As a plain-speaking Fifer whose playing style was often described as uncompromising, it is no surprise to find that Doug Rougvie has little interest in delivering well-polished anecdotes.
Ostensibly, he was recruited yesterday by the sponsors of the Scottish Cup to speak about Aberdeen’s quarter-final with Dumbarton, which takes place tomorrow afternoon at Pittodrie. Instead, he is remembering the time he took the famous old trophy to bed, for a “threesome” with him and his wife.
It would be foolish in any case to restrict Rougvie to just one subject, particularly since he has been a lot less visible in recent times. While in the process of compiling his book ahead of last year’s 25th anniversary of Aberdeen’s Cup Winners’ Cup final win, author Richard Gordon quickly learned that Rougvie was the hardest of the Gothenburg heroes to find. “He’s too big to be lost!” Gordon exclaimed on Twitter as he sought to discover Rougvie’s whereabouts.
But here he is in Aberdeen, as large as life. Still tall, still sinewy slim; the toothless warrior of old. He played his last competitive game of football aged 45 for Cove Rangers. Now 57, he still turns out for games of fives from time to time. As recently as 2012 he trod upon the Pittodrie turf once more, coming on as substitute in Neil Simpson’s benefit game. So he hasn’t gone completely to ground. It is just that unlike many from that famous team, he is not involved in football any longer.
Unlike many of Fergie’s fledglings, he is not managing or coaching. Not any longer, at least (Rougvie had stints in charge of Montrose and Huntly in the Nineties). “If I was still in football I would be divorced right now,” he says. “Whether you are part-time or full-time, if you aren’t watching football, you are talking about it, on the phone to players, taking training. It is non-stop. I admire the boys who are in the game but still able to have that happy home life too.”
He now works for the engineering firm Costain, re-engaging with a career that was interrupted when Alex Ferguson asked him to decide what he wanted to be: a footballer or an engineer. He had to go back to college when in his mid-forties to complete his studies for an NHC in electrical engineering.
“I still respect him and will speak to him, but if you asked anyone who played for him and they will tell you, he’s a b******,” Rougvie says, on the subject of Ferguson. “You can’t argue with his success. But it was all about him. When I was a youngster at the club he cancelled my day release to go and study to be an engineer. All he cared about was the team. He probably cut my future livelihood in half.
“It took me a good few years to get back and build up a career after I hung up my boots,” he adds. “I’m not bitter. He didn’t give me any money, but he gave me a bagful of medals.”
Sometimes Ferguson’s requests were not so unreasonable. After learning that Rougvie had bought a motorbike – the player turned up for training one morning dressed in biking leathers – he ordered him, in no uncertain terms, to get rid of the machine. Rougvie is speaking across the street from where Ferguson recently staged an ‘audience with’ event to promote his new autobiography. “I would love to have been there in the audience to fire him a few questions,” smiles Rougvie. But unlike Willie Miller, Simpson and others, he wasn’t there, which is perhaps telling in itself. Rougvie is endearingly conscious about the need to keep his wife happy. He seems to have retreated from the life of a footballer so it is good to find him looking in such rude health – rude being the operative word.
In Rougvie, Ferguson could be said to have met his match. “He called me a mercenary and told me to f**k off, so I f**ked off,” is how Rougvie rounds off a story where he explains the intricate details of why he left Aberdeen 30 years ago this summer, bound for Chelsea.
Although he switched from centre-half to left-back as a player, Rougvie was in the front-line when it came to being a target for Ferguson’s withering blasts. The hairdryer analogy had not yet been coined. Instead, it was just plain old “slaughterings” that the manager dished out at regular intervals, and often when they were least expected – such as after cup final victories.
Of course, this story has been reheated many times now. It is one of the first ports of call for those seeking to portray the extremes to which Ferguson took his relentless pursuit of excellence. Within minutes of Aberdeen defeating Rangers in the 1983 Scottish Cup final, only days after beating Real Madrid to win the Cup Winners’ Cup, Ferguson angrily railed against his players for their unacceptable performance. Or at least he railed against the majority of them. “He came out and said it was [Willie] Miller and [Alex] McLeish that won the cup,” Rougvie recalls. “Talk about how to split a team. Imagine how that made the rest of us feel.
“I bet he cringes when he thinks about it now,” he adds. Rougvie had the last laugh. On what was supposed to be a night of triumph, the players made what felt like a retreat to St Andrews for the post cup-final ‘celebratory’ dinner. “It was like a funeral,” continues Rougvie.
“Gordon [Strachan] went away with his Dundee pals and everyone ended up shooting off. I was thinking: ‘What a cup final party this is – it’s just me left with the wife!’ We were ready to call it a night but the trophy was still sitting there at the side. I picked it up and took it to the bedroom with us. In the morning it was bedlam. Everyone thought someone had pinched the cup. They hadn’t realised it was involved in a threesome with me and the wife upstairs!”
Rougvie left for England the following year, and recalls bumping into Ferguson, by then manager at Manchester United, in a corridor at Luton after a game: “I joked to Fergie: ‘See who you see when you don’t have a gun!’ He found that funny.”
Rougvie is an Aberdeen supporter now, first and foremost. Considering his list of honours includes three successive Scottish Cup-winning medals, he cannot believe it has been 19 years since Aberdeen won a trophy, 14 since they were so much as in a final. “It is about time, is it really 19 years?” he wonders. “We have had a few disasters.
“Ebbe Skovdahl made us the worst team in Europe at one stage but the fans still loved him for some reason. Alex Miller was another one – he tried to bury us. But we survived that as well!”
Even more recently, Rougvie describes another slump in form. “A few of them could have been sitting beside me in the stand for all the good they were doing on the park,” he says, before crediting current manager Derek McInnes with “putting something in the tea”.
Rougvie will be making the journey down from Aberdeen next weekend, along with tens of thousands of others, for the League Cup final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. But first Aberdeen must get past Dumbarton in front of an expectant home crowd. And they have been warned: you don’t want to disappoint Doug Rougvie.