Aberdeen goalscoring legend Joe Harper played with and against many top players during his career, which apart from two spells at Pittodrie, also included periods at Morton, Everton and Hibs.
Playing for Scotland, he lined up alongside the likes of Kenny Dalglish, John Robertson, Joe Jordan, Archie Gemmill and former Dons team-mate Martin Buchan, while at club level he played with or against household names like Arthur Graham, Billy Bremner, Billy McNeill and Bobby Moore.
According to Harper, however, the two most talented players he shared a pitch with both visited Pittodrie in 1972, during his first spell in Red.
The first, he says, was German midfielder Gunter Netzer, who arrived with Borussia Monchengladbach for a UEFA Cup first round tie. Netzer had just won the European Championships with West Germany and would win the World Cup in 1974.
Netzer was described as “the best passer of a football there has been” by none other than Dutch great Johan Cruyff.
He ran the show as the visitors, 2-0 up by half-time of the first leg, looked set to run away with things. Fortunately, he picked up a thigh injury and was replaced for the second half, allowing Harper and Drew Jarvie to make it 2-2 before Monchengladbach scored a third.
Harper, who says it was like Netzer was playing a different sport to the other 21 players on the Pittodrie pitch, said: “The best non-British footballer I came up against was without question Borussia Monchengladbach’s Gunter Netzer when we lost to them in the first round of the Uefa Cup in 1972.”
“It was like he was playing a violin and everyone else a ukelele.”
It’s not the first time Harper has spoken about his admiration for Netzer, who won the league with Monchengladbach, as well as La Liga with Real Madrid, before going on to lead Hamburg to the European Cup as general manager, with the Reds most potent hitman of all time previously saying: “His reputation as one of the best players in the world was deserved.
“Netzer was a huge man but had amazing finesse when he was on the ball.
“He ran us ragged in the first half at Pittodrie and the pass he played to help them go 2-0 up was among the best I’ve ever seen.
“We almost broke out the champagne when we heard he had suffered a thigh strain and would be unable to come out for the second half.
“But it was a delight to have seen such a great player performing at his peak.”
Although he may not have realised it at the time, on reflection, Harper says the other greatest player he saw perform in the flesh visited with Manchester United for a friendly on October 23, 1972. The player was George Best.
Aberdeen, without defender Martin Buchan – who was by then in the Red Devils’ ranks, won 5-2 with Harper scoring twice. However, despite a quiet first period from Northern Irishman Best, the Dons legend knows he was lucky to see the mercurial, troubled Best perform before his personal struggles really took hold.
Harper said: “I never realised just how good Best was when I played against him in a friendly at Pittodrie in 1972.
“My old captain Martin Buchan had of course moved to Manchester United by that point. We beat United 5-2 and I scored twice.
“Looking back – you saw Best’s skill, but you didn’t appreciate it as much because you were focused on your own game.
“I shared a pitch with a lot of great British players – Arthur Graham, Kenny Dalglish, Billy Bremner and Bobby Moore, but Best was not only a fantastic player, he was also an exciting player.”
What made Best so special?
Harper added: “Best’s directness was sensational. He’d go straight forward and take players on. He’d sometimes turn back on himself, but not to play a pass backwards, to beat the man for a second time.
“He had a great knack of dipping the left shoulder and going right, dipping the right shoulder and going left, feinting crosses.”