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Do Aberdeen FC and their fans spend too much time dwelling on past glories?

The Dons have only secured one solitary trophy in the 21st century and many fans argue that simply isn't good enough.

Alex Ferguson and Archie Knox with the European Cup Winners cup after Aberdeen beat Real Madrid 2-1 in 1983.
Alex Ferguson and Archie Knox with the European Cup Winners cup after Aberdeen beat Real Madrid 2-1 in 1983.

The 1970s series Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads had a cracking theme song.

Composed by Mike Hugg, it featured the line: “The only thing to look forward to’s the past”. And that has become an increasingly common refrain for Aberdeen FC supporters with yet another year passing where the Dons were unable to gain any silverware for their trophy cabinet.

Yes, they were in the League Cup final earlier this month at Hampden Park. And yes, there were complaints about the fact their opponents, Rangers, haven’t conceded a penalty in domestic competition since the days when Rip van Winkle was a nipper.

But, if truth be told, Aberdeen deserved to lose the match [1-0] and the statistic that they managed not a single shot on target testified to a performance which was lacking in the core ingredients – a relentless striving for perfection and refusal to be intimidated by their Old Firm adversaries – which made the Pittodrie club such a formidable proposition whenever they travelled to Glasgow under Alex Ferguson in the 1980s.

A level playing field?

Aberdeen trounced Hearts 3-0 in the 1986 Scottish Cup final at Hampden. Pic: Shutterstock.

There’s obviously a vast financial disparity these days between the resources – and size of fan base – available to Celtic and Rangers and their rivals in Scotland.

It’s not a level playing field and the best that the Dons and the rest can hope for is to be in the mix, challenging for Cup runs and the opportunity to claim an occasional prize.

Yet, even here, the statistics bear out that Aberdeen are not exactly matching the achievements of their peers.

Since 2000, in terms of victories in either the League Cup or Scottish Cup, they’ve managed just the one success – in 2014 in the former event – which is the same as Livingston, Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Ross County, Dundee United and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Other clubs have won more

That is one fewer than the brace of prizes amassed by the Edinburgh duo, Hearts and Hibs and, most tellingly, two fewer than St Johnstone, who attained a greater haul of silverware in one season in 2021 than the Dons have mustered since the millennium.

There’s another factor which has been raised by several Aberdeen aficionados. They alone, of all the country’s four major metropolitan areas, are the only one-city club, where all the best talent should be filtered through the same entrance at Pittodrie.

So why does it often feel as if the whole Dons saga is the football equivalent of the Jarndyce case in Dickens’ Bleak House; one where the wheels go round and round and there is incessant talk of a new stadium, but nothing actually happens?

Aberdeen FC's Gothenburg Greats Freedom of the City celebratory event in May.
Aberdeen FC held its Gothenburg Greats Freedom of the City celebratory event in May. Image: Wullie Marr.

I was among the myriad people who attended the Gothenburg Greats being conferred with the Freedom of Aberdeen last May and there weren’t too many dry eyes in the stadium as the likes of Willie Miller, Alex McLeish, Jim Leighton and John Hewitt, took another stroll down memory lane to discuss the unprecedented fashion in which they surged to glory over Real Madrid on a rainy night in Sweden 40 years ago.

Miller didn’t pull his punches

And yet, Miller, the proud warrior who was the beating heart of that side, and the mirror image of his gaffer Ferguson on the pitch, was scathing about how little the current side offered in the recent defeat to Rangers.

As he said: “Aberdeen were in a cup final, cheered on by a travelling support of nearly 20,000, and yet failed to register a single shot on target.

“The Dons fans will be deflated after that, as will the players and manager. I agree with manager Barry Robson when he said the Aberdeen players gave everything.

“But football is not about running about and using up energy. It is about much more than that. Football is about quality, linking up and being happy with how you played.”

Manager Barry Robson during an Aberdeen training session at Cormack Park in November 2023. Image: SNS

He’s correct and, coming from somebody who many Aberdeen supporters have nicknamed God, it’s a pretty damning indictment of how standards have slipped.

Or is that where we are in Scottish football, where damage limitation and keeping things respectable are more important than creating opportunities?

If so, then the lyric from the Likely Lads theme sounds ever more relevant.

Jock Gardiner is an active figure in the AFC Heritage Trust.

Fergie years raised the bar

Jock Gardiner, a member of the Aberdeen FC Heritage Trust, is among those who believe the scales are unfairly balanced, not least by the authorities who run the SPFL, against any challengers to the long-time hegemony of the Old Firm.

He said: “The Fergie legacy is one that everyone with an attachment to the Dons should treasure, but it certainly should not be viewed as a millstone for the current team.

“In the same way Aberdeen had a great side in the 80s, both Edinburgh teams (our direct peer group competitors) had successful trophy-winning eras in the 1950s/1960s.

“The financial clout of the Glasgow clubs makes it a real challenge for the other Scottish sides to win trophies in the current era, although it is fair to say that Aberdeen should have put more silverware in the Pittodrie trophy cabinet.”

Former Aberdeen FC media spokesman Dave Macdermid. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Dave Macdermid, a PR specialist who previously worked at Pittodrie, is convinced that matters have to be put in context when comparing football in the 2020s with the 1980s.

He said: “It’s important to emphasise that, while obviously no Aberdeen fan wishes the Fergie years hadn’t occurred, it did raise the bar considerably in terms of what subsequent expectation levels have been, which is completely understandable.

‘There have been cups we should have won’

“I think managers from Ian Porterfield onwards also suffered because of those expectations, but I honestly believe the set of circumstances that happened with Sir Alex were a once-in-a-lifetime feat (a bit like Andy Murray in tennis) and while we’ve been relatively unsuccessful post-Fergie, we were pretty unspectacular pre-Fergie too.

“There have been cups we should have won but didn’t and we should expect to be playing European football regularly, but the success in Sir Alex’s reign was simply by virtue of us employing the best club manager in the history of the game.”