1970s before the ignominy of Argentina as boss of Scotland, is very well treated here. I was glad to see that there is a degree of affection for his time in a balanced manner. But it is not for that reason alone that I enjoyed the book.
The level of detail and the overview suggests that Kevin Stirling, author of many books on the club before this one could easily expand this from 50 matches to an official history of the club. His research is meticulous and especially during the early years it is well added to by the detail from interviews with former players from a variety of sources. Having to delve into an archive over a century ago is tough when delivering any history and news reports can be difficult to find. Here, there is a rich seem of interviews from more recent times which have been brought to the fore in the telling of these tales.
It may be noticeable that the stories stop in 2015, and 23 of the 50 are in the Ferguson/Smith eras – each one difficult to argue over their inclusion – as the time of European triumph in particular can feel like an albatross around the neck of any recent manager. Aberdeen, under Ferguson, is the only Scottish club to win two European Cups and their involvement in European has never come close to equalling that.
In choosing the 50 matches to be included, selection would have been a nightmare and favourites were probably jettisoned along the way. Within that criteria, context would be key but also greatest games need an element of excitement. Gothenburg may well be the pinnacle and Cup Finals and the clinching of championships the obvious choices but games where there is the finest comeback, the most runaway win, or the best example of how they play would be great; the rest are significant. On occasion, the telling of the game itself plays second fiddle to the context in which it was played, and you feel the significance is what made it great rather than the football played. I would have liked more of the roar of the crowd and the excitement of the bleak October rain as a backdrop to the game that made their season.
It is, however, a minor gripe, as this grips you. For an Aberdeen fan it will clearly grip them more than I, but it taught me a massive amount, not least that I should continue to be comforted that things were not always a two horse race and there may always be hope for us all – as long as it doesn’t kill is first!
Donald C Stewart
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. March 2023. Hardcover: 288 pages)
Buy the book here: Aberdeen