McInnes lauded as pain of trophy famine finally fades away for Aberdeen chairman
For Stewart Milne, it is not about the money he has invested in Aberdeen for what, until Sunday, appeared to be so little in return. The Aberdeen chairman has pondered the impact that being involved with the club has had on his personal life following the League Cup final triumph over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, a win that has belatedly delivered the first trophy of the Milne era.
The sight of the cup being held aloft by Russell Anderson, someone else with a long association to Aberdeen and who has also endured less successful times, was a crowing memory for Milne. The day itself had been the “most emotional” of his life, the chairman admitted later.
The building magnate became chairman of the Pittodrie club in 1998. He was appointed to the board in 1994 and the following year watched Aberdeen lift the trophy that was fated to become a reference point to illustrate just how far the club’s star had dipped. That League Cup win over First Division side Dundee was hardly the stuff of legend. However, the 2-0 victory achieved with strikes from Duncan Shearer and Billy Dodds on a misty late November’s day accumulated more and more significance in the years that followed, and for Milne in particular.
Managers came and went, but this triumph stood as Aberdeen’s last trophy success until Sunday’s nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out victory over Inverness. Milne has been a common factor during these lean years, something he himself has often noted with obvious distress. The trophy famine has been a source of much personal anguish. This is why he can be forgiven for emitting an expletive during a live radio interview in the emotional aftermath of Sunday’s victory. He had forgotten himself, and forgotten what it was like to celebrate a cup success – not that there had been one on his watch. He was in torment during the penalties, he admitted: “I had my head in my hands when they scored and my head was up in the air when we scored.
“Derek McInnes has got great confidence in the players,” he added, with reference to the manager he appointed just under a year ago. “They work hard and practice their penalties during their week and I was pretty confident our boys would score – I was certainly praying they would score.”
Milne undoubtedly knew the consequences of failure to prevail in this lottery – more criticism. This is the lot of a club owner. Milne in particular has been targeted by frustrated supporters for not investing more of his millions in the club. He was asked to reflect on such an existence and he joked that rather than now receive plaudits, he would prefer it if fans threw “£10 notes at me”. The remark referenced his own personal financial outlay but it might well have also been a comment on the numbers who followed Aberdeen to Glasgow on Sunday. One in four of the 40,000 are regulars at Pittodrie and if another few thousand of them could be encouraged to attend games every fortnight then the club could indeed become perennial contenders for honours – including, perhaps, the league title – again. As he cradled the League Cup in his arms, Milne quipped that he might “melt it down and flee the country” to help with the payback after years of personal investment in the club.
“It’s not so much about the money,” Milne replied, when asked to assess whether all the brickbats, the frustration, the years of perceived decline under a succession of managers and his own financial contribution had now been made worthwhile. “I think I have put a big part of my personal life into Aberdeen FC,” he continued. “There have been a lot of difficult moments and pain over that long period of time where there have been no trophies. But, yes, Sunday made it all worth it.”
For it to mean even more, Milne is aware that Aberdeen must now build on the success. Otherwise the danger is that 2014 becomes an isolated high point in the way 1995 did. Of course, Aberdeen now have the opportunity to add further silverware before the end of this season. Their Scottish Cup semi-final appointment with St Johnstone next month falls in the middle of Milne’s Easter break in Turkey. However, underlining how his enthusiasm has returned, he is planning to return for the game and then fly back out again, hopefully with the thought of another final date at Celtic Park to relish.
Milne accepted that McInnes has probably “given me renewed energy” although the chairman denied that he had been eager to see the club passed into a new owner’s hands. As recently as November he was announcing a yearly loss of over £1 million on top of debts of more than £15 million. Plans to move to new stadium have been put on ice.
“I can’t honestly say I have reached a point where I thought I have had enough and I want to walk away from the club,” he said. “I have always said if there is somebody out there who believes he can do a better job than me and is prepared to make the level of commitment both cash-wise and time-wise then I would be prepared to look at things.
“Derek has brought new life to the club,” he added. “He has had a massive impact not only on the football operation but the club as a whole. I find him a fantastic guy to work with and I think we are pretty much on the same page in what we are setting out to do. I also think we work pretty effectively together.”
As for the semi-final re-match with St Johnstone, who they defeated at the last-four stage of the League Cup, Milne said: “We had a great game against them at Tynecastle so nobody is thinking about another final yet. Derek has brought this mentality to the club where we have to prepare properly and believe we can go out there and win that game. He will focus on the league games and when the cup comes up on the 12th April I am confident Derek and Tony [Docherty] will have the team prepared. Unfortunately, that game comes in the middle of our Easter holidays when I am in Turkey. But it is my intention to come back and see that game because Derek has something going and we, as a club, need to do everything we can to keep that momentum up.”
Milne made a point of noting the work done by Craig Brown and Archie Knox to stablise the club after it looked as though avoiding relegation had become the zenith of Aberdeen’s ambitions. The pair took over at Pittodrie in December 2010 with the team sitting joint bottom of the Scottish Premier League. It wasn’t always pretty, but Brown and Knox preserved Aberdeen’s top-flight status.
While applauding the progress evident under McInnes and Docherty, the owner was also keen to make reference to their predecessors.
“They inherited the bones of a very good squad from Craig Brown and Archie Knox,” said Milne. “Derek and Tony came in and had the benefit of the last five games after the split last season. It allowed them to see what they had taken on board and gave them the time to find the players they thought they needed over the early part of the summer. They also had a full pre-season with their full squad and that has been very beneficial.
“The way they have progressed the squad over the course of the season has been great and I don’t think our cup win has been a fluke,” he continued. “There is a mentality in that squad now, where they go out believing they can win but also knowing they are only going to win if they work hard for 90 minutes. That bodes well for the season going forward.”