It would be an understatement to say that the Dons were in a state of turmoil
following the sacking of Alex Smith in February 1992. The hangover from the previous
season when the title was lost on the final day at Ibrox had lingered. Aberdeen
had dropped off the pace and had slipped to sixth place in the league, their
lowest position since the early days of the Premier League. There was also the
festering unrest amongst the support that had festered ever since the end of
the previous season.
It was to Willie Miller that the club turned to bring back the glory days.
Miller had already been groomed in charge of the young dons, albeit for the
shortest periods of time. The Dons legend had retired from the game after 20
glorious years as an Aberdeen player and his popularity amongst the support
was quite remarkable. It was hoped that Miller could take his success on the
field and in to the managers office. It was clear that the team needed strong
leadership and sure Miller would provide that. As a player and captain he was
a colossus - as a manager he was untried. In his short spell with the reserve
team he had already turned down two offers to go on to manage Arbroath and
Ayr Utd, who unsuccessfully tried to lure Miller into the lower leagues. It
was certainly a baptism of fire in his first game in charge at Ibrox, scene
of some of Willie Miller's finest moments leading the Dons.
Aberdeen displayed a show of true grit right out of the Miller manual by holding
Rangers to a 0-0 draw. The rest of the season was afforded to the new boss
to asses and look to strengthen the squad. Before the end of the season he
brought in former foe Mixu Paatelainen form Dundee Utd. Pittodrie was looking
strange with the Beach End demolished as Miller set out in his quest for honours
in 1992/93. He brought in two significant signings- first Roy Aitken was brought
in as player/coach. It was seen as a surprise move as Aitken had been the Celtic
captain that was never afraid to mix it up with the Dons in the past. His role
was primarily as assistant and the occasional appearance in the side. The physical
presence that Miller craved was also heightened when Duncan Shearer was bought
from Blackburn Rovers for £500,000. The firepower at Miller’s disposal
was frightening. With Shearer now in the side he also had Paatelainen and with
both Scott Booth and Eoin Jess emerging, it seemed goals would not be a problem
so it proved as the Dons set about scoring for fun and included in several
convincing wins was seven goals against Airdrie and Partick Thistle and a hapless
Hearts were also hit for six.
Under Miller Aberdeen were seen as the only challengers to Rangers after a
tragic deflection from Gary Smith ended the Dons hopes. The league race was
fought in a brave fashion and despite securing a record point’s haul
Miller's side could only finish as runners up. The Scottish Cup Final was also
another disappointment as Rangers once again squeezed past the Dons. It was
hard to take for Miller who had been so used to putting the Ibrox side to the
sword during his playing days.
The following season brought about another near miss, again, runners up to
Rangers in the league. It was unacceptable for Miller who could not accept
second best as good enough. The summer of 1994 was to prove crucial in both
the career of Willie Miller and the club. Aberdeen had parted company with
three of their stalwarts- Alex Smith left to take over at Motherwell, Bobby
Connor returned to his native Ayrshire and Jim Bett took up a coaching position
in Iceland. Miller brought in Billy Dodds, Colin Woodthorpe and Peter Heatherston
in a bold move to keep up the challenge.
It remains one of the most remarkable periods in the Dons history, as Aberdeen
never really recovered from a poor start to the 1994/95 season. Perhaps it
was all initiated in the UEFA Cup as Aberdeen went out to Latvian side Skonto
Riga in what was the clubs darkest hour in European football. The Dons never
really recovered from their Euro exit and for months were struggling at the
foot of the table. This was unheard of, as the Dons had been perennial challengers
ever since the Premier League began in 1975. In what was the first season that
three points were awarded for a win, Aberdeen struggled for long periods and
at one time looked certain to be relegated.
Miller was in unchartered territory. Aberdeen's troubles were never far away
from daily scrutiny in the media; the pressure was mounting on Willie Miller.
Were Aberdeen too good to go down? Not so it seemed. By February all looked
lost with the Dons rooted to the bottom . Panic had set in. The Dons had spent
big in an effort to challenge at the top but incredibly they found themselves
scraping and battling at the bottom.
Willie Miller and Aberdeen eventually parted company in dramatic circumstances
in February 1995, severing a 23-year association that had scaled unprecedented
heights as a player and plunged the depths as a manager. It was a sad end for
Miller, who had become a legend at Pittodrie and for all of their troubles
under Miller as a manager it is as a great captain and leader that Willie Miller
will be remembered as the greatest ever Don.