LAST season, Hibs ended the longest running joke in Scottish Football by ending a 114 year wait for a Scottish Cup triumph.
This year, it’s the turn of another one of Scottish Footballs bigger sides outside the Old Firm to end a long hoodoo since they last lifted the famous old trophy.
Aberdeen’s famine may not have been anywhere near as long as the Hibees, but 27 years is a long time for a club who had great success in the competition in the 1980’s and it’s hard to believe that 1990 was the last time the Cup was taken North to the Granite City.
For me, as a nine year old, this was my first Scottish Cup I watched and, naturally, I was excited as my boyhood team took to the field to face Celtic.
Such is the change of the times, where Celtic are dominating Scottish Football and Aberdeen are a long way behind even as the second best side in the country, it was the Dons who went into that Final as favourites having finished 2nd in the League behind Rangers and beat the Gers in the League Cup Final. Victory at Hampden would complete their second Cup double in five seasons.
Celtic, on the other hand, had a dismal League campaign, finishing fifth (yes, FIFTH) in the table and knew that a third consecutive Scottish Cup win was their only hope of European Football. Quite simply, their season depended on winning at Hampden.
It was set up for a classic – it was a big let down!
There was very little action during the 90 minutes and the half hour of extra time as both sides cancelled each other out. The only chance of note was when Pat Bonner spilled a cross and the ball fell to Charlie Nicholas, who’s effort was knocked off the line by Paul Elliott. Other than that (somebody feel free to correct me otherwise), there wasn’t much action during the 120 minutes long minutes.
Both sides failure to find a winner led to history being made in Scottish Cup Final history – a penalty shootout would decide who would win the Cup. Back in 1990, penalty shootouts were a novelty so the idea was quite exciting, though it was nerve wracking at the same time. Bet the players felt differently though.
First up, Dariusz Wdowczek of Celtic – well wide! Advantage Aberdeen! As a Dons fan you’re thinking “brilliant, one hand on the Cup now”. Both sides converted their next three before Brian Grant blooters his effort into the West Stand, which is quite far back from the Hampden pitch, and now you’re thinking “uh oh”. When Mike Galloway netted Celtic’s last of the five penalties, Aberdeen knew another miss handed the Cup to Billy McNeill’s side.
Up stepped Charlie Nicholas to take his final kick in an Aberdeen jersey before he returned to Celtic. Now this was the ultimate test of his professionalism knowing that if he missed then he’d be sending his next employers into Europe. Nicholas passed the test with flying colours, coolly planting his kick into the top left hand corner sending Bonner the wrong way to keep Aberdeen’s Cup hopes, and his own quest for a first Scottish Cup winners medal, alive. Think what you like of him as a pundit, he’ll always have my respect for this act of professionalism alone!
Another Don who came through a huge test of character in a different way was 19 year old Graham Watson. On for Paul Mason and with Celtic now 8-7 ahead in the sudden death stages of the shootout, Watson stepped up to a caldron of noise from the Celtic fans building on the pressure in hope he folded to give them the trophy. Like Nicholas, Watson stuck his penalty in the top bag and kept the Dons in it.
Having witnessed his teammate coming through that test of character, Theo Snelders cranked up the pressure by encouraging The Red Army to heap pressure on Anton Rogan – with great dividends. Rogans penalty was low into the left hand corner but the big Dutchman got down to turn it round the post, meaning that the next Dons kick would seal it.
With all the other outfield players having took their kick, Brian Irvine was left with the task of winning the Cup for his boyhood heroes. Admittedly, his penalty wasn’t great but it was effective, straight down the middle as Bonner, again, dived right and the ball nestled into the net, sparking scenes of absolute joy for the Red Army.
The fact it was Irvine that scored the winning penalty made my first Cup Final experience even more special. He was my favourite Aberdeen player at the time, partly because his Dad worked with my Mums then partner back then and I loved his never say die attitude, plus he was a good defender who never always got the credit he deserved. He may not have been the most technically gifted player we had but I’m not ashamed to say Brian Irvine was my hero at Aberdeen in the early 90’s.
As Alex McLeish lifted the Scottish Cup, it’s fair to assume that I thought this would be the shape of things to come for me as an Aberdeen supporter. It’s fair to say things haven’t quite turned out that way, with only two League Cups in these last 27 years, but I don’t have any regrets.
It’s incredible to think back in 1990 that defeat in that Final meant that Celtic didn’t even qualify for Europe, with Dundee United benefitting from the Dons triumph. For the Hoops, that season was the beginning or a turbulent five years where they flirted with extinction before the intervention of Fergus McCann.
Of course, the Scottish Football landscape has changed significantly from the more level playing field back then. The gulf between the two sides is huge and Celtic are one game away from a treble and immortality as they seek to complete a full domestic season undefeated.
However, Aberdeen will believe they can rip up the form book and give their fans a trophy they’ve craved for 27 years. They may not have the same quality as the class of 1990 but, if they show the same belief the likes of McLeish, Irvine, Snelders, Bett and co had back then, they have a chance of bringing the Scottish Cup back to the Granite City.