It’s a time of year when people are concentrating on festive matters, preparing for Christmas parties and wrapping presents.
But football is never far from the thoughts of the die-hard fans who – even in the midst of an unprecedented lockdown – are still following their favourite clubs and celebrating or commiserating with fellow supporters about their team’s fortunes.
There hasn’t been much to cheer about in 2020, but that didn’t stop Dons aficionados responding when I asked them about their favourite New Year matches.
Some revelled in victories over Dundee rivals on frosty December and January days, others recalled how even dreich scoreless draws could be enlivened by excitement over future signings or looking ahead to the New Year with relish.
These are some of their memories.
But we’re sure you have others which you can add to the mix.
After all, even in a pandemic, football’s a great big melting pot of opinions.
Old-fashioned banter at the Beach End
Chris Gavin, a stalwart part of the Aberdeen FC Heritage Trust in recent years, was among those who offered some evocative reminiscences of festive contests.
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.
“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 in Juteopolis.
Players helped halt canine pitch invasion
He added: “The Dons were in devastating form that day against a very decent Dundee side and a rare Tommy McMillan goal put them ahead quite early.
“It was a great game to stand and watch from the Beach End, with the crowd in high spirits and clearly loving the football.
“Steve Murray and Arthur Graham added the other goals, but the highlights that have stuck in my mind for so long are from when a small dog invaded the pitch and chased around after the players.
“I think that Davie Robb helped retrieve it so that the game could continue. The other big moment was when the Dundee supporters were starting to leave early, and the Dons’ fans sang: ‘We’ll show ye the road and the miles tae Dundee’.
“That was proper derby banter.”
Tales of the lost (van der) Ark
Jock Gardiner is another keen-as-mustard Dons fan and heritage hunter who has been at the forefront of the AFCHT’s activities, which have so far amassed a fascinating collection of memorabilia, dating back to before the club was even founded in 1903.
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.”
Charlie created a buzz before he even arrived
Stewart Eaton has worked with Jock on a number of initiatives and this beetle-browed pair have been instrumental in developing a treasure trove of artefacts, ranging from old match programmes and tickets to items such as 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 although it eventually finished 0-0, I can still remember the buzz around the ground that day, with all the talk of Charlie coming to our club.”
It wasn’t as if there was a dearth of quality players in the Aberdeen ranks at that time. On the contrary, Stewart pointed out the team on that day was Jim Leighton, Stewart McKimmie, David Robertson, Robert Connor, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, Davie Dodds, Jim Bett, Paul Wright, Peter Nicholas and John Hewitt.
So there was already one Nicholas in the Dons ranks. But he didn’t quite possess the same amount of pizzazz and panache as Charlie.
Putting the fizz into the Pittodrie brew
Stuart Devine, who owns the famous Ashvale chipper in the city, was among those who were mesmerised by the former Celtic and Arsenal striker’s flair and flamboyance.
He said: “I remember well that the signing was a sensation and it was an amazing coup for the Dons under Ian Porterfield.
“Charlie was a fantastic player and although I think his heart was always for the green and white of Celtic, that didn’t stop him giving his all for the Dons.
“I do remember him frequenting our takeaway in his long leather jacket and his wicked hair fashion. Well, I just thought he was super cool!
“And he definitely brought a wow factor with him which was evident at the club.”
But there were days when the weather won
Dave Macdermid has seen almost everything while being involved with Aberdeen FC. And he recalled at least one day when blizzards brought a halt to proceedings.
He said: “One of the more bizarre games in the festive period came in 1984 when the Dons match with St Johnstone at Pittodrie was abandoned at half time.
“The Dons had been in fine form as they looked to stretch their lead at the top of the league. 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 the home side strolled into a 3-0 half-time lead.
“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 as the large crowd were told the game had to be abandoned. There were surreal surroundings as the 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 as the roads to the north were blocked. Northsound Radio, which had only started three years earlier, really come into its own when appeals were delivered over the airwaves to help find accommodation for stranded fans in the city.
“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 that day and night, it was also the same for young Eric Black whose superb goal became one that never was.”
What are your favourite memories of festive football in the north east?
Let me know at email@example.com and we will share the best stories after Christmas.