Obituary: Dick Donald

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Richard M. Donald, footballer and administrator: born 20 February 1911; player, Aberdeen FC 1928-33, 1934-39, Dunfermline Athletic 1933-34; Director, Aberdeen FC 1949-93, Vice-Chairman 1960-70, Chairman 1970-93; married 1948 Betty Shaw (one son, one daughter); died 30 December 1993.

DICK DONALD, Chairman of Aberdeen Football Club for more than 20 years, will probably be best remembered as the man who in the Eighties guided the Pittodrie club from relative obscurity to a prominent position in European football.

Winners in 1983 of the European Cup-Winners' Cup (with a dramatic extra-time 2-1 victory over the legendary Real Madrid in the Gothenburg final) and the European Super Cup (beating SV Hamburg 2-0 over two legs), Aberdeen also carried off the Scottish Cup four times in that period, the League Cup twice, and were Premier Division champions twice.

Donald's less obvious achievement, but a more important one in the long term, was his participation, with the vice-chairman of the club, Chris Anderson, in establishing Aberdeen FC as a club ahead of their time. Before the partnership was broken by Anderson's untimely death at the age of 60 in 1986, the three-man Aberdeen board (Dick's son, Ian, completed the triumvirate) had in 1980 made Pittodrie the first all-seated, all-covered football ground in Britain, anticipating by more than a decade the pressure for all-seated stadiums to be statutory in the interests of ground safety.

They also set in train a farsighted programme of progressive ground improvements which reached another notable milestone last August when a pounds 4.5m redevelopment of the stadium, including a 6,000-seater multi-tier stand at the sea end of the ground, was officially inaugurated by the Princess Royal. Sadly, ill-health prevented Donald's attending the occasion, but the name bestowed on the magnificent new Richard Donald Stand was a fitting tribute to the Aberdeen chairman's devotion to a club he had so selflessly served as a player, director and then chairman.

The shrewd judgement of character and keen business acumen which distinguished Donald's running of the football club's affairs were equally valuable in enabling him to pursue, in parallel, a successful career in his family's flourishing entertainment and leisure firm, James P. Donald (Aberdeen Cinemas), which at one time or another this century controlled a dozen cinemas, an ice-rink, a ballroom dancing and deportment academy, and His Majesty's Theatre.

The youngest of four brothers, all involved in the family business, Donald signed professional forms for Aberdeen FC as a 17-year-old in 1928. He had two five-year spells with the Dons, interrupted by a year with Dunfermline Athletic, and such was his devotion to playing football that he earned the distinction of having played in every team position except that of goalkeeper.

Ending his playing career in 1939, he returned to the Pittodrie scene 10 years later when he joined the board, becoming vice-chairman in 1960 and chairman in 1970. Eddie Turnbull was Aberdeen's manager at that tine, the first of eight managers to serve under Donald's chairmanship before the present incumbent, Willie Miller, who captained the Dons through their glory years in the Eighties, took up the appointment in 1992. While the circumstances of these eight managers' departures from Pittodrie have varied, all were unanimous in paying tribute to the wholehearted support and wise counsel they received fron their chairman.

A particularly special relationship was that which Donald forged with Alex Ferguson, from his appointment as the team's manager in 1978 and through the club's golden era up to Ferguson's move to Manchester United in 1986. 'He was like a father to me,' Ferguson said on hearing of Donald's death.

The Donald tradition at Pittodrie will continue in the capable shape of Ian Donald, an all-round sportsman who, after playing for Manchester United in the Seventies, returned to Aberdeen to join the family business. The foresight of his father was again revealed when Ian was added to the board in 1980 and 'served his apprenticeship' as a director before becoming vice-chairman following Chris Anderson's death.

Dick Donald's failing health in recent years pushed additional responsibility on to Ian's shoulders, but it has also enabled him to emerge as one of Scotland's leading football administrators in his own right. His father may be a hard act to follow, but he could not have had a better tutor and role-model.