- in Science
Alex Ferguson’s team talk in the Aberdeen dressing room was short and straight to point. Frank McDougall remembers six key words.
“Just go out and be heroes.”
The date was 4 May, 1985 and Ferguson’s Aberdeen were within touching distance of the Scottish League Championship with a game to spare. As it transpired, there were plenty heroes on that day as the team from the North East of Scotland pulverised Hearts 3-0, but perhaps none more so than McDougall.
For it was his hat-trick that proved pivotal on the day to delivering the top-flight title, with it becoming the last time the trophy would reside anywhere other than Celtic Park or Ibrox.
Thirty five years to the day, McDougall tells BBC Scotland about his journey to one memorable afternoon in May…
- May 1 – Dundee humble Milan in European Cup
- May 2 – Dundee Utd relegated at home of rivals
- May 3: Celtic, conspiracy & Connolly – When Kidd broke Hearts
A decent proposal in a Perth hotel room
Ferguson’s pre-match pep talk in the bowels of the iconic Tynecastle main stand was a verbal salvo almost as blunt as the one the Pittodrie manager had let off the previous summer when McDougall first joined Aberdeen.
Following five years at Love Street leading the line for St Mirren, the club he had joined for a Scottish record of £150,000 from Clydebank in 1979, a rendezvous in Perthshire awaited him.
“I went up to a hotel in Perth to meet him,” explained McDougall. “I asked what room Mr Ferguson was in. I chapped the door.
“Who is it?’, he asked. ‘It’s Frank McDougall’, I replied. He then said ‘Come in… sit here and sign that’.
“I then asked how much was I getting, and he just replied ‘Sign that ……or there’s the door’.”
McDougall did of course sign, joining distinguished company.
“I’d been five years at St Mirren and there were some great players there. But when you go up to Aberdeen and see Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, Jim Leighton ,Peter Weir, Eric Black, Jim Bett, Billy Stark, John Hewitt, Neil Simpson, Neale Cooper, they were top, top players.”
“I think big Alex [Mcleish] convinced Fergie to sign me. I think Fergie had watched me for a while, but he went up to Mcleish and asked him who he feared most and he said ‘McDougall – just sign him’, so I have been told.”
‘Where’s your win bonus?’
It was the Hearts defence, including future Scotland manager Craig Levein, that McDougall struck fear into back in May 1985.
Ferguson’s Aberdeen travelled to Tynecastle on 4 May knowing they were 90 minutes – and a victory – away from securing their second-straight league title. While their crown was effectively clinched the week before in a 1-1 draw with second-placed Celtic, a dominant display against a lower-table Hearts put any ambiguity out of sight.
Hearts were on the receiving end of a McDougall masterclass with three strikes in a quarter-of-an-hour period in the first half.
The first on 21 minutes – his 21st of the season – was a left-foot finish, the second a prod home from a rebound after a purple passage of play involving McLeish, Hewitt, Stark and Simpson. The hat-trick was rounded off with a goal match commentator Jock Brown described as “as spectacular a goal as you’ll ever see”.
“Levein had to be screwed out of the ground that day,” laughs McDougall. ”When I scored the third I said to him, where’s your bonus?”
“I thought at the time that I personally and Aberdeen would go on to win many more.”
‘Can you imagine being drunk in a game under Fergie?’
With 24 goals netted in his debut season, a further 20 rained in for McDougall the following campaign on the way to a Scottish League Cup and Scottish Cup double.
He also scored all four goals for Aberdeen in a 4-1 league win over Celtic in November of the title-winning campaign, which he considers to be the best performance of his career. Although none of the goals were captured for posterity.
“We got there and the cameras were there, but before kick off there was a strike. So it was never filmed,” he says. “My family disowned me after that, they were all big Celtic supporters,” he says.
“There’s a myth in Aberdeen that I was drunk when I scored four against Celtic. Can you imagine anybody being drunk in a game under Fergie? If anyone asks though I just say that if I was sober I would have scored 10!”
The days of McDougall’s goal-scoring heroics would, however, turn out to be numbered as a back problem forced the forward to retire before his 30th birthday.
“The guy just said I’m sorry Frank I don’t think you’ll play again,” he said.
“Maybe in the modern day with all the sport science I’d have been able to play on. Back then my idea of sport science was a couple of pints of lager after training and a vindaloo.
“If I’d stayed fit I’d have broken all goal-scoring records at Aberdeen and I’m not too sure but Fergie might have taken me to Manchester United.”
The two were reunited some time later at United’s training ground.
“There must have been two or three thousand people there. Fergie must have seen me and said let me in. We had our photos taken with big Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister. Then Fergie came in with [Eric] Cantona and Choccy [Brian] McClair.
“He turned and said to them, now there’s a proper striker.”