Steve Archibald recalls 'fantastic' Aberdeen partnership and bringing Barcelona experience to Hibs
Scottish football in turn has a lot of time for this singular and often hard-to-read character.
It’s 15 clubs if you include a trial match for East Stirlingshire after which he declined to sign because their hooped socks made him feel clumsy.
“My heart’s in Scotland, that’s all I can say, in footballing terms,” the much travelled and still Barcelona-based striker says.
We’ll look after you, Archibald, Archibald, as the old song went. Although we didn’t. Not always. Archibald was once an apprentice motor mechanic learning his other trade at Clyde. It was a tough school. A midfielder at the time, he made it known that he was having trouble perfecting the art of jumping to head the ball.
“Willie McVie, the centre-back, played at that time,” Archibald recalls. “He was a big guy. Tough. Dirty.
“He used to call me Ginge. He said, ‘Ginge, come on I’ll show you how to jump for the ball.’ We were behind the goals and there was only one floodlight on. Raining. Mud. He said, ‘Ginge why don’t I throw this up and you jump, and I’ll jump with you and I’ll show you how to jump for a ball.’
“So he throws this ball up, and we jump, and he smashes me right across the face. I’m lying in the mud and I swear to God, I thought my jaw was broken. He looked down and he said, ‘Ginge, that’s how you jump for a ball.’”
It stood him in good stead for encounters with such renowned hard men as Andoni Goikoetxea, the so-called Butcher of Bilbao. Archibald crossed his path after being signed by Terry Venables to replace Diego Maradona at Barcelona.
It’s hard to credit now but it seemed unremarkable back in 1984.
And as far as Archibald himself was concerned, it felt very natural. Why wouldn’t one of the biggest clubs in the world wish to replace one of the biggest stars in the game with him? As if to underline this, he scored on his La Liga debut against Real Madrid.
But first came Aberdeen and a partnership with someone worshipped like Maradona in the granite city. “I was fortunate enough to play up front with Joey Harper,” says Archibald. “He taught me a bundle of stuff.”
Harper will be in attendance when Archibald makes a hero’s return to the north east next week. There’s no statue to unveil but as with Harper, there probably should be. Although Harper was injured for much of the title-winning season in 1979-80, Archibald’s 22 goals in all competitions helped power the Pittodrie side to their first league title since 1955.
He believes Harper is due a lot of the credit for his subsequent move south to Spurs.
“I’d score a goal and he’d say, ‘right, you’ve got to get the next one now,’” remembers Archibald, who – like Harper – had several run-ins with manager Alex Ferguson at Pittodrie.
“When you score a goal, you might think your job is done, but it’s not. Joe taught me a lot of things.
“He was great to play with, he was a fantastic striker. He was a little guy, but he could hold a big centre-back off and link the play. His finishing was excellent. It was fantastic to play with him and (Gordon) Strachan and other players in the team.”
By the time Archibald returned to Scotland with Hibs in 1988, there were tales to tell. The move raised eyebrows as would be the case now, though it’s unlikely a player will ever move from Barcelona to Hibs again.
Admittedly, Archibald was on loan at Blackburn Rovers when Hibs made contact along with a “big, big English club” who might or might not have been managed by Kenny Dalglish at the time (he wants to keep this tale for the book he is currently writing).
It was Hibs who impressed with their persistence and whose fans took to him quickly – as he did they.
“As you can imagine, young players were inquisitive about a player coming from Barcelona,” he explains. “It was an onslaught of questions every single day from John Collins, (Paul) Kane and all the young ones coming through like Callum Milne. They wanted to know what it was like. It was hard to explain what it was like, but they were very inquisitive.
“But my time there was great, first of all trying to explain to them what it was like in Barcelona and then once we got over that little bit, trying to use my experience to guide them in matches, which I think I did.
“I provided the experience and they provided the legs and stuff – it was a nice combination. We got on really well. We had a great goalkeeper in (Andy) Goram of course, who was spot on form at that particular time. It was a great combination at the time.”
Archibald, helped by such feats as a winning goal at Tynecastle en route to qualifying for Europe, formed a great bond with the supporters.
“If you are brought in to do a job and you do it, it is appreciated,” he says.
“You can’t bullsh*t a fan. The fans know. They know everything, no matter all the bullsh*t that comes out from a manager at the end of the game, and everything else that is said, they know because they have sat there, they have idolised the team, it is their community. They understand what is happening.”
For tickets to see An Audience with Steve Archibald in Aberdeen at the Tivoli Theatre on Wednesday or An Audience with Steve Archibald at Easter Road Stadium on Friday 18 March, both hosted by David Tanner, visit headlineevents.online/events
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