The air of inevitable despondency that surrounded Pittodrie following the departure
of Alex Ferguson and than Archie Knox to Manchester Utd in 1986 left a huge void.
Never before had the club been so successful and expectations were not surprisingly,
still high. The Dons had plundered their way through the 80's taking 3 League
titles, 4 Scottish Cups and 1League Cup win and of course the European Cup Winners
Cup and Super Cup. At no point in Scottish football history had any provincial
team amassed such a haul, eclipsing anything that had gone before. To assume
it was hard act to follow would be correct in the sense that the general feeling
was that the Dons had let their guard slip even in Fergie's last days at the
club. It is without doubt the Aberdeen success that triggered the Rangers' Souness
led revolution as the Ibrox pound was to gradually dictate the way the game was
Alex Ferguson had left a possible candidate with the Pittodrie board before
his departure suggesting that Hearts Sandy Jardine could be a replacement.
The Dons were never likely to go down that route of all the possible names
that were touted almost daily, it was a real surprise when Ian Porterfield
was announced as the Dons new manager. On 19th November 1986 Porterfield took
over and his first game in charge at Pittodrie was against Rangers. Davie Dodds
scored the decisive goal in the Dons 1-0 win. Porterfield was formerly a wing
half with Raith Rovers, Reading, Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday. His claim
to fame during his playing career was scoring the winning goal in the 1973
FA Cup Final as the Wearsiders caused one of the most dramatic cup shocks of
all time. Leeds Utd had been one of the hottest favourites for many years but
it was a spectacular goal from Porterfield that took the cup to the North East
of England. After finishing his playing career he went in to management with
Rotherham Utd and then on to Sheffield Utd. It was at Bramall Lane in 1981
and 1982 that he took the Blades to the fourth and third divisions in successive
Ian Porterfield looked forward to the challenge and was acutely aware of the
task in hand- "It is a tremendous privilege to be given the job of managing
a club of such stature. I was very heartened to receive the welcome afforded
to me before the Rangers game, my first fixture in charge. It has been pointed
out that because I have not been associated with Scottish football in recent
times, there must be gaps in my knowledge about teams and players. Obviously
there is some truth in that, but we have an experienced team here and I take
the view that football principles are the same, wherever you play." The
Task ahead of Porterfield was always going to be a formidable one and he was
certainly allowed time to settle in to the job. Season 1986/87 was virtually
written off as he took stock of his squad. Aberdeen finished in fourth place,
a poor return given their recent form but generally that was accepted given
the difficult circumstances. What did become clear during the summer was that
a lot was expected from Porterfield's side that year. An extended honeymoon
period had been long enough it seemed. What was concern was the drop in goals
scored although the defence was a strong as ever.
Porterfield appointed his good friend Jimmy Mullen as assistant and he too
admitted limited knowledge of the Scottish game. The team prepared for the
new 1987/88 season in Devon and the Dons boss had used his extensive contacts
in the English league to bring in some new players. What was perhaps crucial
was the calibre of talent that was taken in. Certainly Peter Nicholas arrived
with a proven pedigree. He was the Welsh captain and experienced at the top
level in England. Nicholas added a bite in the middle and was to prove a real
asset. However, it was some of the other new arrivals that was to eventually
prove costly. Porterfield brought in Gary Hackett from Shrewsbury; a winger
that had potential but was far from the finished article.
The Dons had lost Billy Stark to Celtic and further unrest ensued when the
Aberdeen manager did not favour both John Hewitt and Peter Weir. Tom Jones
a signing from non-league side Weymouth also arrived and neither he nor Hackett
were in the class of Weir and Hewitt. His one signing who did show up well
was Peter Nicholas who got off to a flier, scoring a superb goal against Rangers
in the Dons fine 2-0 win.
Ian Porterfield's one big opportunity to keep silverware coming to Pittodrie
was in the 1987 League Sup Final. The game against Rangers was a classic and
it was only after the unfortunate Nicholas missed a penalty in a dramatic shoot
out that Aberdeen lost. The game itself served up all that was good in Scottish
football a 3-3 draw after extra time went down as one of the greatest ever
finals staged at Hampden. From that point on things went rapidly downhill for
the Aberdeen manager for the Aberdeen manger.
Unrest was rife as Weir was shipped out and the goal drought could not be
halted even though the experienced Keith Edwards was drafted in to the side.
In hindsight it was perhaps Ian Porterfield's activity in the transfer market
that offered an insight into the problems that were created at the club. Aberdeen
supporters looked on incredulously as his signings flattered to deceive and
some of the tried and trusted that had helped the Dons to unprecedented glory
were shipped out. The exception was the two Nicholas's that were brought in.
Charlie of previous Celtic fame was taken to Pittodrie in the New Year and
gradually brought a sparkle to the side, but it came too late for Porterfield.
By the end of his first full season in charge it soon became clear that Ian
Porterfield had failed to come even close to the standards that had been set.
Problems away from the club also contrived his downfall. Days after the Dons
last game against Motherwell; Ian Porterfield resigned as Aberdeen manager.