With the speed of a cheetah after it identifies its prey, the Scottish Premier League season approaches. As players in other top flight leagues wake from their midsummer’s naps and beginning stretching for their pre-season action, SPL players are back on their training grounds, preparing for matches that mean more than just a bit of fitness. Most Premier League clubs stayed close to home, having scheduled friendlies with sides dotted around the Home Nations, while a select few bigger sides traveled further abroad. Celtic jetted down under to Australia, while Hearts, Aberdeen, and Rangers all played in Germany. This trio of Scottish clubs partaking in a bit of bratwurst with their pre-season football recalled days of yesteryear, when top Scottish clubs were a surprising force in European football much as certain English Premiership clubs are today. In those times, Scottish clubs other than the Old Firm were progressing and qualifying for European silverware, and often their opposition hailed from the western half of a Cold War-divided Germany. Further, when the Saltire was being flashed in a West German stadium, it was not always in Munich, but at the parks of clubs which have since been overshadowed by Bayern much as SPL clubs have been slid into the shadows by Old Firm dominance.

The Lisbon Lions of 1967  retain now legendary status as the first European champions from Britain and the only Scottish club to have yet done so, but what might have been lost to years of decline and financial folly was that Dundee FC looked for a moment to have been able to earn that distinction five years previously. That 1962 Dees squad, with the likes of Alan Gilzean and former Famous Five player Gordon Smith, had just come off winning the club’s first top flight title, pipping Rangers by 3 points and had qualified for the European Cup. Not much was expected of the Tayside newcomer led by Bob Shankly, so when German champions 1.FC Köln came to Dens Park, a good performance and perhaps a slight advantage heading into the away leg in the Rhineland was likely the most optimistic of expectations. After all, this was a German side that had been challenging for the German title for a number of years, having lost out to Hamburg only the previous season before overwhelming all comers in the 1961/62 campaign prior to walloping 1.FC Nürnburg 4-0 at the Olympiastadion to finally claim the German title. The 8-1 thumping Dundee FC delivered to the Billygoats in September 1962, then, was a bit out of the dark blue.

With a hat trick from Gilzean and a brace from Andy Penman, the Scottish side traveled to Germany brimming with confidence and a near overwhelming certainty it would continue on in the competition. Even a 0-4 reverse at Müngersdorfer Stadion was not enough to keep the Dees from moving on, and that now fantastic victory over the German champions spurred Shankly’s squad forward to the European Cup semifinals. An away loss to eventual European champions Milan cut short one of the better underdog stories this competition has produced over the years, but not before supporters at Dens Park were able to witness their side beat those European champions at home 1-0 before bowing out. Dundee FC would later haunt that same Rhineland side again in the 1971/72 UEFA Cup, storming back from a 1-2 loss away and 2-4 down on aggregate in the second half of the home leg at Dens Park to nip 1.FC Köln 5-4  in the end. Now, while that European run did not last as long as that Cinderella run from the 1962 Dees–having gone out in the subsequent round again by a Milan squad–one can imagine the Germans were hopeful they would never see those dark blue shirts opposite them in another continental contest.

On the other side of the colour spectrum, though, Aberdeen were less successful when encountering German foes in continental competitions at first. Having been bounced out of the first round of UEFA Cup competitions previously by the likes of Bulgarians, Belgians, and Hungarians, the Dons were drawn against Die Fohlen of Borussia Mönchengladbach to begin their 1972 UEFA Cup adventure. This German side, though, including the flowing locks of Günter Netzer, Der Terrier Bertie Vogts, and Rainer Bonhof, was in its ascendancy during Gladbach’s golden age, and followed up their 3-2 win at Pittodrie with a convincing 6-3 victory at Bökelbergstadion. While Gladbach would not win the UEFA Cup that season, they did capture the German Cup and went on to secure eight major titles during the decade, so Aberdeen might be excused for being unable to replicate the success of fellow Scottish club Rangers which had beaten German adversary Bayern Munich earlier that same year on their way to the European Cup Winners Cup.

When Sir Alex Ferguson took over the Dons, his initial forays against German opposition were just as unsuccessful. With squads containing the likes of Gordon Strachan and Steve Archibald, Ferguson’s first continental venture in 1978–in the Cup Winners Cup–ended early with a second round loss to German side Fortuna Düsseldorf, even then an unfancied side in Bundesliga. It must be said that Düsseldorf was a domestic cup specialist during this time, though, and well versed in how to win cup competitions, as they went all the way to the finals that campaign only to lose to Barcelona. The following season saw Aberdeen win their second league title but also have another UEFA Cup end abruptly with a loss to a Bundesliga club. This time, it was Eintracht Frankfurt which made Sir Alex’s face turn a more violent shade of red, as the Eagles bounced Aberdeen out in the first round. The Dons made it to the third round of the UEFA Cup for the 1981/82 edition, but once again the Scottish club met its match against a different German side, as Hamburg SV bested them 5-4 on aggregate on their way to the finals.

Aberdeen and Ferguson were getting closer to tasting European glory, and it appears that their change in fortune came at the expense of the mightiest of Germany’s clubs. Having qualified for the Cup Winners Cup again for the 1982/83 competition, the Dons began their quest for some continental silverware in high fashion. Stout in defense with Alex McLeish and flashing the skills of Strachan, striker Mark McGhee, and John Hewitt, Aberdeen romped over Swiss club Sion 11-1 on aggregate. Clean sheets kept them through the following rounds, until Ferguson once again found himself face-to-face with a potential Teutonic stumbling block. By March of 1983, Aberdeen had to travel to Munich to face Bavarian behemoths Bayern, and the German masters were expected to finally conclude the Dons’ dreams of becoming relevant in Europe. It came as a bit of a shock, then, when a club containing the likes of Dieter Hoeneß, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Paul Breitner was held to a scoreless draw by a wee club from bonny Scotland. Bayern legend Franz Beckenbauer, ever the statesman, remarked after that match that Ferguson’s squad “were not like a British side. They also have that passion that comes from Scottish teams and they will make things very difficult for Bayern in Scotland.”

No truer words were ever spoken from a former FIFA ExCo member.

In what some consider Pittodrie’s greatest night, the Dons overcame an initial 1-0 deficit to equalize, only to fall behind again late in the second half of the return leg. McLeish knotted up the match again off a set piece and shortly after that, Hewitt (on as a substitute) sneaked the winning goal between Bayern GK Manfred Müller’s legs. Stunned, the Bavarians returned home and entered a brief period of decline while Aberdeen went on to secure the 1983 Cup Winners Cup, the 1983 European Super Cup–over that other pesky German rival Hamburg–along with domestic trophies as well. The Scottish club’s record against German competition has since been mixed, as in some odd twist of fate Aberdeen has played Bundesliga sides sixteen times in all European competitions–twice as often as any other nation’s clubs they have been drawn against. That night in Pittodrie, though, in addition to the stunning defensive display earlier in Munich, announced to the rest of Europe that Aberdeen was a Scottish side to take seriously in those days. It is rather unfortunate, then, that their successes also caught the eye of those running Manchester United, and since that time Alex Ferguson has moved on to continue waging a personal war with Germany in Manchester while Aberdeen has fallen slightly away as the New Firm watched the Old Firm reassert itself atop the Scottish top flight.

There have certainly been other big moments when Scotland faced Germany on the European stage, from Rangers bringing Ibrox its only piece of continental silverware to date after that semifinal victory over Bayern Munich in 1972 to minnows Raith Rovers giving the Bavarians all they could handle before going out of the 1994/95 UEFA Cup. In fact, the number of times Scottish clubs find themselves against German ones appears overwhelming–Rangers have played against Bundesliga foes 48 times alone–so when some SPL clubs take their pre-season tours to Germany, it makes complete sense.

Essentially, they are simply preparing for the next time they are set against them in either Europa League or Champions League, as the football gods appear dead set on having their clubs play against one another for shiny cups. So, while media tend to make out that England and Germany is a big rivalry, their focus might be skewed a bit too south, as well as a bit too meta.

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