Two common themes emerged during the sombre hours following the news of Ebbe Skovdahl’s passing today.
Laughter and bonding, twin lights that had former students of Aberdeen’s only foreign manager drawing upon happy memories of years’ past, rather than wallowing in the sadness of now.
The Dane’s passing at the age of 75 after suffering from cancer brought an outpouring of recollections on social media, ever the medium for these sorts of things to be expressed.
Skovdahl’s period in charge of the Dons, from the summer of 1999 to November 2002, may not have had silverware cascading through the Pittodrie doors but brought an entertainment and enjoyment to those associated with the club.
Numerous quotes of his started circulating – the statistics and mini-skirts comparison being chief among them – but each of his players has their own tale to tell.
David Preece was one of Skovdahl’s first signings, brought to Aberdeen after leaving Darlington in 1999. The goalkeeper went on to play in Denmark himself, a move he credits Skovdahl and another Danish Don Peter Kjaer in helping him make.
“For those of us who played under him and were still very close, we started chatting after we heard,” said Preece, who works as a goalkeeping coach for Swedish side Ostersunds FK. “A lot of time you look through rose-tinted glasses. There were some ups and downs and some tough times under Ebbe. But ultimately the team he put together, with a lot of young lads and the players he brought in like myself and David Lilley, there were a lot of close bonds being forged.
“We all look back with fondness on that time on our careers. I first spoke to Keith Burkenshaw, who was the director of football, and then Ebbe who signed me. I was grateful to him for that; it was tough for me at the start but when he left I was sad to see him go. You feel like when somebody’s signed, you’re indebted to them.
“The time I was at Aberdeen, he never really got to see the best of me. It was the second part of my time at the Dons where I played a lot more and was more consistent. When he was leaving, I was glad I got to tell him how grateful I was.”
When Preece came in, he was vying for the goalkeeping position with Dons legend Jim Leighton, youngster Ryan Esson and latterly Kjaer, who Skovdahl brought in from Denmark.
I’m really saddened by this. So many ups and downs under Ebbe but will always be grateful to him for taking me to Aberdeen and glad I had the chance to tell him. Will never forget his Skovisms as long as I live. https://t.co/NHWWFZu8ws
— David Preece (@davidpreece12) October 23, 2020
“Ultimately it was Ebbe that brought us all together. Whenever I was out of the side, he managed that situation really well. He always gave you encouragement. It’s no coincidence that under him people forged great friendships.
“A lot of people said he wasn’t the most successful manager Aberdeen ever had, but had a cult following. He was very well-liked and that doesn’t always happen when things don’t go well on the pitch for the manager.”
Darren Mackie was handed his debut as a teenager by Skovdahl in 1999. The faith shown in him is something he carried through his 300-plus appearances for the Dons.
“He had a huge impact on my career,” said Mackie. “He gave me my debut, for that I will be forever grateful. He said a lot of nice things about me when I was there and pushed me on to be the best I could be. He showed good faith in me and I always enjoyed working with him.
“He came into the club at a difficult time but he was a popular manager. He was good fun to be around and the boys all liked him.
“He had a different way of working from what everyone was used to. I was younger and it was all fresh and new to me. I was just excited to be involved. It was great that he had that faith in me.”
Mackie was part of a refreshing young Dons squad, which may have struggled in the top flight at times but enjoyed some success in knockout competitions.
“Looking back, he brought a lot of young players into the team at that stage. Quite a few of us came through together.
“He was willing to take the chance and throw us into the starting line-up to see if we could handle it. A lot of us went on to have good careers and he was an important part of that.”
“He is someone I always had a lot of respect for and I’m thankful he showed so much faith in me.”
In Skovdahl’s first season the Dons reached the finals of both the League and Scottish cups, despite finishing bottom.
But the group of players Skovdahl brought together, from the young players that came through like Mackie, the Young brothers, Kevin McNaughton, Russell Anderson, to the foreign imports like Arild Stavrum and Peter Kjaer that became fans favourites, forged a bond.
“Football-wise it didn’t go great all the time, by any means, but the way that changing room was, it was good because of the way he made it,” said Derek Young. “Myself, Darren Mackie, Chris Clark, Michael Hart, Ryan Esson, my brother, David Preece, Jamie McAllister – Derek Whyte and Robbie Winters came in too. It was Ebbe that ended up sticking Robbie Winters in goal.
“I played a good few games under him as a young boy. It’s helped me a lot in early parts of my career in understanding the game a bit differently. He obviously had a foreign background and a lot of success with Brondby, which was the reason the club went and got him.
“There were probably things that he was trying to bring to our game in Scotland that we didn’t get to start with. You probably realise now when you look back, on some of the things you thought were a bit weird that it was actually quite good. Different sessions that we maybe weren’t used to.
“For the boys that were there at the time, under ‘the Skov’, his quotes and sayings – there was a new one every week. Most of the time you were laughing away; some of the stuff he probably felt sounded good in his broken English, the boys were just laughing.
“He was just a big gentleman who wanted to try his best for Aberdeen.”
The japes and hilarity-inducing quotes form a common thread, which brought players together yesterday to remember their old manager.
Preece set up a WhatsApp group to bring together those that had worked under Skovdahl.
“A lot of the memories I have of him are having a laugh,” added Preece. “There were a lot of times where we found him hilarious – not that he was trying to be of course. It’s what made us like him more. It was a group of young lads that he’d put together; he was less a fatherly figure and more of a crazy uncle.
“He used to come out with some of the craziest sayings. I’ve learned from my time in Denmark that Danish doesn’t always translate well into English. He’d say things like Peter Lovenkrands was ‘quicker than a sack of cheetahs’.
“We’d have this big table in the dressing room where all the shirts and balls, that needed to be autographed, would go on. Every time he said something new, we’d write it on the table. It wasn’t until he noticed one day that we were kind of making fun of him, that he got rid of the table.
“It was kind of like all these naughty children and crazy uncle Ebbe. We were on a tour to Denmark and played Brondby. There was a tree in the reception of the hotel in a massive pot – it took about eight of us to carry it and we put it outside his room so he couldn’t get out.
“We were all hiding round the corner as he was trying to get out of his room. He’s swearing to himself and calling us every name under the sun, because he knew what’d happened.
“He never took that as disrespect. We had a great laugh under him. Sometimes when you’re going through a tough time, you use gallows humour to get through it.”