There is little chance of Eric Black forgetting Aberdeen’s last Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Celtic. It came via a 1-0 win in April 1983, a month before the then fresh-faced striker netted the opening goal in the fabled Cup-Winners’ Cup triumph over Real Madrid, and only two months after Black netted a hat-trick for Alex Ferguson’s men at Celtic Park – the last visiting player to do so at the arena.
Those goals are sure to still give him a warm glow. It was the numbness he felt over another, though, netted by Raheem Sterling in the 96th minute to give Manchester City a win over a Southampton in November 2017, that lies behind the fact the 55-year-old is no longer in football, or will ever contemplate a return.
It seems an extraordinary turn of events for a personality immersed since childhood in a sport that brought him highs as a player at Aberdeen and Metz and more than two decades of coaching experience in Scotland and England, with his last posting at Southampton where he was assistant manager to Claude Puel.
“You won’t see me back in a dugout,” Black said. “I’m finished after leaving that night we played Man City. I had two years to go on my contract but decided I wasn’t going back. I’d been doing it for 40 years unbroken, six nights a week in a hotel, and I’d had enough.
“I had always been used to being the right-hand man to the president, and not very many times the president myself, I might add. But the way the format is now, certainly in the Premier League, there are coaches galore. There are assistants to the assistants with the first-team coach and all the sports science guys.
“At Southampton I was watching the opposition and doing all the meetings involving that side of it but I wasn’t really involved. I just felt I was losing that enthusiasm you need and wasn’t doing myself or anybody else justice. Maybe things boiled up, I don’t know, but I’d been so close with the managers I’d worked with previously and always had an input. I was involved in tactical decisions and implementing then, but it’s modern football now that things are being done differently. I’m sure a million people would give their right arm to be the assistant manager at Southampton, but I wasn’t really doing anything.
“I know it sounds pathetic but because of that I lost that feeling I used to get. I didn’t have a nervousness sitting on the bench and thought ‘this is not right.’
“When we then played at Man City and lost 2-1 in the 96th minute, and I didn’t feel the pain that the players were feeling. I just didn’t. They were all completely shattered. And I was almost just looking for a chicken sandwich to take on the road with me.”
Black doesn’t pretend that recalibrating his life outside of the game hasn’t brought dark nights of the soul. “I have missed it at times, parts of it anyway. It took me about nine months to adjust, it was like coming out of prison or the military.
“I can’t say it’s been easy. There have been nine or maybe even ten months where it’s not been straightforward. You know, I’m sure my missus will tell you that.But I’m fine, I do some work with my boy now, and it’s a different life I lead. I’m 55, so I’ve not done too badly.”