It was a day when the match mattered less than the result and when tens of thousands of Aberdeen supporters flocked to Glasgow to watch their heroes win their first trophy in 19 years.
It was an occasion with a slightly surreal twist where Dons player Peter Pawlett’s name was incorporated into a 1980s hit for The Human League and the song raced back to the top of the charts – and where Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne was involved in an emotional post-match interview with Chick Young which turned the airwaves blue.
There hasn’t been much for football aficionados to celebrate during the last year spent in lockdown, but that League Cup final between the Dons and Inverness Caley on March 16 2014 was definitely a shining afternoon for the north-east fans who sat through a nervous, error-strewn contest, which went to extra time and then penalties as the prelude to Adam Rooney securing victory with his superb spot kick.
It was hardly a football classic, but the jubilant scenes at the climax testified to how much the outcome meant to supporters starved of success in the 21st century.
Paul Lawrie was optimistic in the build-up
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion at Carnoustie, has followed the Pittodrie club since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.
He travelled Gothenburg when they prevailed over Real Madrid to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983 and was in thrall to the great teams who snaffled all manner of trophies under Alex Ferguson.
Even while sharing the pain of his fellow supporters, who watched a string of managers toil to replicate Aberdeen’s former glories, Lawrie never lost the faith, as he explained to me a few days before he and his family journeyed to Glasgow for the final.
He said: “There are eight of us going down – my wife and I and our two boys, and some family friends – and we’ll all be together in the North stand at Celtic Park, along with thousands of other Dons fans. I think the fact there are going to be 40,000 Aberdeen supporters at the game shows what a sleeping giant we have been in recent years.
“I’m not expecting it to be easy, because Inverness are tough opponents and their manager John Hughes is a real character, who will get his men fired up.
“But the lads have achieved some impressive results recently and you don’t beat Celtic home and away without having the right mental toughness in these big matches.”
Lawrie knows his football history and reeled off various dates and exploits from his beloved side.
He elicited laughter when asked if he nervous about Aberdeen’s first appearance in a final since 2000 when they were hammered 4-0 by Celtic.
“No, I’m not actually playing, so nerves don’t come into it, and I don’t think I would fit into the Dons strips these days,” he replied, with the deadest of pans.
“So I’ll leave it to the guys on the pitch and shout myself hoarse in the crowd.”
Peter Pawlett becomes a pop sensation
One of the more unlikely stories as the denouement beckoned – and it was rendered more poignant because injury ruled Pawlett out of the showpiece game – was the fashion in which Dons fans created a buzz around the song Don’t You Want Me Baby.
This smash hit from the album Dare was the Christmas No 1 in 1981 and it enjoyed a resurgence after the words “Peter Pawlett” were inserted into the title.
Social media campaigns snowballed both before and after the League Cup final and the group expressed their gratitude – and shock – at how the story gathered momentum.
They said: “For us to be waking up to find Don’t You Want Me at number 5 on the iTunes singles chart was absolutely amazing and this has to rank as the one of the biggest surprises of our career to date which, after more than 35 years in the music business, is really saying something.
“We are slightly stunned, but at the same time very honoured that the fans of Aberdeen FC have chosen our song as their anthem to Peter Pawlett and their achievement in getting it so high in the charts in the space of just one day is a real testament both to their dedication to the club and this player in particular.”
The match itself was nothing special
Despite all the hype surrounding the contest, it soon turned into a nervy war of attrition with precious few clear scoring opportunities.
Nor were the Dons helped when their influential winger Jonny Hayes – a former Inverness stalwart – had to be taken off in the opening minutes after suffering a shoulder knock and replaced by Cammy Smith.
There were a few chances as the action progressed.
Dons captain Russell Anderson’s volley rattled off the post in the first half, and Niall McGinn fired wide near the end of regulation time, while Aaron Doran came close for Caley.
But eventually, it all boiled down to a penalty shoot-out which left the atmosphere inside the stadium as taut as piano wire, especially for the Aberdeen contingent who formed the vast majority of the 51,000 crowd.
Colin Clyne could barely watch the shoot-out….
Popular north-east singer-songwriter Colin Clyne was watching from the sidelines, although he admitted it was occasionally through cracks in his fingers.
He said: “Myself and the wife went down for the weekend and took in the match. It was an amazing day, but it was quite possibly one of the most dreadfully painful and nervous games I have ever sat through and, as soon as we lost Hayes early on, I suspected it was going to be a long day.
“Even now, when I see playbacks of the Adam Rooney penalty and hear the roar of the 40,000 Dandies finally letting rip, it gets the hair up on the back of my neck!”
The racket inside the ground after Aberdeen clinched the penalty count 4-2 – Billy McKay’s effort was saved and Greg Tansey launched his kick over the bar – was phenomenal as Derek McInnes, in his first full season as manager, led the Pittodrie personnel to their first piece of silverware since the 1995 Scottish Cup.
Stewart Milne’s emotions were running high
Stewart Milne had been the Aberdeen chairman for many years and was savouring the triumph and finally being allowed to release some steam.
So it was hardly surprising that when he was interviewed straight after the match by the BBC’s Chick Young, he responded: “19 years, 120 minutes and now f****** penalties.”
Malcolm Panton, the Dons’ publishing and media editor, spoke about the incident this week and put up his hands about how it had happened.
He said: “It was actually my fault: a great example of what happens when PR people don’t do their job properly! As you can imagine, after the game, the post-match media duties were slightly busier than normal. It was very hectic.
“So we were trying to direct the manager and selected players from the changing room to the various groups of press who were in different locations around the ground.
“I sent our chairman out pitch-side to do an interview which would be forever part of the club archives. Unfortunately for me, it was his interview with the BBC that made it into the history books! As it was a club interview, I did not feel the need to be by his side as one of my colleges would be in attendance.
“But whilst walking unaccompanied out of the tunnel at Celtic Park, he was grabbed by Chick for a quick chat.
“As no one was with him, he was not briefed or even told that the interview was live! It was the one and only time I have ever seen Chick lost for words.”
But where was the trophy on Sunday night?
Malcolm relished the celebrations and impromptu parties which sprung up all over Aberdeen and the surrounding area on that Sabbath evening.
Yet there was some apprehension the following day. Nothing approaching a meltdown, you understand, but just the nagging question: Where has the Cup gone?
He recalled: “I seem to remember there was a bit of panic the next morning as no one knew where the trophy was!
“I am fairly certain it was Russell Anderson who took the trophy home with him that night. And before it was returned to Pittodrie the next day, he and his kids were able to have breakfast with the trophy on the table.”
Bus parade brought out tens of thousands of fans
The subsequent open-top bus parade on Sunday March 23 was a reminder of the affection which exists in the city for the Dons: it was estimated that around 70,000 people congregated along Union Street and the Castlegate to salute the players.
And, of course, the strains of Peter Pawlett Baby resounded on the main thoroughfare.
Chris Gavin, a leading member of the Aberdeen FC Heritage Trust, explained how it was his scarf which was brandished by Mr Milne during the festivities.
He said: “With so many thousands lining the route of the victory parade, I managed to get into a privileged position near the entrance to the Town House.
“The players and officials were inside the building when the chairman realised that he had no colours to wave from the balcony and [club official] Roland George was dispatched to get something for him.
“Of all the people outside, he came straight to me and borrowed my scarf which, just a few few minutes later, appeared on the balcony in the hands of Stewart Milne.
“I got the scarf back a few days later and I still have it safely tucked away as a memory of our most recent silverware success”.