Aberdeen's Eric Black as a young player


Sean Graham


Eric Black was part of an Aberdeen side in the 80s that dominated not only Scottish football during the Alex Ferguson era, but capped it off by going on a sensational European run in 1983. Their involvement in the Cup Winners’ Cup saw them get to the final in Gothenburg against the mighty Real Madrid. And not only did the Dons win the Cup Winners’ Cup that year, they also went on to win the European Super Cup and become the only Scottish club to win two European trophies.

After leaving the Dons in 1986 and moving to France to play with Metz for five seasons, winning the French Cup in his time there, Black was forced to give up the game due to a chronic back injury. Since then the former Aberdeen man has become one of the most respected coaches around, and has managed Motherwell, Coventry, Birmingham City (caretaker) and has been assistant manager at Celtic. On his travels Black has formed a special bond with Steve Bruce at Birmingham, and is now his right-hand man at Premier League side Wigan Athletic.

In this interview Eric Black speaks about his time at Aberdeen under the great Sir Alex Ferguson, his spell with Aberdeen Football Club, and of course the special time in 1983 where his name, along with those of his team-mates, was carved into the history of this Aberdeen as a member of the ‘Gothenburg Greats’.

Eric, what are your memories of your 1982 Scottish Cup win over Rangers, your first Scottish Cup final. Was it a great day for players and fans alike?

“It was the first cup final that I had been involved in; I just remember the whole week and all the press and media hype leading up to it. Obviously travelling down and having a look at Hampden, we saw that the day before, and travelling to the game, it was a big spectacle at the time. The way the game unfolded, going behind and then eventually winning the game (4-1 after extra-time), it was a fantastic, fantastic experience.”

At that time, Aberdeen had many young players in their side; did winning the cup give them more of a hunger to want to repeat this?

“I think that anybody who has played in a cup final relishes it and is desperate to repeat it.”

“At Aberdeen we were so fortunate to have played in so many and without doubt it gives you the appetite thinking, my I wouldn’t mind sampling this every year and actually we managed to do it a few more times.”

This cup win was a marker for Aberdeen because both of the Old Firm (Celtic and Rangers) were beaten, not only on the road to winning the cup at Hampden, but on a regular basis, do you think the standards set by that Aberdeen side have been difficult to follow for the Dons sides that came after you, right up to the present day?

“It’s very difficult for the present team and the present management and I sympathise with them. It must be difficult because of the legacy that was left and the expectation, and you can’t compare that even now, but Aberdeen who did exceptionally well last year in Europe to go and try and repeat something like that would be an unthinkable achievement. So I sympathise with them, but for a club like Aberdeen to have had that piece of history and to hang on to it and to have had those memories, even for the younger ones to remember it, it is a great thing to have.”

On route to winning the Cup Winners’ Cup some difficult hurdles were overcome before coming up against the German giants Bayern Munich, what were those matches like to play in?

“We had gone over there and got a result which was a pretty positive one, going over to Munich and drawing 0-0 in the Olympic Stadium was a great result, and we worked exceptionally hard to get it!”

“Coming back to Aberdeen we were full of enthusiasm and optimism, but unfortunately as the game unfolded with 15 minutes to go we found ourselves
2-1 down and nobody gave us a chance of qualifying. Thankfully a great pre-planned free kick got us back in it and then obviously John gets his goal to make it 3-2 and it just lifts the roof off Pittodrie. I have never, ever seen and I don’t think I ever will see Pittodrie like that again.”

“I have never seen the atmosphere and the support, the combination of both came together to get us through 3-2 on the night.”

You played a big part in Aberdeen’s success over the years and on that night you set up the first and the winning goal, the latter was caused by your ability to hang in the air, was this particular skill that you practised?

“I only saw that I had little bit of ability there when I was 14 or 15, it was just a bit of luck and I was fortunate that I had it. When you see that you have a certain bit of skill in you then you obviously try and maintain it.”

In the semi-final you played Waterschei, and after an early goal you went on to blow them apart, eventually winning 5-1. Just how good did you rate that performance?

“For a semi-final performance it was exceptional, right from the word go we got at them. I think I scored quite early on and that settled us down and we went from strength to strength. It left them really without a hope of qualifying, winning by that margin, although they got an away goal, we were pretty confident going there that we could get the result to take us through. It was a phenomenal performance for a high profile semi-final.”

Could the players take in what was happening to them at the time, going to a European final?

“I think it was just momentum, everything was going well at that time, we were in another cup final, we had got to the point of the Waterschei game and we thought we have got a real chance to get to the final. All of a sudden, I don’t know if we were actually favourites to win the semi –final, it was possible that we could get to the final, and that adds a bit of expectation as well but we certainly dealt with that. I think it was just the momentum of us playing well and getting results, we feared nobody at that time and thankfully we got a great start on the night and went on to comprehensively win the game.”

At that time the Dons did not only have talent on the park but off it as well, a great football team and great singers also, do you think Westlife would have anything to fear if these guys went into the singing business after the release of the European Song?

“I think Eurovision can relax for another few years, you will not see the likes of that lot again! Unfortunately if we were singers we might not have made as many finals but thankfully we could pass the ball to each other now and again!”

What about the final itself, you had tremendous backing from the people from Aberdeen despite poor conditions in Sweden?

“Yes, it wasn’t the best of nights obviously, but in saying that we went to the stadium before and had a look around the dressing rooms beforehand. Alex Ferguson’s talk was very calm and we were very sure that we could take them on. You are never guaranteed in a final that you are going to win but we were certainly not frightened of it as Fergie and Archie had worked very hard all week in getting that belief and making sure that nobody was overawed because it was Real Madrid. We went into the game believing that we had every chance of winning it!”

“It turned out it was a poor night and many people would have said that this would have suited us and that maybe the case, but you still have to win the game and thankfully on an extremely wet night we performed well enough over a period of extra-time to win it!”

It must have been like a dream for you though Eric, playing in a European final as a young man and playing so well?

“It was great. I had a chance early on which I hit the bar with and that gave me a bit of confidence. Obviously I would have rather it went in and it helped through the final but I must admit it was just like another game. Although it was a big final, with the quality of player that we had we knew that we had a belief in each other and we knew that we had a real chance of winning it.”

You scored the opening goal in that final Eric, describe what that meant to you?

“Well it is obviously something that nobody can ever take away from you scoring a goal in a European final, it was something that you can only dream about. I had dreamt about it and on the night it landed at my feet fortunately, it wasn’t exactly a 25 yarder but I have managed to toe poke it into the net and as the say it’s a strike and they all count. It was a wee bit unbelievable, the next five or ten seconds after the celebration, we’re back and have to start the game and we’re focused again.”

Things didn’t go quite to plan after that with Real Madrid equalising from the penalty spot after Alex McLeish was short with a back pass, did this deflate the players?

“I think maybe not deflate but it put things in perspective that we were back on level terms again. The pitch contributed enormously to the back pass and they have taken full advantage of it, but we had to dust ourselves down and go again but as I said I think there was a belief that was running through Aberdeen at that time that we could overcome most hurdles that were put in front of us. There was no way that the heads went down it was more a let’s go again and that is obviously what happened.”

Unfortunately, you had to come off with an ankle injury but the wee fellow who replaced you wasn’t too bad, did you have a wee feeling that John Hewitt would score?

“Well you never have a feeling, you are hoping he would! Obviously I was disappointed at coming off and if I remember correctly, I did have a fitness test with the reserves five days before the final on my ankle. It felt great but I had gone up and landed on it and I could see the ankle coming out the side of my sock and I thought that I didn’t look great. It was the same injury so I went off but Johnny had a great record as a goalscorer, and coming on in the game he brought something else to the team. It was a great goal, a great piece of play first of all from Peter and then from Mark McGhee and Johnny’s on the end of it with a very brave header to send us all into heaven!”

After the final whistle the bench went wild, Aberdeen went wild and quite possibly the whole of Scotland went wild but there was no concern for what happened to your manager, what do you remember of that?

“I don’t know, I only remember seeing him under Bryan Gunn’s feet! That was the last I saw of him! He came flying off the bench and I think the gaffer slipped and big Ben wasn’t in any mind to stop or not, he just trampled over the back of him, I don’t think that he has ever forgiven him for that!”

When did it sink in that you had actually beaten Real Madrid?

“I don’t think it did until well after because I remember after the game it being so subdued at the hotel. I think everybody was just exhausted mentally and the way the pitch was we were all drained physically. I don’t know if it sunk in until the next couple of days but it really sunk in when we got back and went through the streets. I have never seen anything like it, there must have been a quarter of a million people on the streets of Aberdeen and then at the stadium, I have never seen scenes like it, I was humbled by the response of the Aberdeen supporters.”

You didn’t have long to wait before you had another stiff challenge as Rangers were waiting for you in the Scottish Cup final, but again you came out on top after extra-time, what can you remember of that game?

“That’s right the Scottish Cup final followed on from our European celebrations and again that was a mental test and physical test because we were drained from the previous week. Obviously the euphoria of it all sinking in and the next cup final comes in and we had to go and do it again and if I remember right it was not a great game. I don’t think we performed particularly well on the day but thankfully I get the goal that wins it.”

Yet again Eric, this is the stuff that dreams are made of scoring the winner in a Scottish Cup final?

“Yes I did and I was delighted with that as well, but it was a poor day and to get the only goal of the game and secure that wee bit of history for us was fantastic, although it wasn’t a fantastic final!”

Great result for the Dons but your manager was none too pleased with the performance?

“Well he had set himself standards and he had set his team standards and I suppose we fell below that and I suppose that is what has made him the best manager that there has ever been in my opinion. So who am I to criticise anything that he said as obviously he had an idea why he said it and he has carried on to be successful so I would suggest that he got it right!”

Not only content with one European trophy, Aberdeen went on to win the European Super Cup beating Hamburg 2-0 at Pittodrie after a 0-0 draw in Germany. Looking back at these times with the Dons, you must be really proud of what you achieved with your team-mates?

“I must admit that it is obviously history and there are millions of achievements that have happened since, but for those who played in the team or who were part of that group of players in that time, it is something that marks you for the rest of your life. Obviously you still have the relationship with the players that played in that team and the memories and nobody in your career can ever take that away. When it all finished as it did for me and several others, it is something that you can look on and look back on fondly and feel that you have achieved something in your football career!”

What was the highlight of your time with Aberdeen?

“There are that many that I enjoyed every one of them, but I suppose it has got to be our European night in Sweden is singled out, for an Aberdeen team, a provincial club, to achieve that as you say, to beat the teams that we did then ultimately beat the European Champions Hamburg, proved that we were at that time, the best team in Europe. That is a phenomenal achievement for a club like Aberdeen and something that I am really proud to have been part of”

What did Teddy Scott mean to you?

“Teddy was an integral part of Aberdeen the whole time I was there with him, from the day I walked in as a kid he set standards, he pushed you, he helped develop you and was just Mr Aberdeen at that time, an unsung hero working away in the background unselfishly. I have a lot to thank Teddy for, the position that I found myself in up at Aberdeen. He was constantly there for a word to push you on and I have a lot to thank him for throughout my career!”

You have moved into management and assistant management positions in your career, how big an influence has Sir Alex Ferguson had on your career?

“I worked under a few coaches in my career but none better than him and I must add Archie Knox to that as well. I worked with Archie, he was my assistant manager when I was at Coventry and without doubt you are formed by the managers you work with and I was fortunate to have worked six years with the best in the world. You cannot take some of that or you can’t form your ideas without him coming back into it and the way he did things. Obviously you are your own individual, but you are without doubt marked by that and it definitely helped me in my career.”

On the 13th May when Wigan take on Manchester United at the JJB Stadium, do you think that you will share a glass of wine to celebrate the achievements of 1983 and possibly United taking another step towards clinching another Premier League title?

“We’ll see the outcome! If it is a positive outcome and Man Utd win and are close to the title then I am sure that we’ll share a glass of wine. If they don’t I’ll reserve judgement on that one but we’ll see what happens!”

On behalf of Aberdeen fans everywhere and Inside Futbol, it has been great to get the chance to speak to a legend and one of the Gothenburg Greats, thanks for your time Eric and all the very best for the future.

“An absolute pleasure Sean!”