Interview: Doug Rougvie on Aberdeen-Rangers rivalry and genius-bully Fergie

It was the start of everything. The start of Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen revolution. The start of Fergie hammering into his players: “We’re not effing well coming down to Glasgow and losing to that mob again.” The start of the bad blood between that mob, Rangers, and the Dons. And the man at the centre?of it all has just walked into a cafe in Kintore.

Aberdeen's Doug Rougvie is booked for this 'savaging' of Rangers' Davie Cooper in the 1979 League Cup final. Picture: Allan Milligan
Aberdeen's Doug Rougvie is booked for this 'savaging' of Rangers' Davie Cooper in the 1979 League Cup final. Picture: Allan Milligan

Make that the epicentre. When Doug Rougvie stomped, the ground quaked. Sylph-like, spindly wingers went wan, or more wan, at the thought of coming up against him. Self-styled, big-shot hard men of the game weren’t terribly keen on the idea either. Club directors thought they heard their grandstands creak and immediately started 
fretting over the repair bills. Even the fabled warm-up routine, throwing his arms up in the air as he skipped, could register on the Richter scale. But at Hampden 40 years ago this month, Derek Johnstone crumpled to the turf having not even been touched.

Who says so? Rougvie. Am I going to argue with him? No – even though he’s 62 now and appears to have shrunk a bit from the hulking big beastie
he used to be. Even though he flashes a complete set of wallies, the fearsome toothless grimace now only a shivery memory for small boys exposed to it, slunk behind a terrace wall. Yes, Doug was the Momo of his day.

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“I’d been booked earlier in that game for savaging the great Davie Cooper – that was fair enough,” he tells me. “But big Derek conned [referee] Ian Foote and I got sent off. The thing is, Foote never saw what happened. He was a Rangers man, of course – probably a member of the same Lodge as big Derek.” Then Rougvie lets rip with his Cartoon Cavalcade chuckle and tucks into his breakfast.

When our man discovered his fate in the 1979 League Cup final he sunk to his knees, surely
imperilling the national stadium’s girders. Derek Parlane ran across to whisper sweet nothings in his lug. Then Joe Harper leaned over the still prostrate Johnstone to offer a critique of the dying-swan routine. Then everyone else got involved, apart from Peter McCloy whose fumble had allowed Aberdeen to lead, and Bobby Clark, injured with one arm strapped which reduced 
his chances of stopping the goals with which Rangers eventually overhauled their opponents. “That was sore for Bobby, and sore for the whole team,” adds Rougvie.

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“Afterwards there was a big palaver over whether I should be awarded a medal as I was the first-ever player to be sent off in a League Cup final. Eventually I got given one. Big Derek backed into me that day and took a tumble. A really nice guy, and he insists even now that I walloped him but he’s just a lying bastard!” Another chortle, another mouthful of fried egg. We’re in this corner of Aberdeenshire while Rougvie’s car is being serviced. He divides his time between the Granite City and Spain where he was able to buy a holiday home after a successful second career in the oil and gas industry. He looks good with his latest winter tan, having returned in time for tomorrow’s resumption of Dons-Gers hostilities in the Scottish Cup, and while the gap in his gnashers has gone I’m pleased to say the one between his knees remains. He’s still the possessor of one of football’s most famous bandy-legged cowboy gaits.

Rougvie agrees that the ’79 defeat opened up a fork in the road for the Dons, the team opting for the route to fabulous, Fergie-inspired success. The previous season Jock Wallace’s Rangers had claimed the Treble, thrashing Aberdeen 6-1 in the third round of the League Cup. Retaining that pot would be John Greig’s first success as manager
but he wasn’t permitted thoughts of continuing
that supremacy; Fergie, his less-celebrated former 
team-mate in light blue, would see to that.

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Aberdeen’s full-back from Gothenburg, from those three Scottish Cups in a row and all the other grand 
prizes, is fascinating on the subject of his old boss. “Christ, he was schizophrenic!” Rougvie laughs. “One minute he loved you, the next he wanted to kill you and that entirely depended on your last pass and how good it had been. His relationship with us was as fragile as that. He was a bully and a genius – a genius-bully.”

Just then his phone rings. He show me the photo on the screen – it’s Mary-Doll from Rab C Nesbitt. This is how he’s logged the number of his wife Brenda, the mother of his two daughters who he affectionately calls “the ball-and-chain”. He says: “I’m with the reporter boy, darlin’, and I’m giving it to him straight about Fergie. What’s that? Oh yes, of course: I wouldn’t have won a bagful of medals if it wasn’t for our brilliant manager. Yes, I’ll make that clear to the boy. Love you, darlin’ – bye!”

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Rougvie smiles as he remembers his first meaningful encounter with Ferguson, him a raw 16-year-old making his debut for Aberdeen’s reserves and Fergie, then of Falkirk, winding down. “It was the end of the season, everyone was f****d at Pittodrie and we hardly had players so I was on the bench – and then right away Tommy Wilson got injured and there I was squaring up to the guy. I kicked him all over the place! He never re-appeared for the second half!

“When he came to us as manager he brought with him a lot of issues. He’d been made a scapegoat at Rangers for letting Billy McNeill score in an Old Firm final [Scottish Cup, 1969]. He’d ended up playing for these wee clubs. And the sack from St Mirren as their boss was still hanging over him. On those early trips to Glasgow he was always having to get off the team bus to go and see his lawyer.
We did think: ‘He’s not giving this his all.’ But 
eventually, aye, we got his fullest attention.”

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Fergie developed his own version of Level 1 Psychology at Pittodrie. It would be finessed at Manchester United but the basic tenet remained the same from that first blast against the Old Firm, the west coast media mafia, our football establishment. Says Rougvie: “He told us after the ’79 final: ‘They hate you. They don’t want you to succeed. They want you to cringe and cower when you go to Glasgow so the next time you’re there, boys, play your football and beat them.’”

“We listened to him but we reckoned we were already a good team. Under Billy McNeill we’d regularly been runners-up to Rangers and Celtic.
To be fair to Fergie, he had a hard time at first. There were guys like wee Joey [Harper], Archie [Steve Archibald], Dom Sullivan and Ian Fleming who all lived out at Westhill. He saw them as trouble and called them the Westhill Willy-Biters. They weren’t sure about him either because he was a young manager. So he sorted out that situation and he also sorted out wee Gordon [Strachan] who until that point had been having a bit of a holocaust. He got Gordon going and that got the team going.”

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Aberdeen and Rangers renewed acquaintance early the following season at Pittodrie. What would Rougvie say to Johnstone? What would he do? Theatre impresario Fergie made the panting crowd wait with Rougvie starting on the bench. But the Dons man wasted no time in booting his opponent into the air. Both men scored that day but Aberdeen won 3-1 to begin their pretty much uninterrupted dominance of the rivals from Govan. “Our games against Rangers were always fierce, but you know what? They were before me and big Derek came on the scene. That season [’79-’80] we won the league. Me and Johnny Hather who’d started on the groundstaff at the same time went for a meal to celebrate with his dad Jackie who’d played for Aberdeen when they’d last been champions [’54-’55]. Jackie said they hated Rangers even then.”

Here’s a funny thing: Rougvie was a boyhood Rangers fan. So when he hung up his boots did he renew positive feelings for them? “Not f****n’ likely.” Did he have sympathy when they were plunged down the divisions? “I was delighted.” Rougvie is warming to his theme. So much so that his fry-up gets cold. But I want the stories to keep coming, even though he’s flashing his knife and fork around to illustrate the ebb and flow and bash and crash of titanic tussles with the Old Firm but mainly Rangers. There was the punch-up between Ally Dawson and Eric Black, both men seeing red. There was the game where John MacDonald was sent off for head-butting Dougie Bell – “Bloody hell, that was brave of him!” Then the game where Willie Johnston stood on John McMaster’s neck. “He trampolined on John. That caused a war. Alex [McLeish] tried to act as peacemaker only for big Derek to hook him.”

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Best of all, though, is Rougvie’s account of the clash featuring his favourite among the 21 goals he netted in 278 appearances in red: “Rangers usually collapsed when they came to Pittodrie but this time [’82-’83] they were really giving us a game until I got a chance and fired it home with my left peg.” He enjoyed the strike so much he delivered the fraternal right-up-yooz greeting to the away support, at that time housed in the Beach End. “The Rangers fans didn’t like that. There was an almighty surge. And then Mark [McGhee] got the second and he couldn’t resist winding up Robert Prytz. These two were aye having battles. Prytz lost it and shouted [with the Swedish inflection]: ‘Vanker! Vanker!’ Wee Gordon piped up: ‘What’s a vanker? Speak English!’ But afterwards Fergie wanted
to see me. ‘I’m fining you,’ he said. ‘What for?’ ‘You almost started a riot.’ He gave me a get-out: had the Rangers supporters being in the Beach End confused me? ‘No,’ I said. ‘Right, 50 quid it is.’”

The Rougvie-Fergie dynamic was complex, though the ultimatum “Do you want to be a footballer or a f****n’ engineer?” issued while the player was on day-release at college was pretty clear-cut and he was forced to halt his studies. But Rougvie sounds like a complex man. He’s his own man, for sure, and right from the start found himself at odds with the prevailing football culture, as he explains in his lyrical way: “Lots of boys seemed to be in football so they could get their hole. I was 16, earning just a fiver a week, and after paying for my digs couldn’t even afford fish and chips, never mind a night of bevvying and chasing the lassies. So I kind of isolated myself. Later, I would only go out with other players if it was required of me. I preferred the ball-and-chain and her pals for company. Footballers are good guys but they’re also numpties and sometimes right pains in the arse.” He nominates the two biggest pains he’s encountered. Crikey, they’re legends!

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Of all places, Rougvie’s first-team debut came in Tehran, against Persepolis, when Aberdeen were on their bonkers 1974 world tour, later venturing to Australia’s Gold Coast where that front tooth was knocked out. The legend of that expedition is the 18-year-old turning up at the airport with a suitcase full of Corn Flakes and bacon, believing the countries on the itinerary wouldn’t have his breakfast-of-choice. Not true. “Willie [Miller] said that, didn’t he? My case was full of all my worldly goods and maybe some food but that was because I had nowhere to leave 
everything. The man’s a bloody liar!”

Without wanting to go all Level 1 Psychology on Rougvie, his self-sufficiency – and he coped just fine with life on the rigs – may have its roots in Ballingry, Fife. One of five children born to Gordon, a miner, and Margaret, he played for Dunfermline United, an all-conquering juvenile team who fed likely lads to Dunfermline Athletic. “We won our league without losing or even drawing a game and scored hundreds of goals. But no one in my family came to see me play, not once. I didn’t bother about that at the time but looking back it was a bit strange. Dad was a bit strange. He worked hard at the Mary [colliery], gave his wages to our mum, got some pocket money in his hand and then disappeared and did his own thing.” The old man didn’t see anything of his son’s professional career either but at least Margaret was in Gothenburg where the Dons banners at the European Cup-Winners Cup final against Real Madrid included “Peter Weir lays on more balls than Emmanuelle” and in homage to her son “Doug Rougvie never lets a Dago by”. Well, it was the 1980s. Probably couldn’t get away with that sort of thing now.

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Not a clubbable golfer, Rougvie prefers the solitude of fishing, sometimes using a kayak, which is surprising, given the story about how he almost died in such a craft during an Aberdeen bonding weekend at Gordonstoun School. “Wee Joey tried to drown me,” he says, laughing again. Any phobia lingering from that day has obviously disappeared and Rougvie reveals his next ambition is to try skydiving. I guess when you’ve stood up to the Old Firm and to Fergie you can’t have any fears left.

Eventually Fergie let Rougvie go by. He let him go to Chelsea, labelling him a “mercenary”, while the player accused the boss of reneging on a testimonial. At a very different Stamford Bridge from the current version, Ken Bates was the owner forced to confront the skinhead predecessors of today’s yuppies and football tourists. Well, the actual confronting was done by the likes of Rougvie who during one pitch invasion was so distracted by a charging police horse that he lost his man at the vital moment. “The ref signalled for a goal. I tried to tell him the horse sold me a dummy, dropped its haunch and fooled me, but he wasn’t having any of it!” Rougvie remembers nothing of the night team-mate Pat Nevin took him to a rave but can add the Full Members’ Cup to his roll-call of honours, despite putting through his own net in the Wembley final.

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Just time for one more Fergie yarn: “At Chelsea there was a rulebook of what you couldn’t do – for instance, you couldn’t ride motorbikes – but not at Aberdeen. After our first title I treated myself to a Kawasaki. My team-mates put it about I was going to race in the Isle of Man TT and Fergie went apeshit. He wouldn’t listen when I said I only planned to watch the races and made me sell the bike. I was gutted. But, you know, he was a brilliant manager and he got me a bagful of medals… ”