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Neil Drysdale: Football at Christmas and the Eric Black ‘goal that never was’

Fog around Pittodrie.
Fog around Pittodrie.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose….

Yes, it’s that time of year when people are preparing for Christmas, wrapping presents, singing carols and seeking cheer in the winter chill.

Even now, though, football is never far from the thoughts of die-hard fans who, oblivious to Covid variants, are following their clubs and celebrating or commiserating with fellow supporters about their team’s fortunes.

The sport has been badly affected by the pandemic, which continues to cast a blight on our lives, but the mist and frost didn’t stop some Dons aficionados responding when I asked them about their favourite festive occasions.

Aberdeen’s signing of Charlie Nicholas excited many Dons fans.

Games at Pittodrie during the Yuletide have often evoked special memories and some revelled in victories over Dundee rivals on December and January days, while others recalled how even dreich scoreless draws could be enlivened by excitement over future signings.

Chris Gavin, a stalwart of the Aberdeen FC Heritage Trust, was among those who offered some evocative memories.

He said: “The traditional derby match against Dundee, especially at Pittodrie, has always been one of my favourite fixtures, partly because some of my formative years were spent in Dundee, which obviously added an edge to the sense of rivalry and a desire for bragging rights.

The dog was hard to catch

“One of the most memorable of these was played on January 1 1971 in front of a 24,000 crowd, including a fair few Dundee fans who had, like me, made the trip straight from the all-night Hogmanay celebrations.

“The Dons were in devastating form against a very decent Dundee side and a Tommy McMillan goal put them ahead. It was a great game to stand and watch from the Beach End, with the crowd in high spirits.

“Steve Murray and Arthur Graham added other goals, but what stuck in my mind for so long was when a small dog invaded the pitch and chased around after the players. Davie Robb helped retrieve it, so the game could continue.

“The other big moment was when the Dundee supporters were starting to leave early, and the home fans sang: ‘We’ll show ye the road and the miles tae Dundee!’ Proper derby banter.”

Willem Van der Ark’s festive hat-trick was a hit with Aberdeen fans.

Jock Gardiner, another keen-as-mustard heritage hunter, has been at the forefront of the trust’s activities, which have so far amassed a fascinating collection of memorabilia.

He told me: “The New Year game I remember the best was on January 2 in 1990 against Dundee at Pittodrie. It was a cracking match which we won 5-2 with Willem van der Ark scoring a brace of goals, one of which was an absolute belter at the Beach End.

“The supporters were in terrific voice that day as well. These festive occasions tended to have a really good atmosphere and sense of fun.”

Stewart Eaton has worked with Jock on a number of initiatives and the duo have been instrumental in unearthing a treasure trove of artefacts, ranging from old match programmes and tickets to vintage football boots.

They have cherished being able to watch some of the sport’s great figures in the Granite City and were excited by news of a certain champagne personality signing on the dotted line with the Dons more than 30 years ago. Indeed, the anticipation among the supporters glossed over the lack of goals.

As he explained: “The New Year game I remember the best is the match prior to Charlie Nicholas signing for Aberdeen. It was against Dundee United at Pittodrie on January 2 in 1988.

“And even though it finished 0-0, I still remember the huge buzz around the ground, with all the talk of Charlie coming to our club. It was really exciting.”

Fans watch Aberdeen at Pittodrie in the snow in 1964.

Supporters are hardy souls, but sometimes, the weather still triumphs. Dave Macdermid has seen almost everything while being involved with Aberdeen FC and recalled at least one day when the blizzards prevailed.

He said: “One of the more bizarre games came in 1984 when the Dons match with St Johnstone at Pittodrie was abandoned at half time.

“The hosts had been in fine form as they looked to stretch their lead at the top of the league and the Perth club had simply no answer to the Aberdeen bombardment during the first period. The highlight was a superb volley from Eric Black as they strolled into a 3-0 lead at the interval.

The city was hit by the blizzard

“The only respite for the visitors was when the weather intervened and a severe blizzard swept across the north-east, causing havoc which cut the power supply, not just at the ground, but throughout the city.

“Pittodrie was shrouded in darkness and spectators were told the game had to be abandoned. The whole area was covered in snow and in total darkness, but this caused no real concern as the crowd left the stadium.

“However, many them realised they were not going to get home that night with the roads blocked. Northsound Radio, which had only started three years earlier, really came into its own when appeals were delivered over the airwaves to help find accommodation for stranded fans.

“Those people who decided to go to the pub eventually ended up having a pint under candle light! While it was tough on the supporters, it was the same for young Eric Black, whose superb goal became one that never was.”

Let me know about your own festive football highlights.

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