History of Aberdeen Football Club

Aberdeen Football Club (also known as The Dons or The Reds) are a Scottish professional football club based in Aberdeen, Scotland.

We compete in the Scottish Premiership and have never been relegated from the top division of the Scottish football league system since we were promoted in 1905.

Aberdeen have won four Scottish league titles, seven Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups. They are also the only Scottish team to have won two European trophies, having won the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the European Super Cup in 1983.

Formed in 1903 as a result of the amalgamation of three clubs from Aberdeen, we rarely challenged for honours until the post war decade, when we won each of the major Scottish trophies under manager Dave Halliday.

This level of success was surpassed in the 1980s, when, under the management of Alex Ferguson, we won three league titles, four Scottish Cups and a Scottish League Cup, alongside the two European trophies.

Aberdeen were the last club outside of the Old Firm to win a league title, in 1984–85, and also the last Scottish team to win a European trophy.

The team has enjoyed less success since this golden era, though a 19-year wait for a major trophy was ended by winning the 2013–14 Scottish League Cup.

Aberdeen have played at Pittodrie Stadium since their inception. The ground currently has a capacity of 20,866 and was the first all-seated and all-covered stadium in the United Kingdom. Pittodrie was also the first football stadium to feature a dug-out, an invention of player and coach Donald Colman. The club’s colours have been primarily red and white since 1939; before this, they played in black and gold vertical stripes. Aberdeen attract support from the city and surrounding areas, as they are the only senior team within a wide area. Aberdeen have no geographically close rivals; their nearest neighbours at the same level are in the city of Dundee.

Aberdeen have what money can't buy; a soul, a team spirit built in a family tradition - Alfredo Di Stefano

TIMELINE

Aberdeen FC logo gold

Formation and early years

The current Aberdeen F.C. was formed following the merger of three clubs based in the city—Aberdeen, Victoria United and Orion—in 1903.  The new club played its first match on 15 August 1903: a 1–1 draw with Stenhousemuir.  That first season produced a win in the Aberdeenshire Cup, but only a third-place finish in the Northern League. The club applied for membership of the Scottish League for the following season, and were elected to the Second Division.

In 1904, the club were managed by Jimmy Philip. At the end of its first season, despite having finished seventh out of twelve teams, Aberdeen were elected to the new, expanded First Division.  They have remained in the top tier of Scottish football ever since.  From 1906, the club made steady progress, with a Scottish Cup semi-final appearance in 1908 and another in 1911.  In that season of 1910–11, Aberdeen recorded their first victories over the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers, and led the league for a time, but finished the season in second place.

Wartime affected the club as much as any other; despite spending cuts and other economies, by 1917 the situation became untenable. Aberdeen dropped out of competitive football, along with Dundee and Raith Rovers.  Senior football returned on 16 August 1919, and Aberdeen resumed with a fixture against Albion Rovers. Philip was still in charge, and continued to oversee a team capable of isolated good results, but never quite able to sustain a challenge long enough to win a trophy. In 1923, Aberdeen were drawn against Peterhead in the Scottish Cup, and posted their record score—a 13–0 victory.  Philip retired a year later, and was replaced as manager by Paddy Travers.  He presided over the team’s first Scottish Cup final in 1937.

Travers’ “trainer”—first team coach in modern parlance—was former player Donald Colman.  Colman conceived the dug-out, a covered area set slightly below the level of the playing surface to better aid his observations.  Everton visited Pittodrie soon after its introduction, and exported the idea to the English leagues, from where it spread throughout the football-playing world.  Travers left to become manager of Clyde in 1939.

Aberdeen FC 1903
Aberdeen FC logo gold

Halliday to McNeill

Travers was replaced by former Yeovil Town manager Dave Halliday, one of more than a hundred applicants for the role, and the club moved from their black and gold strip to red and white.  Halliday had barely begun his work when World War II halted competitive football in the United Kingdom. For these six years, the club was temporarily taken over by then-directors Charles B Forbes and George Anderson while Halliday served in the war.

Halliday’s place in the Aberdeen Hall of Fame was secured after the war when he became the first manager to bring national trophies to Pittodrie. Aberdeen won the Southern League Cup in the 1945–46 season, defeating Rangers 3–2 at Hampden.  They then reached the 1947 Scottish Cup final, defeating Hibernian 2–1 with George Hamilton, signed from Halliday’s former club Queen of the South, scoring to gain the club’s first major trophy.  From this early success, Halliday’s side reached two more Scottish Cup finals, in 1953and 1954, though they lost both.  Halliday’s team were not to be denied, however, and the following season, 1954–55, Aberdeen won their first Scottish League title.  Though league winners, the club did not participate in the first European Cup competition—Scotland’s place was awarded to Hibernian, who took part by special invitation.

Halliday and Hamilton left at the end of that championship-winning season, and Halliday was replaced by Davie Shaw.  Aberdeen won the League Cup under his guidance, beating St Mirren in 1955–56, and reached another Scottish Cup final in 1959.  However, Shaw stepped aside for another former favourite player, Tommy Pearson, in 1959. Pearson’s time in charge coincided with a high turnover of players, and yielded no trophies.  He retired in 1965, making way for Eddie Turnbull.

Turnbull led Aberdeen to the 1967 Scottish Cup final, where the side was ultimately defeated by Celtic.  Despite this loss, Aberdeen qualified for the European Cup Winner’s Cup in the following season thanks to their appearance in this final, the first time the club had competed in European competition. Their first tie was a 14–1 aggregate victory over KR Reykjavik, although they lost the second round tie with Standard Liège 3–2 on aggregate. Two years later, Derek “Cup-tie” McKay recorded the only four goals of his Aberdeen career to help his team to the 1969–70 Scottish Cup, scoring the winning goals in the quarter- and semi final, and two in the final itself.  As Scottish Cup holders, Aberdeen once again qualified for the same competition, but were eliminated in the first round following a 4–4 aggregate tie with Honvéd. This tie, level after extra time and also level on away goals, was decided by the first penalty shoot-out in UEFA competition history, Honvéd winning the shootout 5–4 in Budapest.

The Aberdeen side of the 1970s regularly challenged for domestic honours. However, they rarely won trophies, with the exception of the Drybrough Cup in 1971 under Jimmy Bonthrone and the League Cup in 1976, under Ally MacLeod. During this decade, Aberdeen had five managers: Eddie Turnbull, Jimmy Bonthrone, Ally MacLeod, Billy McNeill and Alex Ferguson.  They reached two more national cup finals—the Scottish Cup in 1978 under Billy McNeill and the League Cup in the following season under the new manager Alex Ferguson.

Dave Halliday
Aberdeen FC logo gold

The Alex Ferguson Era

Under Ferguson’s guidance, the club won three league championships, four Scottish Cups, the European Cup Winner’s Cup, the European Super Cup, a League Cup, and a Drybrough Cup—all in the space of seven years.  Players such as Jim Leighton, Willie Miller, Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan became the backbone of the team.  Aberdeen’s second League title was won in 1979–80, and this initial success was built on, with Scottish Cup wins in three successive seasons from 1982 to 1984, and two more league titles in 1983–84 and 1984–85.

During the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983, Aberdeen beat FC Sion, Dinamo Tirana and Lech Poznań to face the German Cup winners Bayern Munich. This game was won 3–2 at Pittodrie after a goalless draw in Germany, John Hewitt with the winning goal.  They then faced now-defunct Belgian club Waterschei in the semi-final. Aberdeen beat them 5–1 at home, and lost for the first time in the tournament, 1–0 away, resulting in an aggregate victory which sent Aberdeen to the final.

On 11 May 1983, Aberdeen beat Real Madrid 2–1 after extra time to win the cup and become only the third Scottish side to win a European trophy.  The club released a song, “European Song”, to coincide with the appearance in the final. This was followed up with the capture of the European Super Cup in December, when Hamburger SV were beaten over two legs.

Aberdeen reached the semi-finals of the 1983–84 European Cup Winners’ Cup, before losing to Porto 2–0 on aggregate. In the first round of the 1984–85 European Champion Club’s Cup Aberdeen lost to East Berlin side BFC Dynamo in a penalty shoot-out 4–5, following a 3–3 on aggregate in regular times.  Today, both clubs enjoy friendly relations.

Alex Ferguson
Aberdeen FC logo gold

Post-Ferguson

After Ferguson moved south of the border to manage Manchester United in November 1986, Aberdeen struggled to compete with Celtic and a resurgent Rangers.

Aberdeen signed new co-managers in 1989, pairing Alex Smith and Jocky Scott. A number of foreign players were signed, including Dutch internationals Theo Snelders and Hans Gillhaus. In the 1989–90 season, the club won both the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup. In 1991, they lost the last game of the season, and the league title, to Rangers.  Former player Willie Miller took over in 1992 and presided over two seasons where Aberdeen came close to winning the title. However, the club ended the 1994–95 season second-bottom, and had to rely on a play-off victory over Dunfermline Athletic to retain their Premier Division status.  Miller was sacked in February 1995, and replaced by Roy Aitken.  Despite a Scottish League Cup success in 1995, the club continued to struggle.  Alex Miller and Paul Hegarty had spells in charge in the late 1990s, but with the financial burden of a new stand putting the club into debt for the first time in its history, the directors turned to Stewart Milne, a local businessman whose firm had built the stand, to bring business acumen to the running of the club.

Alex Smith
Aberdeen FC logo gold

Skovdahl to Brown

Aberdeen’s first and only foreign manager, Ebbe Skovdahl, was appointed in 1999 and his time in charge coincided with some of the heaviest defeats in the club’s history.  The low point of the club’s history came in the 1999–2000 season, where they finished bottom of the table. As the Scottish Premier League was being expanded to twelve teams, there was then a three team play-off. However, as Falkirk’s stadium did not meet SPL requirements, Aberdeen retained their status in the top flight.  This was followed by an early-season defeat to Ireland’s Bohemian F.C. on the away goals rule in the next season’s UEFA Cup.

Steve Paterson was appointed to replace Skovdahl following his resignation in 2002, but lasted only two seasons. Paterson’s tenure with Aberdeen was marred by his abuse of alcohol. In March 2003 he failed to attend a home game against Dundee due to being too hungover after a night of drinking prior to the match.

Jimmy Calderwood took over in 2004 and Aberdeen posted more consistent results than in previous seasons. In the 2006–07 season, the club finished in third place in the league and entered the final qualifying round for the 2007–08 UEFA Cup.  Aberdeen defeated Dnipro on the away goals rule to progress (the first time Aberdeen had won on away goals in European football for 40 years).  They went on to beat F.C. Copenhagen 4–0, which was the biggest margin of victory and one of Pittodrie’s biggest crowds since the 1980s.  This set up a meeting with German giants Bayern Munich, which they lost 7–3 on aggregate after a 2–2 draw which saw Aberdeen lead twice in the first leg. Calderwood was sacked by Aberdeen on 24 May 2009, hours after he took the club to a fourth-place finish and back into Europe. Poor domestic cup performances were thought to be the reason for Calderwood’s dismissal.

Mark McGhee of Motherwell was appointed as Calderwood’s replacement in June 2009.  McGhee controversially dismissed Aberdeen legend and goalkeeping coach Jim Leighton in August 2009 and replaced him with Colin Meldrum.  Aberdeen suffered a 9–0 defeat to Celtic on 6 November 2010, their heaviest ever defeat. McGhee and his assistants were eventually sacked in December of that year.

Aberdeen approached Craig Brown, who was working without a contract at Motherwell, to replace McGhee. Brown initially rebuffed an offer, but after further discussions with the club Brown resigned as manager at Motherwell to be announced as the next manager at Aberdeen two days later.  The first act of the new management team of Brown and Archie Knoxwas to re-instate Leighton.  Aberdeen failed to produce better results under Craig Brown’s tenure, and in March 2013 he announced his retirement to take up a non-executive director role on the club’s board.

Jimmy Calderwood
Aberdeen FC logo gold

Derek McInnes

Derek McInnes was announced as the successor to Craig Brown in March 2013.  In McInnes’ first season as manager, Aberdeen won the 2013–14 Scottish League Cup after defeating Inverness 4–2 on penalties, their first trophy in 19 years.  Aberdeen finished third in the Scottish Premiership, and began the next season by coming through the early rounds of the Europa League, beating Dutch club FC Groningen before eventually being eliminated by Spanish side Real Sociedad.  The club ended the season in second place in both 2015 and 2016, their best league position since 1993–94. In recent seasons’ Europa League competitions, they were defeated in the third qualifying round twice: In 2015–16 by FC Kairat, and in 2016–17 by NK Maribor.

Aberdeen were league runners-up once more in 2016–17 and reached both cup finals, but were beaten 3–0 by Celtic in the League Cup and 2–1 by the same opponents (who thus completed a domestic treble and perfect season) in the Scottish Cup, echoing the outcome in 1992–93 when Aberdeen had finished second to Rangers in all competitions.

Derek McInnes
European Cup Winners Cup
UEFA CUP TIE ABERDEEN V FC COPENHAGEN , PITTODRIE STADIUM , ABERDEEN .....  ABERDEEN TEAM, CELEBRATE THEIR 4 NIL WIN
PIC DEREK IRONSIDE / NEWSLINE SCOTLAND
Aberdeen Hampden
Soul Spirit Tradition
European Cup Winners Cup
UEFA CUP TIE ABERDEEN V FC COPENHAGEN , PITTODRIE STADIUM , ABERDEEN .....  ABERDEEN TEAM, CELEBRATE THEIR 4 NIL WIN
PIC DEREK IRONSIDE / NEWSLINE SCOTLAND
Aberdeen Hampden
Soul Spirit Tradition

Testimonials

X