Gothenburg Great Neil Simpson says a celebration of Aberdeen’s greatest win 37 years on “was like being back in the dressing room again”.
Dons icon “Simmy”, 58, joined former team-mates including Willie Miller, Alex McLeish, Gordon Strachan, John Hewitt, Eric Black and Mark McGhee, as well as former Reds gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson, for a Zoom call – 37 years after they lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup
The coronavirus crisis necessitated a different kind reunion, but even technical issues couldn’t stop a well-attended meeting between the club legends to mark the 2-1 win over Real Madrid.
Simpson, speaking on this week’s episode of the Evening Express and Press and Journals’ Northern Goal podcast, said: “It was brilliant.
“We’d organised to do the Zoom call on Monday, but I had no idea Fergie would be on the call as well.
“Archie had some technical problems – so he didn’t get on the call until about half an hour later.
“But having everyone there was like being back in the dressing room again. It was magic.”
Ex-midfielder Simpson, who played more than 300 times for the Dons in the 1980s and is currently the head of Aberdeen’s youth academy, spoke to Northern Goal for close to an hour, reflecting on his career.
Among the subjects covered are his beginnings in the game, playing in Newmachar, as well as signing for Aberdeen and coming face-to-face with “ultimate heroes” Joe Harper and Bobby Clark for the first time.
Simpson, who was thrust into the Dons first-team aged 16 by gaffer Ferguson and went on to win eight trophies under him, also reflected on the circumstances of his debut and Fergie’s managerial magic.
He said: “I started playing for the reserves in ’78 and played at Stirling University.
“We won 8-1 and I scored a perfect hat-trick – left foot, right foot and a header.
“I remember him (Fergie) coming up after the game and saying ‘well done son, great performance’. I was really chuffed.
“That would’ve been the Wednesday and the following week, on the Monday, I got called into his office and he said ‘you’re going to be on the bench against Hamilton in the League Cup on Wednesday’. I couldn’t believe it. It was three, four months into my reserves career and I was getting an opportunity in the first team, my local team.
“I used to dream about coming on for Aberdeen and setting Joe Harper up for a goal.
“I came on as a sub in the last 20 minutes against Hamilton, we won 7-1 and I set Joe up for one of his goals.”
Despite clearly being rated highly early on by Ferguson, Simpson says the boss, who went on to manage Manchester United to two European Cups and 13 English top-flight crowns, had already perfected his famous “hair-dryer”, criticising the then-teenage midfielder for not passing the ball enough in a reserve game at Seaton Park the first time they met.
However, Simpson says it was the boss’ acute understanding of when to push and when to put an arm round his players, which ensured he was fit for the greatest night of his career in Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium.
Simpson, who revealed he’s retained vivid memories of Aberdeen’s greatest night, said: “I came down with bug after the away game against Waterschei (Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final).
“After the game I went straight to my bed, then I was on bench against Celtic at the weekend.
“I think we then played Motherwell away, Dundee away and I was still really shattered.
“We were two weeks away from the Cup Winners’ Cup final and on the Monday he took me into the office and said ‘you’re looking a bit sluggish. I’ll tell you now, you’re going to start against Real Madrid, so I want you to go away and rest for week’.
“It was the best thing he ever did. I got time off to recharge and didn’t play against Hibs or Kilmarnock.
“I was feeling so good when I came back.”
Simpson also discusses his regrets over not retaining the Cup Winners’ Cup, who he thinks was his best team-mate, the post-Fergie era under Ian Porterfield, and then Alex Smith and Jocky Scott, as well as his later playing spells with Newcastle United, Motherwell and Cove Rangers.
Northern Goal is available on your favourite podcast app.