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How Brian Irvine became Aberdeen’s unlikely Scottish Cup hero

Former Don relives his day of destiny when Aberdeen last lifted the Scottish Cup in 1990.

Theo Snelders, Alex McLeish and Brian Irvine celebrate after Aberdeen's 1990 Scottish Cup win.
Theo Snelders, Alex McLeish and Brian Irvine celebrate after Aberdeen's 1990 Scottish Cup win.

Brian Irvine remains the answer to the Scottish Cup trivia question of who scored the winner when Aberdeen last lifted the trophy.

Given it was 34 years ago it is no stretch to suggest Irvine, a big Dons fan who realised his dream of playing for the club he supports, would prefer that answer had changed years ago.

Those were the days.

A time when Killer by Adamski was topping the UK chart and Aberdeen had one trophy in the Pittodrie boardroom after beating Rangers in the League Cup and were favourites to overcome Celtic in the Scottish Cup final.

The Hampden showdown in May was a step into new territory for both sides as it was a showpiece occasion where, for the first time, there would be no replay.

The Dons and the Hoops squared off knowing one way or another a winner would be crowned on the day.

Little did Irvine know he would emerge the unlikely source of the match-winning moment to cement his place in the club’s history.

He said: “We went into the final with confidence. We had finished second in the league and won the League Cup earlier in the season.

“As a team we were pretty positive and had beaten Celtic at Parkhead in a league game just before the end of the season so we had all those reasons to be confident.

“The game itself was a typical cup final and it was a poor 0-0 draw. It didn’t fulfil what you imagined it would be but I didn’t for a minute expect a penalty shootout.

“It hadn’t happened before so there was no real experience to draw upon.

“Traditionally you’d have that feeling of ‘let’s make sure we don’t lose and take our chances in the replay.’

“In hindsight I’m not sure if the change played into the mindset of the players but events seemed to run away from us and it was certainly dramatic.

“It was a long afternoon but the shootout flew by quickly and before I knew it I was part of a moment which has allowed me to tell the story of that winning moment all these years later.

It’s an unbelievable memory and one which is nice to still look back on 34 years later.”

‘Theo took the pressure off me’

Aberdeen’s Theo Snelders and Brian Irvine with the trophy in 1990.

Even if the action which played out in 120 minutes had little to write home about the first Scottish Cup final penalty shootout was certainly a memorable one.

By the time Irvine stepped up to take his penalty it was 8-8, with Celtic having missed two and the Dons one.

The former Aberdeen defender knew had he missed, the two respective goalkeepers would be going next before it was back to square one to start again.

But that scenario was much preferable to the one Irvine dreaded.

He said: “We picked the first five penalty takers at the end of extra-time. We hadn’t selected the five beforehand.

“The rest who stepped up afterwards were probably ranked by who felt most confident.

“The real pressure was on the guys in sudden death who had to take their penalties after Celtic had scored as they were going first.

“I got the glory for my penalty but I was under less pressure.

“My penalty was to win the cup, not to make sure we didn’t lose it. Had I missed it would have been the goalkeepers up next.

“People always ask me if I was nervous and yes there was excitement and nerves but I was less tense.

“The pressure I felt was knowing I wasn’t a good penalty taker. It didn’t matter if it was Hampden or on a public park, I didn’t enjoy taking penalties.

“Having that pressure taken off thanks to Theo Snelders’ incredible save from Anton Rogan certainly changed the circumstances for me.”

Irvine experienced Scottish Cup highs and lows

The Stenhousemuir players celebrate in the dressing room after knocking Aberdeen out of the Scottish Cup in 1995.

It was not all tears of joy and celebration in Irvine’s Aberdeen career of course.

If cup glory is the highest of highs then surely an early exit to a minnow is the lowest of lows.

Irvine experienced both, having been part of the Aberdeen team which was beaten 2-0 by Stenhousemuir in 1995.

He said: “They were decent on their own pitch, strong in their league and we knew it was going to be a difficult game.

“A good result for us would have been a draw.

“My get-out clause is that I was on the bench and didn’t come on until after the damage had been done.

“I don’t think if I had started it would have affected the outcome that day as they deserved their win.”

Cup loss galvanised Aberdeen’s bid for league survival

With hindsight the exit to Stenny, as raw as it was, marked a turning point in the Dons’ season.

In 1995 Aberdeen had more pressing issues than cup glory to contend themselves with in the form of top flight survival.

It was in the dark moment of a cup exit that Aberdeen, led by caretaker boss Roy Aitken, found their resolve.

Irvine said: “It was a horrendous situation to think we could have been relegated.

“It would have been hard for me as an Aberdeen fan to accept being in the team which was relegated.

“The Stenny game was where our recovery started.

“We finished the season strongly and of course the cup exit was a factor in our League Cup campaign a few months later.

“But winning the play-off had also given us momentum going into the new season.”

Irvine hopes this can be Aberdeen’s year

Former Scotland and Aberdeen player Brian Irvine

Irvine was just 23 when he helped Aberdeen win the Scottish Cup. Now 58, he remains ever hopeful his status as a Scottish Cup winning scorer for the Dons is near an end.

The class of 2024 begin their Scottish Cup campaign at Clyde on Friday and Irvine would love to believe he will see the Dons celebrating at Hampden once more.

Irvine said: “It hasn’t been Aberdeen’s year since 1990 but one year it will be.

“Whether that’s this year or next year or down the line, no-one knows.

“It would be good to see Aberdeen win the trophy again but football is all about performing on the day.

“In a cup final your opponent has the same aspiration to win and reach a final or win a cup so you have to earn it.

“It will happen one day but as a fan you just have to keep supporting, hoping for the best and believing.”