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Neil Drysdale: Trust Jock and Bob to go the extra mile to preserve Aberdeen FC’s heritage

Bob Bain and Jock Gardiner are leading members of the AFC Heritage Trust.
Bob Bain and Jock Gardiner are leading members of the AFC Heritage Trust.

I’ve never forgotten the look of marvel on Jock Gardiner’s face when he talked about the discovery of a pair of 115-year-old football boots worn by a Dons legend which seemed destined for the skip.

The artefacts, which belonged to prolific striker George McNicol, were rescued from oblivion outside Pittodrie in 1993 and spent 20 years gathering dust in a shed before their significance became apparent. But now, they are a part of the burgeoning amount of memorabilia which is being amassed and will become prized parts of a museum in the future.

As two of the leading members of the Aberdeen FC Heritage Trust, Jock and his colleague, Bob Bain, have shown a remarkable appetite for bringing the club’s history to life for audiences in the 21st Century.

And these stalwart aficionados are now planning to embark on an ambitious football pilgrimage this summer, which will help them advance with their dream of creating an AFC Heritage Trail around Aberdeen.

Two Dons fans are planning an epic charity trip across Ireland in June.

The initiative is being promoted to mark significant places in the club’s development and Bob and Jock are raising funds for commemorative plaques to be erected at every site, alongside a walking trail app and guide.

The locations, which cover the previous grounds of the three founder clubs of the current Aberdeen FC – Aberdeen, Orion and Victoria United – steer us all the way back to the inaugural meeting of Aberdeen Association FC, which was held at what was then the Albert Hotel – it is currently a hairdressing salon – in the city’s Correction Wynd on October 8 1881.

The AFC Heritage Trust is creating a history trail across the city.

Then it moves on to the site of the former Recreation Grounds – around the current Palmerston Road, North Esplanade West and south-east end of Market Street – where Aberdeen FC played their home games during the season 1885 to 1886. And wends towards Trinity Cemetery, close to Pittodrie, where the first manager of Aberdeen FC, James Philip, is buried.

Many people will be unfamiliar with the plethora of different venues at which these early Dons strutted their stuff, but Jock and Bob have committed themselves to transforming that situation and this new trail will, quite literally, allow supporters to follow in the footsteps of legends.

And, although their charity ventures were put on hold by Covid-19, the duo have set themselves the goal of visiting every football ground in Ireland where the Dons have ever played during a gruelling challenge from June 9 to 12.

Gothenburg Great John Hewitt managed Dundalk in Ireland in the 1990s.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, but there again, these redoubtable characters have an uncompromising attitude to dealing with problems or obstacles. And their drive and dedication exemplifies why the Trust has become one of the most vibrant aspects of the whole club in the last decade.

Jock told me: “Preserving the rich history of Aberdeen FC via our fundraising activities is both enjoyable and important, so that future generations can learn about the Dons and its predecessor clubs.”

“The development of the AFCHT Heritage Trail is something that has been given real focus by myself and other trustees during and after lockdown.

“The health and wellbeing benefits derived from exercise via this walking tour around the previous grounds where Aberdeen FC has played will be a terrific experience for fans and local history buffs.”

It’s exactly 75 years today since the Pittodrie club secured their first-ever Scottish Cup trophy with a nerve-shredding 2-1 victory over Hibs at Hampden Park and, while they have has struggled to repeat such heady exploits in recent seasons, there is certainly no shortage of reminders of how they have dealt with life’s triumphs and travails during the last century.

Union Street was mobbed when Aberdeen brought the Scottish Cup back to the city in 1947.

And, though their stamina may be tested when they travel to Ireland, one suspects that Jock and Bob won’t be deterred by any hurdles in their path.

The latter fellow, who has hardly missed a home fixture in the last 44 years, said: “This trip was planned for 2020, following our successful fundraising forays in 2019 to visit 32 grounds where Aberdeen had played across the UK and our first venture in 2018 to visit 18 club grounds in the space of 18 hours.

“This new trip will see us visit grounds and the sites of former grounds where Aberdeen FC has played and also grounds which have a link to the club, such as Dundalk FC – where Dons legend John Hewitt managed the team in 1996.”

The Trust takes pride in its activities and why shouldn’t it? After all, any organisation which forgets its roots can end up losing its soul. And one of the more positive aspects of life in the pandemic has been the emergence of local history groups with a genuine resolve to delve into their ancestry.

As Jock added: “We want to celebrate the club’s past to help ensure that an important part of the city’s sporting heritage is not forgotten.

Aberdeen’s European Super Cup-winning team of 1983/84, with Dougie Bell, back left.

Jock and Bob are trailblazers

“The trail plaques will mark the places of historical interest and keep the spirit of the club alive across the city and not just at the current ground. We previously raised over £14,000 from our 2018 and 2019 tours, so we hope to top this with donations as a result of our Irish challenge.”

These are men on a mission with a pioneering spirit. Football’s equivalent of the Time Team archaeologists.

Donations towards the Heritage Trail can be made through the challenge fundraising page.