Toro! When Aberdeen went bullfighting in Turin

Over 30 years prior to Aberdeen and Torino locking horns in the Cup Winners’ Cup of 1993/94, a bond had already been formed between the clubs.

That was thanks to the Granite City’s most famous footballing son and the only Scotsman ever to win the Ballon d’Or, Denis Law.

Born and bred in Aberdeen to a large family who occupied a tenement flat in the north of the city, he grew up supporting his local side before his talents earned him a move to England and Huddersfield Town as a 15-year-old.

After impressing there and with Manchester City due to his sharp instincts and deadly finishing, he was signed by Torino for £110,000 – a record transfer involving a British player at that time.

After the brash young Scot received that offer in 1961, you couldn’t get him on the plane quick enough.

He wasn’t alone on that flight either, accompanied to Turin by Joe Baker, an England international who had grown up in Motherwell, who was also joining the Granata from Hibernian.

“There must have been about 10,000 fans there to welcome us at the airport and I remember saying to Denis: ‘What the hell are these guys doing here?’,” Baker recalled in an interview with Italian television.

“We found it was for us and it became clear that the problem we would have was that there would be no privacy.”

Torino line-up featuring Denis Law (front row, far left) and Joe Baker (back row, third right) (Photo by EMPICS Sport/EMPICS via Getty Images)

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only problem waiting for Law when he touched down in Turin as a dispute between Torino and Inter, who claimed he had actually agreed a contract with them first, threatened to turn nasty.

Eventually, the issue was ironed out and the Lawman went on to enjoy a successful solitary season with a club who were still lifting themselves out of the doldrums after losing their legendary Grande Torino team to a tragic plane crash on the foggy hill of Superga, which overlooks the city.

His 10 goals in 27 appearances represented a good return and he was highly regarded among not only his own fans and colleagues but the wider Italian public, who voted him the league’s top foreign player.

“He had an impressive talent. With him in the team, we felt more confident and able to win any game,” former team-mate Giancarlo Cella said, quoted by Storie Di Calcio.

“Sure, he did things in his own way and didn’t like discipline but when he decided to play, he was incredible.”

But Italy’s infamous catenaccio (door-bolt) defensive style exasperated Law to the point of maddening frustration and eventually resulted in a red card in his final appearance for the club.

“Everything was great about Italy,” Law quipped to the same television show, “bar the football. It was very defensive.

“The people were lovely but the football was awful.”

Despite Law’s frustrations, the relationship between Scotland’s all-time joint-leading goalscorer and his former club remains strong and he was welcomed back to Turin in 2006 with open arms for the club’s centenary celebrations.

Thirteen years beforehand, he had been an interested observer as his old team locked horns with his boyhood heroes in autumn of 1993.

Aberdeen had easily disposed of Icelandic outfit Valur 7-0 on aggregate in the previous round, with Eoin Jess grabbing four of the goals to set up a second-round tie against a side who had been narrowly beaten in the Uefa Cup final the previous season.

Willie Miller’s men were no strangers to recent European adventures themselves though and stunned the vast atmosphere-vacuum that was Torino’s old Stadio Comunale with an early blitz.

The home defence had no answer to the battering ram at the tip of the Dons attack that was Mixu Paatelainen, whose blood-and-thunder approach had them retreating for cover and desperately pleading for someone else to take up the unenviable task of man-marking the physical Finn.

Firstly it was Angelo Gregucci, who wanted no part of it on nine minutes, allowing Paatelainen a free header that he expertly steered into the far corner.

The same defender was ragdolled with ease midway through the half by Paatelainen, who shrugged him off and picked out Jess in the penalty area to slam home from close range. Jess was not tracked by a certain Enrico Annoni, who would soon become much more familiar to fans in Scotland.


That goal and performance from Jess caught the attention of the Italian press and they soon linked Torino with a move for the Portsoy native, who was at that time one of Scotland’s brightest talents.

When he chose to leave Pittodrie two years later, Torino came in again, as did Sampdoria, but a sense of loyalty to the club who had given him his start in the game meant Jess opted against following the path paved by Law more than three decades before.

“I knew about those links but they wanted me to let my contract down and then sign me on a free,” Jess told the Daily Mail when discussing a potential Italian job of his own.

“I didn’t like that. I was very grateful to Aberdeen, who gave me the chance to play professional and I wanted them to be rewarded for that.”

One man watching on from his television in Italy as Aberdeen relentlessly attacked Torino and put them on the ropes was Sampdoria’s Ruud Gullit.

His dinner was quickly put to put one side as he sat upright to pay closer attention to a team who had taken him completely by surprise with the fearlessness they showed.

“Aberdeen’s performance was amazing as you rarely see a team come to Italy and go two goals ahead but they showed that if you play with the heart and the head, you have a great chance of beating a bigger team,” the Dutchman said.

“They weren’t intimidated by the league or occasion and even though they play in a much smaller league, they handled it all well.

“It was a pleasure to see them take such a positive approach. I was impressed.”

Unfortunately for the Dons, it wasn’t to last.

Referee Vaclav Krondi somehow found four minutes to add on at the end of the first half, enough for the home side to give themselves hope when Aberdeen couldn’t clear their lines and Raffaele Sergio took advantage to drill into the corner.

Daniele Fortunato levelled shortly after the break but there was nothing fortuitous about his well-taken strike. The same couldn’t be said for the winning goal in the 89th minute.

A speculative free-kick from Carlos Aguilera took a massive deflection off his fellow substitute Scott Booth, looping into the net to hand Toro the advantage.

“We were great in the first half but they put us under the cosh in the second and the goals we lost were hard to bear,” a frustrated Dons boss Miller told BBC afterwards.

“Our first half was great though. We passed it well, we were comfortable and confident and got two good goals but they’re a quality side so we have to hand it to them too.”

Ahead of the second leg, Aberdeen stormed to the top of the Scottish Premier Division while Torino slumped to 10th in Serie A, failing to record another win after their comeback success.

An irritating kit clash at Pittodrie that saw Aberdeen wear their away jersey as Torino sported their home effort – a reversal of roles from Italy – didn’t deter the Dons too badly as they put themselves back in front in the tie with one of the finest goals they’ve ever scored in continental competition.Lee Richardson’s thunderbolt from distance crashed in off the crossbar to give him arguably his greatest moment in the famous red jersey.

“The main thing I remember is telling myself to concentrate on getting a good clean strike on the ball because it was on my left foot and it was early in the game so we were trying to put pressure on them,” Richardson told Ally Begg years later.

“I was just thinking ‘hit the target,’ so even if the keeper gets behind it or has to push it away for a corner, it’ll get an ‘ohhh’ from the crowd!

“The last thing I wanted was to mishit it and fall on the floor and make a complete arse of myself. It was all about slowing everything down and striking the ball as cleanly as I possibly could. Thankfully it flew into the top corner.”

Some Benito Carbone brilliance soon single-handedly put paid to Aberdeen’s chances. His twists and turns to provide assists either side of half-time meant there would be no renewed assault on Europe for Miller’s men.

His second assist for Andrea Silenzi’s thumping headed winner was described by Torino reporter Francesco Bugnone as ‘a fitting one, jumping like a British striker among the British’ and led to a one-man pitch invasion.

Referee Markus Merk was the object of the feral fan’s ire and, had it not been for Paul Kane holding the would-be assailant back, Markus may well have been truly merked.

There was brief hope even after the elimination that Aberdeen would be permitted back into the competition due to an investigation into alleged bribery around the Italians, with Dons vice-chairman Ian Donald leading the calls for their reinstatement.

“If there is evidence of corruption, Uefa have shown they will take a tough line with offenders,” he told the Herald. “If Torino are disqualified, we will campaign to replace them.”

But, as had been the case in the ‘60s, the Law was on Torino’s side.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *