A Conservative Prime Minister. Russia and America at loggerheads. Liverpool challenging for the league title in England. Hearts facing relegation. And Aberdeen lifting silverware. Are we back in the 1980s?
The visit of Aberdeen to Tynecastle on Wednesday invokes memories of the late 1970s/early 1980s when the Dons were a force to be reckoned with and Hearts were struggling amid financial problems. I was at Pittodrie in May 1979 when Hearts travelled to the Granite City knowing defeat would consign them to the First Division, from whence they had returned a year before. These became known as the ‘yo-yo’ years. A youthful Hearts team which included three teenagers collapsed to a 5-0 thrashing from a Dons team containing Willie Miller, Gordon Strachan, Mark McGhee and Steve Archibald and a determined young manager in Alex Ferguson. Although Hearts came straight back up again a year later the limitations of that team were obvious and it surprised no one when they were relegated again. It wasn’t until 1983 that Hearts re-established themselves as one of the top sides in the country.
At the time of Hearts last promotion in 1983, Aberdeen were one of the leading sides not only in Scotland but in Europe. I was living there at that time and the euphoria that engulfed the city when the Dons lifted the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup - defeating Bayern Munich in the quarter final and Real Madrid in the final – was incredible. My devotion to the Maroons, however, never wavered and as the Dons marched on in pursuit of glory against some of the biggest names in world football, I was heading to Gorgie to see Hearts take on the likes of Ayr United and Queen of the South in the First Division. Indeed, three days after Aberdeen lifted the Cup Winners Cup, it was the last league game of the season and the Dons still had a chance of lifting the league championship. They hammered Hibernian 5-0 on that final day but Dundee United’s victory in the Dundee derby meant the league flag was heading to Tannadice. On that same afternoon, I was at Tynecastle watching Hearts defeat Hamilton Academical 2-0, our hopes of lifting the First Division title dashed by St. Johnstone’s victory over Dunfermline Athletic. This brought copious amounts of sniggering from my Aberdonian colleagues. ‘Who have your team got on Saturday, Mike? Hamilton Accies you say? All ticket is it?’
When Hearts returned to the Premier Division in the summer of 1983 there were many who predicted the Gorgie men would resort to type and be fighting a relegation battle. However, Alex MacDonald’s side began the league campaign with five straight victories, with Aberdeen being the first side to defeat the Maroons with a 2-0 win at Tynecastle in October. Not only did Hearts steer well clear of the relegation battle – promotion bedfellows St. Johnstone went straight back down without so much as a whimper – they finished in fifth place in the league at the end of the season to qualify for the following season’s Uefa Cup. Little more than 18 months after playing the likes of Alloa Athletic and Dumbarton, Hearts would be lining up against Paris St. Germain in the Parc de Princes in the French capital. A remarkable turnaround although one which cut little ice with some of my Aberdonian colleagues still basking in the glory of their side actually winning a European trophy.
However, fast-forward a few years and it would be my turn to mock as the Dons suffered cup humiliation to the likes of Stenhousemuir, Queens Park and Queen of the South while Hearts would lift the Scottish Cup in 1998, 2006 and in 2012 which, being a triumph over our city rivals, was something Aberdeen could only imagine, being a one club city.
Football fortunes tends to run in cycles. It’s currently Aberdeen’s turn to enjoy the excitement of cup glory while Hearts face a spell away from the limelight. Dons manager Derek McInnes is already drawing comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson. When he became Aberdeen manager in 1978, Fergie was a young, ambitious manager with a determination and will to win. McInnes is already showing these traits and, like Ferguson, is a former Rangers player who perhaps feels he wasn’t given the chance to prove what he could really do at Ibrox.
It will be interesting to monitor the progress of Hearts and Aberdeen in the next couple of years. Hopefully, 18 months from now Hearts will be back playing the Dons in the SPFL Premiership with renewed hope and an exciting, vibrant young team. Having recently signed an extension to his contract as Aberdeen manager, Derek McInnes should still be in charge at Pittodrie. However, if he continues the success currently enjoyed, he may well be lured to pastures new.
And the swings of outrageous football fortune may well be in action again!