Winters' tale unfolding

A SEASONALLY-attuned outdoors retailer in Glasgow once advertised a sale with a slice of inspiration and a nod to Will Shakespeare, proclaiming: “Now Is The Winter Of Our Discount Tents”. If Robbie Winters has discontent, he is not demonstrating it. Fresh from morning training after a two-day period of rest, Aberdeen’s leading marksman in this still-promising campaign is exuding the cheery disposition of a happy camper.

Smiling and joking, he views a Celtic Scottish Cup-tie on the horizon and over the hill the chase with Livingston for a place in Europe. But it seems that Winters may not be around to embark on that continental campaign should the Dons earn it through their remaining SPL matches. Talks on a new contract began in December, and have not been resolved. A gap exists that looks unlikely to be bridged.

Winters is reluctant to discuss the contractual stand-off, but though offers a few words: “The club spoke to me a month ago. I’ve not heard anything since. I’m just doing my talking on the park. If we can get into Europe and a cup final, it’ll be a year to remember.”

But with football seeming so good at Aberdeen and his enjoying the best time in his three full seasons at the club, does that not make it harder to consider sampling an alternative? “You never know in football. You can turn the corner one day, and you could be staying or you could be somewhere else. I’m just looking forward to Celtic.”

Which he is. Winters stroked in the penalty at wintry Pittodrie in December, sending Aberdeen to a memorable 2-0 triumph over Celtic, which achieved a few things. It inflicted upon the champions their first defeat of the campaign, chalked up a ninth sequential home win for Aberdeen, and convinced a young collective that they can, on their day, compete with a team that had possessed a penchant for subjecting them to some awful hammerings. Winters was in that Winters Wonderland that Dons fans sometimes sing about.

“We played well that last time,” the 27-year-old player reflects. “It was a good game to play in, but Celtic will be coming up here to win. But if we can play as well as we have been playing at home, we can live with them. Against Celtic you must be deadly.”

The Scottish Cup has been a mixed bag for Winters. Denied a presence in the winning Dundee United team in 1994, he got plenty of action at Hampden two Mays ago, if not in the manner intended. With Jim Leighton sustaining a freak injury minutes into the final against Rangers, and with no reserve keeper on a three-man bench, Winters donned the gloves and placed his small form between the posts for the duration of a 4-0 defeat.

Making a bunch of saves, it emerged that Winters often offered goalkeeper cameos in training. Does he, perchance, still fly about in goal of a morning? “Not at all. I’ve scrapped that,” he laughs.

Against Celtic the ball will be at his feet. It matters not to him if Bobo Balde plays because of the appeal against his SFA ban. “We’re not worried about that. No matter who they play at the back, it’ll be an international player or a good quality one. Bobo’s a quality player, but big Eugene [Dadi] did well against him the last time, hustling him. With a wee bit of pace up front and the way Derek Young is scoring right now, we can get in the game.”

His own strike rate stands up well. With 13 this season, he is on the cusp of posting his best total, this from his now customary position on the left. With one foot possibly out the door, he is making as large an impact as ever.

Winters’ early days in Aberdeen were a struggle compounded by the nature of his transfer from Dundee United in 1998, a deal in which Billy Dodds moved in the opposite direction with some 700,000 as a makeweight; for a long while, the view was that Aberdeen had contrived to con themselves.

Dodds went on to shine for United and in a Scotland jersey, and earned a big move to Ibrox. Winters, brought to Pittodrie by Alex Miller, who was sacked a few months later, for a long spell struggled to recapture the form which saw him crowned young player of the year while at Tannadice. Nowadays, Winters is displaying his skills regularly as Dodds struggles among a glut of Ibrox attackers.

Winters gains no pleasure from this, repeating what is a bit of a mantra: it is just football. “I think the ideal scenario would have been I’d come up here and Doddsy would have stayed, and there wouldn’t have been a swap deal, but it’s just the way it was. Everybody loved Doddsy, but I just had to forget about that and concentrate on what I can do.”

Manager Ebbe Skovdahl will continue to utilise Winters’ talents, though the mild-mannered Dane seems resigned to losing him eventually: “I will play him, as long as he gives everything. It would be wrong to do anything to put him under extra pressure, as I don’t think we’ll get anything out of that. There’s a big chance of [him leaving]. I don’t think we can live up to what he and his agent require. But I don’t know if it is Robbie who has to change his opinion, or the agent.”

Whether Winters is working under Skovdahl or another manager next season – he has been linked with Wimbledon, Manchester City and Bradford when Jim Jefferies, a long-term admirer, was there – he might wish to catch the eye of new Scotland coach Bertie Vogts. Scoring goals tends to arouse interest when it comes to the national team: Winters gained a cap against Germany in the friendly victory in Bremen in 1999.

He deals with most topics in relaxed fashion. Take the ugly scenes at Pittodrie during the Rangers game when Winters, while attempting to take a corner, was struck on the head by a coin. In a TV interview after the match, he made light of the unsavoury incident, joking that if the coin was bigger it would have left a larger bump. “I think it was more of a shock than anything,” he says. “There were coins and lighters flying by, but you’ve just got to get on with the game. You can’t do anything.”

Watching him tomorrow will be brother David, who is following in his footsteps at Tannadice. They faced each other at Pittodrie last weekend – among their similarities is their running style, as pointed out by their mother. Robbie is encouraging of David, seven years his junior. “He’d come to my games when he was young and I’d ask him what he wanted to do. He’d say: ‘Play football’. Well he’s doing it now.”

He talks happily about the club spirit at Pittodrie, as those lively Young brothers bounce through the room, and he describes “the nice life up here”. ‘Here’ may be a different place in a few months’ time, but for now Robbie Winters has a key part to play for an Aberdeen side with targets.