‘Gothenburg didn’t change my life’: John Hewitt reflects on Aberdeen’s finest hour

‘Gothenburg didn’t change my life’: John Hewitt reflects on Aberdeen’s finest hour

Hewitt was the hero during Aberdeen’s finest hour in Gothenburg 40 years ago. After settling for a place on the bench against Real Madrid, the striker entered the fray with just a few minutes of normal time left and with the score tied at one apiece. He was his team’s last throw of the dice; a Hail Mary introduced to allow Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to somehow seize the initiative against their illustrious opponents.

Boy, would he do just that. As the clock ticked into the 113th minute at the Nya Ullevi stadium, Hewitt would be presented with that one chance that he and his team-mates craved so desperately. Mark McGhee had found some space out wide, spotted Hewitt in the middle and drilled a low pass in towards his compatriot. The rest, as they say, is history – although he admits that some not-so-gentle cajoling from his manager on the sidelines played its part, too.

“He [Ferguson] was screaming at me to stay up the park,” Hewitt recalled. “He wanted me to keep a length to the game. But me just coming on, I wanted to get into the game as quickly as possible.

“I wanted touches of the ball and I found myself drifting back trying to get on it. But he was screaming ‘Get up the f****** park!’. Eventually, I took heed of what he was saying and did it.

“But I was concerned about getting myself into the game. You’re coming on and you’re not properly warmed up either. You saw the night it was, it was very wet and cold and the pitch was like a swimming pool. So it was difficult conditions.

READ MORE: Willie Miller explains how beating Bayern set Aberdeen up for glory in Gothenburg

“He never threatened to take me off – but it’s fair to say I heard him! I was trying to ignore him but then I thought I’d do what he was asking and move further forwards.”

It was a good thing, too. The Dons knew that a single moment of quality was all they needed and Hewitt was the man to provide it when that all-important opportunity arose. When McGhee clocked his team-mate and drilled the ball across to him, the striker had a few seconds to compose himself and devise a plan of attack.

Many players would get in their head at such a high-pressure moment, all-too-aware of the hefty consequences of a single kick of the ball. Hewitt admits that the significance of what he was about to do flashed across his mind.

“Well, yes and no,” he explained. “I had one eye on Mark and one eye on the goalkeeper. I was running in on goal on my own.

“Sometimes Mark had a tendency to double back and beat the guy again, but on this occasion he crossed it in sharply with his left foot. As the cross came in, I saw the flight of the ball and I saw the goalkeeper – he was stranded on his line.

“I thought he was very slow. If he’d been quicker he’d probably have intercepted the cross. But, when he didn’t move, and the ball was coming across, I thought to myself ‘He’s not getting to this and I need to direct it into the empty goal.’ That’s what I did.

HeraldScotland:

“The keeper eventually came for it, but he was too late. I was fully focused on the ball. If he’d clattered into me, fair enough. But he was rooted and when he did decide to move it was too late, the ball was past him.

He continued: “I’ve scored a lot of better goals than that. But, of course, it was obviously the most important goal.

“I’m still the last person to score a winning goal in a European final for a Scottish club, a Scotsman anyway. Also, the last one to score a winner against Real Madrid in a European final. That’s pretty hard to believe considering the amount of finals they’ve been in!

“I’m sure one day that record will go. But it’s still there and it’s still nice to be associated with that.

“I’m like everybody else, I watch the football and I look at the current Real Madrid side – to me they’re still the top side in Europe. Anybody who beats them will win the Champions League, I’m sure of it.”

That moment elevated Hewitt to legendary status in the Granite City. He was the ultimate example of a local boy done good, helping the team he had supported his entire life to the greatest honour in their history, but the sheer scale of what Aberdeen had achieved didn’t truly hit home until the team returned to Scotland and paraded the trophy in front of tens of thousands of ecstatic fans.

“It didn’t really strike us, the magnitude of our achievement, until the bus reached the top end of Union Street,” Hewitt recalled with a faraway look in his eye. “Then you saw the full length of Union Street a sea of red and white. There were people hanging out windows, their houses and offices. So, it was like ‘wow.’

“Then it started to sink in what we’d achieved the night before. After the game, because it was such a miserable night, it was pretty low-key. We went back to the Fars Hatt Motel on the outskirts of Gothenburg and in the middle of a forest. The wives came with us.

“We had something to eat there, the directors too. Then it was off to bed because we’d an early flight the next day back to Aberdeen. Some of the boys stayed up and had a few drinks but the majority of us went back to our beds.

“It wasn’t really a case of celebrating the win that night. Once we got back to Aberdeen, you’re seeing people on the airport roof and packing the streets, then we’re all thinking ‘wow.’

HeraldScotland:

“I still get asked the question. As you say, it’s 40 years ago, but even to this day there’s still people I’ll bump into on the street or I’ll see – I’ve never met them before – and they’ll say ‘How did it feel scoring the winner against Real Madrid?’. You’ve got to go through everything again.

“I didn’t really appreciate what I’d done, what we’d done, until we got back to the city the following day and saw hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets. Then it donned on me that I’d scored the winning goal the night before.

“It was crazy. I’ve never seen so many people in Aberdeen all my life. Union Street was a sea of red and white, King Street was a sea of red and white. And then even inside Pittodrie, they spilled onto the track-side, they were sitting on the gravel track. It was filled to the rims. It was just a special occasion.”

Playing such an important role in such an historic event might inflate the ego of your average footballer, but Hewitt remains refreshingly grounded about it all. His legacy is gargantuan in the city he still lives and works in but he is down-to-earth about his place in the grand scheme of history

“To be honest, I don’t think anything about it,” he says matter-of-factly. “It’s just normal. I’m just a local boy. I just get on with my day-to-day job.

“I supported the club as a kid and I still support the club. My work colleagues and friends know the situation. They know of my background. Now I’m working in oil and gas. It’s never been a problem for me at all. People have been quite welcoming, always saying ‘well done’ and ‘great achievement.’

“I was part of a very special group of boys managed by Sir Alex. He got the best out of us and filled us with belief we could go on to achieve great things – and we did.”

READ MORE: Owen Coyle on the hard graft Barry Robson put in to become instant Aberdeen success

He added: “Gothenburg didn’t change my life. As far as I’m concerned, it stayed the same. Obviously, I’m known as the player who scored the winning goal. But, it certainly hasn’t changed my life. I just got on with things normally.

“I kept playing until it was time for me to retire and then I started working like everybody else. Back in those days there wasn’t a lot of money in football. So it was basically a job.

“If we were playing with the same group of boys nowadays, achieving the same level of success, we’d all be millionaires. But back in the day, there wasn’t really money in football. It was a living and that was it. But it wasn’t so much about money – it was trying to achieve things.

“And we sure did that, winning leagues, Scottish Cups, League Cups, the Cup Winners Cup and the Super Cup, which people tend to forget. Officially, in 1983 we were the number one team in Europe and that was a great accolade.”

Video John Hewitt Goal v Real Madrid ~1983 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup Final

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