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Come On You Reds!

Come On You Reds!

It was party time in Aberdeen today as we celebrated last week’s League Cup Final win. Daniel was in celebratory mood too! Come on you Reds!

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A First Away Day is a Huge Success

As I posted the other day, Daniel and I were preparing for his first football away day at the League Cup Final yesterday. He had his clothes sorted out on Saturday evening, and by 715am, were ready to go! To give ourselves plenty of time to get there, get parked and get to the ground, left at 725 and were on our way. We arrived in good time for a McDonald’s breakfast, which was a must for Daniel!

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Breakfast was consumed, and we were on our way through the city centre. Daniel was delighted to take in a bit of street theatre with a puppet show, which tickled his fancy.

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Getting down there early certainly gave it all a feel of a big day out. Its a long time since I’ve been in Glasgow, and Daniel was enjoying what it had to offer. But puppet show or not, he was keen to get round to Celtic Park. I’d promised him a burger from the proliferation of burger vans that are present at any Cup Final, so it was on the number 43 bus down to the ground. No shopping around for us, and the first van we encountered was good enough. I think it was too close to breakfast for Daniel to do it full justice, but the majority of the burger was consumed. We’d got there very early, but the ground was already busy with fans waiting to get in. We managed a little treat and were on hand for the Aberdeen team arriving. Daniel was thrilled to see Russell Anderson pass right by him!

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Not long after that, the gates opened, and we were in. Daniel was overawed by the size of Celtic Park, but was keen for the game to get underway. He was none too pleased when I told him there was over an hour to go! Still, it passed quickly enough, and it was game on.

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The game took a bit of a downturn when after complaining of a sore tummy, Daniel decided to be very sick. Thankfully our seats were right at the end of a row and right beside an exit. He didn’t quite make it to the toilet, but at least wasn’t sick over anyone! He’d gone and picked up Matthew’s tummy bug, which had been a concern for me. He made it through the game though, and was thrilled to see Russell Anderson with the League Cup in his hands. Sickness or not, the day was suddenly worthwhile.

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We were both on cloud nine after the win, and I think that alleviated Daniel’s suffering. He was wilting though. While we were waiting for the bus back to the City Centre, he actually dozed off at the bus stop! This was after being sick again though, and it was clear that our plan to meet my brother for dinner were going to have to be abandoned. Despite the late call off, Daniel’s uncle was fine with it (he was staying in a city centre hotel) as Daniel was obviously unwell. In the spirit of sharing, Matthew also passed on his bug to me, so by the time we were back at the car, I was feeling unwell! But, he wanted to go home, and so did I. The odd mishap got in the way – such as us both being sick while we negotiated the M80. Being sick into a bag while doing 60mph in heavy traffic isn’t to be recommended! The journey home was the low point of the day. A trip that should have taken 2.5 – 3 hours took us a whopping 5 hours. It was horrendous – worse when all you want to do is get to bed and fall asleep. Not wise when you’re behind the wheel!

Still, we made it home in one piece just after midnight, and despite Daniel being unwell and tired, he was still excited enough to tell Mummy that being poorly wasn’t good Aberdeen had won the cup. Despite the downs of the day, winning a Cup Final is always a terrific tonic, and ultimately it was a massive success. He can’t wait to a hoped for Scottish Cup Final appearance now!

Getting Ready For A First Away Day

Sunday is the biggest day Aberdeen fans have seen since the 2000 Scottish Cup Final. We’re back in the final again, and there’s going to be a massive exodus from Aberdeen for the game on Sunday. This last couple of seasons, Daniel has started coming to games with me. The freebie under 12 season ticket that came with mine seemed a great idea – it has meant that Daniel can pick and choose the games he goes to. As time has passed, he’s gained a much greater understanding of what’s happening out on the pitch. He’s becoming a fan.

When the semi final came around, I’d told him that if we won the game, we’d have a cup final on our hands. I couldn’t wait to get a ticket – I’ve not been to many away games since the boys came along, but I’d been to a lot over the last 40 years, so I’ve paid my dues and to me that justified getting a ticket. When the game was won, Daniel demanded a ticket. I’d decided to take him if we made it, and we’re almost ready for the off. As the day has gotten closer, the more excited Daniel has become. Going to games is a bit of an ordeal for him thanks to his Aspergers. Loud noises are a bit of sensory overload for him, but he’s ready for the tumult on Sunday. Thankfully he’s recovered from the op on his knees 3 weeks ago, although we’ll have his crutches on Sunday. He’s not been able to bath or shower for fear of infecting the wounds, but he can now, and he wants to bath daily so he’s clean for the Cup Final!

We’re driving down, so I’ve told him we’ll get an early start so we can get to Glasgow city centre nice and early. There’s the promise of breakfast at McDonalds on Sauchiehall Street to get him through the early start and long journey! The plan is to get there early enough to park then take our time to get down to Ingram Street for the bus down to Celtic Park. Thankfully there’s a stop in both directions right outside Celtic Park, so he won’t have to walk far at all. I’ve promised him burger and chips from the no-doubt numerous burger vans that are always on Cup Final duty. The bus back is just a 2 minute walk from the ground, so all being well (and no extra time!) we’ll be back in the city centre by 545pm.

Another little boost for Daniel is my brother is back home from Saudi Arabia for a couple of weeks. He’s going to be in Glasgow this weekend, so we’re meeting him for dinner at TGI Friday’s after the game. The restaurant is just a couple of hundred metres from the bus stop in the city centre, so a short walk for a big feed! He’ll be a tired little man when we get home – all being well, we’ll be home by 10ish – but if we see Russell Anderson lifting the League Cup on Sunday, it will be all worth the effort. COME ON YOU REDS!

Progessing Nicely

When Derek McInnes took over from Craig Brown towards the end of the season, fans were happy with the switch. McInnes said all the right things and binning the likes of Stephen Hughes & Rory Fallon were smart moves. But we’d seen it all before. A change in manager, a short uplift in performances before it was normal service resumed. This time, its different. McInnes made some astute signings in Willo Flood & Barry Robson, although the jury is very much out on Calvin Zola.

He’s got a great mix of experience & youth, and has developed a fantastic team spirit. Only 1 point from 6 after the glorious thrashing of Falkirk in the League Cup would have seen the wheels come off in recent seasons, but they were followed up with a terrific fighting performance against United and an exciting display at Hibs yesterday. The recovery from the Ross County game was completed with a flowing attacking display at Easter Road. We’ve got a completely different team from the one McInnes inherited. I don’t mean in terms of personnel, but in terms of attitude. There’s a fantastic amount of fight and energy in midfield, largely due to Willo Flood. He’s non-stop, and is a brilliant anchor man. He’s freeing up Ryan Jack – who himself would make a good anchor man – and letting Johnny Hayes push on. He’s also let Peter Pawlett express himself at last. I had the feeling the Pawlett was in danger of missing the boat regarding his potential. He seemed to be drifting out of the picture at Pittodrie, but has been in excellent form this season. His direct running is a huge threat for us. We’ve got great pace and skill wide now with Pawlett, Hayes, McGinn and Wylde.

What’s been most encouraging is how the team has coped when Flood and Robson were out injured. Cammy Smith continues to develop superbly. McInnes is handling him well, and his appearances were well spread out and he’s benefitting from that. Nicky Low is in the same boat. His fantastic energy could make a brilliant midfield three with Flood and Jack that would feed Hayes, Pawlett and McGinn. Zola remains a bit of an enigma. His height and physical presence should be adding something to the team, and a target man would be great for McGinn. Despite some flashes, he’s been a bit disappointing, and a long run for the resurgent Scott Vernon would be a smart move.

Vernon’s confidence was absolutely shattered by Craig Brown’s bizarre decision to play him in a central midfield role. But his hat-trick at Falkirk, and his goal (and assist) yesterday showed he’s definitely still got it as a striker for us. He’s shown interest in renewing his contract, and it would be a good move to go for that on our part. We could continue to gradually introduce Cammy Smith and Declan McManus to the team. With these young lads and the more experienced pros, we’ve now got a threatening team indeed. After a great performance and win yesterday, we’re not wanting to dwell on the game, but can’t wait til the Partick game. McInnes has got us into a good spot. Home games against Partick Thistle then Hearts could have us in a brilliant position for a trip to Celtic Park, where we really can judge our progress.

We could do with scoring a few more, although 14 from 11 games isn’t too bad. Defensively we’re excellent. The divisive figure of Jamie Langfield and a settled back four have only conceded 8 goals this season, 6 of those coming in our first 4 games. Two conceded in our last 7 is superb work. I think most are agreed our strongest back four is Shaughnessy, Considine, Hector & Reynolds. Signing Hector up for at least the rest of the season would be good work. Reynolds though has been our most consistent performer at the back. Getting such an experience SPL defender signed up for 4 years was superbly done. His pace can get him out of a few tight spots and he should be first on the team sheet. Russell Anderson has been decent, but his lack of pace really has caught up with him, and his first team appearances need to be reduced. Get our best back four on the pitch with Flood shielding them will not only make us stronger defensively, but will give our attacking players much more freedom. Get the back 4/5 to keep their shape and let the front 5 switch positions, we should be able to keep possession better, and create good chances for McGinn/Vernon/Zola.

This season has the potential to be an exciting one for us for a change. Maybe this time we’ll actually deliver.

Season Start for Daniel

Yesterday was the start of the Scottish Football Season for Aberdeen fans, with the first competitive game of the season at home to Kilmarnock. Last season, Aberdeen were giving out a free under 12 season ticket with every adult season ticket bought. As I was taking a season ticket as usual, I thought I’d take the U12 one, in case Matthew or Daniel wanted to come along. Matthew wasn’t (and isn’t) to interested, but Daniel wanted to come along, just to see what I got up to when I went to football ( https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/football-crazy/) He only came to a couple of games, but it at least got him started.

Yesterday, he was unsure. Initially he said he wanted to go. I said to tell me by 1230pm as I’d walk to the park and ride (its about an hour’s walk, and the bus leaves an hour before kick off (2pm yesterday)) It was a go from Daniel. Then at 115pm, he says he’d changed his mind! It meant I couldn’t avoid taking the car. But just as I was getting ready to go out, he said he’d go. He was dressed and keen to go out, so given it was 140pm, it was a bit of a rush to make it to the park and ride. I think part of his reluctance was the fact we’ve had long walks to and from getting the bus to games in the past. But using park and ride meant taking the car, getting on a bus after a 30 metre walk, then getting dropped off right at the ground. Its a great service. We were there at 230pm. Early enough to soak up the atmosphere and excitement, but close enough to kick off that he’d not lose interest.

Daniel was excellent. His seat is immediately in front of mine (there are a lot of season tickets around where my friend and I sit, so it was a bit of luck getting one so close by) and it was a good view of the pitch. He was excited, and knew what was going on. He sat still as the Kilmarnock team was announced, but when it came to Aberdeen, he would bounce on his seat as each player was announced. He asked which end Aberdeen would be shooting at, so when the game kicked off, he was glued to the Kilmarnock goal! He was quiet, which was no surprise. He was surrounded by people he didn’t know, it was noisy and it was colourful. He was obviously watching the play though as his head was moving, following the ball.

As the game progressed, he became slightly agitated, but continued to follow the game. After a while, he wanted the toilet. Just as I was about to lift him over the seats to go, Aberdeen scored. His excitement was amazing to see. His face was beaming. He’d seen the first goal of the season, and was thrilled. The second goal didn’t get quite the same reaction, but he was satisfied with the fact we’d scored again. Josh Magennis’s missing of a sitter when it was 2-0 confused him though. “Is that 3-0 now?” He couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in either. Kilmarnock’s goal had him worried. I think that was down to the fact I’d said we’d all bounce on the trampoline if we won the game! We saw the game out though, and we left with Daniel happy.

There was a spring in his step as we left, although a lot of that was down to us just having to walk 2 minutes to get the bus back to the car! He wasn’t so tired though as a result. The park and ride is a great service, as it meant Daniel would be more awake, and would enjoy the game more, so it was a success from that point of view. He was certainly calmer and followed the game more. Did he want to go back? Next game is against Celtic, and the thought of playing the biggest team in the league excited him. I might get tickets for the family stand (you can move your seat if you want to on a game by game basis at no cost) as the Celtic fans stand making it difficult for a little lad to see the goal to our right. I’ll be popping round to Pittodrie this week then to do that, then in 2 weeks, it will be game time again for me and my aspie!

Season’s End

Its all over then for another season. An 8th place finish only the most marginal of improvements on last season, although thanks to the SPL’s nonsensical split, we’ve ended up with more points than United. Time to ditch the split really, but that’s another story. But, yet again it was another season of disappointment for Aberdeen.

Craig Brown started the season with a very decent squad. We added Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes, both excellent signings. We had a number of very promising young players in the squad. With the league being so tight, it was a squad that should have been eyeing up a Europa League spot. But it all went so horribly wrong again. Where to point the finger? Surely that is pointing right at Craig Brown. Stewart Milne backed him, which resulted in McGinn and Hayes, but as will teams he’s managed in the past, it was his reliance on veteran players that was his – and our – downfall. Gavin Rae is a decent player, but his now lack of pace means he’s unable to control games as he once could have. Then of course there was Stephen Hughes. Maybe when we were linked with him a few seasons ago, he was up to it. But now? Terrible lack of pace and any attacking intent. Every time he was in the team, he affected us negatively. But he was one of Brown’s favourites. To our detriment. We had Nicky Low and Jamie Masson available to fill a midfield role, but even when Hughes and/or Osbourne were absent, incredibly Brown turned to Scott Vernon to fill the midfield. Vernon gave his best, but he’s totally unsuited to a midfield role, and it showed. We lacked any real creative spark in midfield, made all the worse when Ryan Fraser left.

A lot was put on the shoulders of Hayes, and I wonder if that affected him. Hayes is a fine player who is one of the few we’ve got that can change a game. But I thought he had an average season overall. He seemed to get hooked by Brown – or even benched – a lot. Did it affect his confidence? Still, he contributed to the overall effort, and we’d have been a lot worse without him. If we landed a player capable of playing on the right wing anywhere near the talent of Ryan Fraser, it would give us great balance that we’re lacking at the moment. Pawlett hasn’t really impressed me to be honest, and I”m not sure he’s the answer. It would take the pressure off Hayes to create.

But, we also lack any creative spark in the centre of midfield. We’ve got great young lads available, but this season, the central midfield partnership of Rae and Hughes was woefully slow, and added nothing attacking wise. Nicky Low seems an obvious choice to fill one of those spots. He’s an energetic, combative player who reminds me of Neil Simpson. If he’s anywhere near as good, we’ll all be delighted. The other spot? Not sure it would be a good idea to fill the central midfield with two young lads. Cammy Smith – although a forward – is tempting, but I think we need to look elsewhere for quality experience. Willo Flood is being linked, and would help us. But links with Murray Davidson are exciting. He’d be my first choice to partner Low, with Masson and Storrie providing back up. Its clear we are needing help in midfield, despite that area looking strong at the start of the season. But the fact McInnes has moved on Rae, Hughes, Osbourne and Milsom says Brown maybe got it wrong there. There’s also the prospect of Ryan Jack in midfield, and it might be that McInnes will move Jack into midfield, leaving Low to provide support – unless he goes with a 3-man back line with 3 central midfielders. Low, Jack, Davidson? Sounds decent.

Upfront – despite the overall lack of goals – doesn’t look too bad. I think the lack of goals can be attributed to the lack of midfield supply, Brown’s unwillingness to use McManus and Smith more often and the complete loss of confidence from Scott Vernon. Vernon is still capable of scoring, and we’ve got good support there for the brilliant McGinn. Declan McManus has the look of Craig Bellamy, and there’s surely goals in him if he gets the chance. McInnes seems a manager who realises that we have no option but to turn to youth. Its encouraging that he’s decided on quality over quantity when it comes to signings this summer, and that he’ll turn to youth. McManus had a superb season an youth level, and found goals easy to come by. It’ll be tougher in the SPL, but he’s confident and is a livewire with great composure. He’s got a great attacking instinct to get in the right places, and could be a good foil to McGinn, who  has a tendency to drift out wide. Maybe that’ll be fixed if we get better balance to the midfield, although McGinn must be a nightmare for central defenders. A player with 22 goals who drifts out wide. What do you do? Go with him? Let the fullback pick him up, leaving Hayes free?

Speaking of McGinn, it was a great signing by Brown. 22 goals – 20 of them in the SPL – is terrific, considering he missed a good few weeks at the start of the season. His goals certainly saved us this season. But the frustrating thing is that it should have been better. All the things I’ve mentioned about the reliance on veterans, failure to use the young players – it strangled us offensively. Let’s say we had another forward who could have chipped in 15 goals? And a midfielder with 10? We’d have been top six for sure, and would have been right in it for the Europa League. My overall thought is that Brown assembled a decent squad, but just didn’t have the daring to use it properly. Another top forward would be nice though, despite the promise of McManus and Smith. A cheeky bid for Leigh Griffiths in the summer? Wouldn’t say no to that!

Still, despite the clear out started by McInnes, I think next season is looking good. I expect to see more of Low, McManus and Smith. Links with Flood and Davidson would add quality to the midfield. Then there’s the prospect of Craig Gordon that apparently McInnes is interested in signing. Langfield has taken a lot of flak, but there are few keepers in the SPL better than him. Randolph and Forster maybe? But he’s been untouchable thanks to any lack of competition. Jason Brown was decent, and in hindsight I’d have stuck with him at the club and then released him now. Twardzik was a strange signing. Brown has him on trial, and takes him back a second time – what for? McInnes looks at him and sees a player who “needs exposure to the lower leagues” – i.e. not a player good enough for Aberdeen. Gordon’s experience and quality would really add to the squad, and would give us a great 1-2 in goals. Langfield would really be pushed to retain is starting spot. I’m sure he’d relish the challenge.

I’d give us a C  for this season – maybe slightly generous, although we did show flashes at times, and competed well with Celtic, Hearts and United. Despite the brilliant seasons Caley and Ross County had, its those three – and Motherwell – we need to be judging ourselves on. We’re in a decent position considering the young players we have, and with the right quality we could be dangerous. I’ve liked the way McInnes has started. He’s moved on the players none of us could see contributing, and is going about the rebuild in the right manner. I’ll be snapping up my season ticket in anticipation of a good season in 2013/14. This time round, I’m optimistic enough to think I won’t be disappointed.

My Meeting with Sir Alex

I’ve been an Aberdeen fan for 40 years now, and although Sir Alex Ferguson went and blotted his copy book by joining Man United, to me he is still a legend. His achievements at Old Trafford can’t be overlooked, and won’t be equalled, but the resources he’s had at his disposal made it all possible. It will always be his time at Aberdeen that will define his career for me. Taking a small provincial Scottish club to the heights of beating the greatest club side in the world in a major UEFA competition – then seeing off European Champions Hamburg a few months later – it was a staggering achievement.

But, my favourite memory of Sir Alex isn’t one that came as a result of Aberdeen’s achievements on the pitch. No. It happened 2 years before our fateful date with Real Madrid when we faced defending UEFA Cup holders Ipswich. As holders, they no doubt though we’d be no opposition to them, but after a 0-0 draw at Portman Road, they knew they were in for a real test at Pittodrie. The night before the game, I had gone round to my best friend’s house. He stayed just a couple of minutes walk from Pittodrie, and as the lights were on, we thought we’d go round and see what was going on. There were plenty of cars outside the ground, so what was it? Well, it was obvious – it was an Ipswich training session before the game itself. We managed to get over the wall at the players’ entrance and we were in!

We made our way round the back of the old Beach End enclosure and went right to the back. Right enough, Ipswich were going through a training session, so we thought, let’s hang around and watch. There were dozens of people watching of course, so we thought it was an open session, so decided to head to the front to get a closer look. This was great! It wasn’t long before we were spotted of course. Alex Ferguson saw us, and our hearts were in our mouths when he said, “Lads, come here a minute” – we were meeting Alex Ferguson! Could the night get any better? He continued, “Follow me” – I can remember Neale Cooper in particular laughing at Fergie sorting out two young lads. We headed down the tunnel with him (excitement rising) then down a corridor when he stopped. “See that door at the end” he asked. “Yes” we said, thinking he was giving us a tour! “Well, close it behind you!” We were getting thrown out of Pittodrie by Fergie himself! Being kicked out couldn’t take the edge of our excitement. I wonder if he gave it the personal touch to leave us with an experience we’d not forget. He could have had anybody kick us out, but did it himself. I’ll never forget the encounter.

The following night was just as good – two goals from the sensational Peter Weir gave us a 3-1 win over the holders. We played them off the pitch and were comprehensive winners. The next 5 years were unforgettable for Aberdeen fans. 2 league titles, 4 Scottish Cups, 1 League Cup, and of course the Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup. All thanks to British football’s greatest ever manager. He’ll be remembered for the stunning on-field success he had at Pittodrie and Old Trafford, but I’ll always remember the personal touch of the man who took the time for 2 young fans. Sir Alex, you are a legend.