Over the last one hundred years or so Aberdeen Football Club could well be used as an archetypal blueprint of how to run a football well. Formed in 1903 from a prudent merger of Victoria United, Orion and the existing Aberdeen club, the empowered merged club made big strides. Aberdeen’s own ground at Pittodrie, their home since 1899, was chosen as headquarters and design and innovation became part and parcel of this progressive club.
The existing main stand on the Pittodrie Street side of the ground was opened in 1925, financed by the sale of Alec Jackson to HuddersfieldTown. Built in the style of Archibald Leitch’s finest grandstands, it boasted the vaulted roof and now sadly lost roof gable. As it approaches its own centenary the stand has been modernised with the erstwhile plastic seating and a sympathetic re-cladding of the roof is two-thirds complete. It is an impressive modernisation, losing none of its authenticity and age, the vintage signage, the complex roof trusses and cramped leg room are all still amply in evidence.
The club who bought dug-outs to an astonished football world now has simple planked benches for coaching staff and substitutes. Long gone are the 1928 dug-outs invented by then coach Donald Coleman, an obsessive of foot movement and a copious note taker, he wanted a sunken dry area to watch the feet and movement of his charges. His idea caught on around the globe.
The Merkland Road End boasts the fine granite entrance built in 1928. Some would say granite is a dark and sombre building material, however this beautifully symmetrical gateway will stand strong against the elements for as long as the current board wish to stay at Pittodrie. A stadium in the Granite City would be naked without liberal use of the tough igneous rock. The South Stand was covered in 1980 its cantilevered roof costing a not inconsiderable £750,000 and leaving many seats uncovered. However, the seating of this side of the ground in 1978 saw Aberdeen taking the learning from the 1975 Safety of Sports Ground Act and gain a considerable fiscal advantage of its procrastinating rivals. While competitors buried their heads and were later forced into mortgaging the family silver in the 1990’s to foot the cost of redevelopment, Pittodrie matured at a sensible pace. In tune with the prodigious domestic and European success of the Dons under Alex Ferguson, Pittodrie saw gradual improvements. In 1985, £500,000 saw the Merkland Road End re-roofed and two years later a very sensible £100,000 went on undersoil heating in this notoriously cold North Sea citadel.
In August 1993 Princess Anne opened the giant double tier East or Sea End stand. Costing a considerable £4.5 million, the Richard Donald Stand, named after a club stalwart, was not without controversy. Dwarfing its three neighbouring stands, locals complained it was too big and would even be seen in Norway. It is undoubtedly vast and also incongruously modern compared to the other stands, but it took the stadium into the 21st century for spectator comfort and safety. However, for the first time in 90 years the cost of the project also took the club into debt. In typical foresightedness and penchant for thriftiness, the board issued shares which allowed the club to re-finance and plan for the future.
Fast forward to 2013 and The Dons find themselves at a pivotal crossroad in their history. Energy and funds are being thrown towards a potential move to Loirston Lock while little is being spent on the team and the current ground. The Pittodrie pitch is in a terrible state, a groundstaff allegedly being forced to work with a tiny budget, and the turf not recovering from an autumn battering at the hands (and feet) of Scotland and Tonga’s finest rugby players. A football international against Estonia in midweek has left the pitch muddy and devoid of grass in several areas. The current squad is a distant relation to halcyon days under Ferguson.
The two combatants expend copious energy over the course of the game but achieve little of note. Technique desert both sides and chances are in short supply. The Dons Mark Reynolds is dismissed in the second half for a handball, a harsh but “letter-of-the-law” second yellow card. The locals are incensed at the perceived injustice and the vent their anger at every subsequent decision that goes against them. The visitors forward Goncalves misses the best chance of the game toward the end of the game, slicing wide with a gaping goal at his mercy. It was a suitable microcosm of a game low on quality and bereft of skill. The 15,000 empty seats tell their own story. Arguably the warmest reception of the day was saved for Ryder Cup winning golfer Paul Lawrie, parading the glistening trophy around the pitch at half time.
An intransigent city council may well sound the death knell for the embryonic move to the south of the city, but if the club do stay at Pittodrie the club has a home more than fit for the modern era and the club’s current needs.
Aberdeen (0)0 St.Mirren (0)0
1. Jamie Langfield; 23. Joe O’Shaughessy; 3. Clark Robertson; 4. Russell Anderson (c); 22. Mark Reynolds; 5. Gavin Rae; 16. Isaac Osbourne; 18. Stephen Hughes; 10. Niall McGinn; 11. Jonathan Hayes; 15. Peter Pawlett.
Subs: 8. Rob Milsom; 9.Scott Vernon (for 18, 71mins); 13. Nicky Low; 14. Rory Fallon; 20. Dan Twardzik; 21. Josh Magennis (for 2, 67 mins); 38. Cammy Smith (for 15, 75 mins).
1. Craig Samson; 23. David Barron; 3. Paul Dummett; 6. Jim Goodwin (c); 14. Marc McAusland; 17. Kenny McLean; 21. Gary Teale; 24. Conor Newton; 10. Paul McGowan; 77. Esmael Goncalves; 9. Steven Thompson.
Subs: 2. David Van Zanten; 5. Lee Mair; 7. Dougie Imrie; 11. Graham Carey (for 17, 90 mins); 16. Grant Adam; 19. Sam Parkin; 27. Lewis Guy.
Yellow Cards: Osbourne, Reynolds (Aberdeen); Goodwin, McLean and Newton (St.Mirren)
Red Card: Reynolds (Aberdeen)