All of history’s great conquerors understood the value of reconnaissance. Take Hannibal, the brilliant Carthaginian general of antiquity, who would arrive at a battlefield days before the enemy, looking around for any features of the terrain that he could turn to his advantage. Or Genghis Khan, who sent his most trusted lieutenant, Subutei, on a three-year expedition around Eastern Europe when the great Mongolian ruler plotted an invasion of the continent in the 13th Century.

Back in 1983, it was Sir Alex Ferguson who had designs on conquering Europe – or, to be specific, the European Cup Winners’ Cup. And just like those who stride across the pages of history as colossuses, the Aberdeen manager made sure he knew what he was getting into before marching into battle.

These days, endless hours of footage and analysis on an upcoming opponent is available at the touch of a button to professional football clubs. If anything there is an overabundance of information that coaching staff have to sift through in order to create a strategy for any given game.

It didn’t used to be that way, though, as Archie Knox will tell you. Fergie’s right-hand man at Pittodrie was Sir Alex’s eyes and ears and would watch their European opponents as they embarked upon that remarkable run that climaxed in that unforgettable night in Gothenburg.

His scouting missions were every bit as eventful as anything you’ll find in a history book and one trip in particular, to Spain to see Valencia play Real Madrid in preparation for the Cup Winners’ Cup final, sticks out in the former Aberdeen assistant’s mind. And with good reason, too.

“You can talk about the final but going to watch the games, watching every team that we played – going to Sion, Tirana and places like that – was incredible,” Knox recalled. “But going to watch Real Madrid was the was the biggest one of the whole lot.

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“It was agreed that I was going to get on their [Real Madrid’s] team bus and to take me to the match. Once I get [to the hotel] I can see the see them all getting organised. So I go up into my room and change. It's a blistering hot day and you've got the Aberdeen suit and the Aberdeen tie and all the rest on. Then I come back down and the bus had gone!

“I said ‘what am I going to do now?’. I asked if they had left tickets for me or anything like that but they said ‘no, I’ve never heard of you’. So I said, ‘well, I've got to get there’. I mean, it’s a European final for Christ’s sake. I've got to see them in the in the game. I could imagine saying to Alex, ‘ah, I didn’t make it, I just went to the pub and watched it’.

“But anyway, I get a taxi from the hotel and I said to the people at reception, ‘just tell the taxi driver he's got to get me there. If he gets fined or anything like that, I'll pay his fine’. And all this sort of stuff.

“So we get in the taxi heading down, burning hot, and you could see the stadium away in the distance. But the build-up of traffic and stuff was unbelievable. It's about half an hour until kick-off so I said to him, ‘just let me out here’ and then I ran. I was able to run in these days – well, jog!

“I ran down looking for the main entrance. There was a group of police guys so I say, ‘excuse me, does anybody speak English here?’. One boy piped up. He says he can speak English. So I explained to him what had happened – I had tried various bits to try and get the tickets and he sent me somewhere else. No, they hadn’t heard of me either.

“So I go back to the policemen and I say, ‘how am I going to get in here?’. I saw the bit where they were going in and they were showing their tickets but there was something happening, so I just shot up the stairs. I ran up the stair and within two or three seconds two boys had grabbed me, frog-marched me back down again. I thought, ‘I'm going to end up in handcuffs here’.

“I go back down and I'm thrown outside. I'm showing them the tie and all the rest of it, saying ‘we’re playing that mob!’. So I go another entrance and I'm trying the same thing again. Eventually I got a space where I got up the stairs and got away from them and I just kept on going up the stairs. I had no idea where I was meant to be – well, I didn’t have a ticket!

The Herald:

“I got up there and I'm at the top tier, at the middle bit with the walkway, but there isn’t a seat to be seen. They're standing there and I kneeled down – and this was at maybe about 15 minutes gone in the game. I've got my notebook and I'm looking through this boy’s legs to see the to see the game.

“Valencia won a corner and I'm trying to take a note of who's marking who, what kind of corner it was and all that kind of stuff. That's where I watched that game. The end bit of it all was that Valencia won 1-0 and they stayed up. And with Real Madrid getting beat, Athletic Bilbao won the championship.”

It’s hard not to admire Knox’s ingenuity; his absolute dedication to fulfilling his scouting duties come what may. Imagining his boss’ reaction if he hadn’t made it past security certainly played its part but even though Knox knew exactly who he was dealing with, the same couldn’t be said of the Real Madrid management team who left him behind.

“I'll tell you why it wasn't deliberate,” Knox continued. “I get back to the hotel and I'm soaking in sweat so I go up to my room before I go down for a drink and I change.

“While I'm doing that, there's a knock at the door and here's somebody for the reception. They hand me over an envelope was addressed to [former manager] ‘Billy McNeill, Aberdeen FC’ and inside was two tickets for the game. So I felt like saying to Alec ‘they didn't even f****** know you!’.

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“Real Madrid are staying in the same hotel so they're still there. [Real Madrid manager Alfredo] Di Stefano has got his bird – well, I don’t know if she was his bird – but he's got this woman and they're in reception. He's having a large Scotch and I'm thinking to myself, ‘they've just lost the championship and he's having a bevvy at the bar’.

“I phoned back and gave Alec the report but when he went to see them he phoned me. ‘We've got a great chance of beating them,’ he says. ‘But see when you come in on Monday, don't be f****** telling any of the boys we've got a great chance! Keep that to yourself, don’t tell a soul about that.’

“Simmy [Neil Simpson] reminded me. He said, ‘I've got still got a copy of that report that you did on Real Madrid. Each individual player and position they played and where they made their runs and all that sort of stuff. And I said ‘well, that’s what won us the cup Simmy’.”