A 21ST CENTURY DUNDEE
Dundee still had a fine squad and Duffy led them to the Scottish Cup Final in his first season, losing 1-0 to Rangers in a match which the Dark Blues could well have won and took Dundee back into Europe after a twenty-nine year absence. There they defeated KS Vllaznia 6-0 on aggregate in the preliminary round of the UEFA Cup before losing out 3-1 to Serie A side Perguia when over 2000 Dees had travelled to Umbria to watch the second leg.
However the following month, November 2003 brought a bombshell for the Dark Blues faithful as Dundee went into administration. The court appointed Tom Burton and Fiona Taylor from the accountants Ernst & Young as joint administrators and the following day the full extent of Dundee’s financial plight was revealed with debts reported to be close to a staggering £20 million.
Dundee fans feared the worst and it was a crucial time for the survival of Dundee FC with the supporters’ association launching its Dee4Life fundraising campaign which was crucial in helping save the Club.
Twenty-five members of staff had been immediately axed and manager Jim Duffy took it upon himself to inform the playing and coaching staff and almost immediately became a target for Partick Thistle to replace Gerry Collins who was sacked with the Maryhill club rooted to the bottom of the league. He showed incredibly loyalty however and stayed with the beleaguered Dees and against all the odds led them to a seventh place finish at the end of that year.
There was real concern that the Club would not survive and the drastic cost cutting that was necessary to do so, impacted not just on that season but continues until today. In 2005 the Dark Blues were relegated in dramatic style on the final day of the season after Tam McManus' injury time shot which hit the post would have kept them up and the first season in the lower leagues saw Duffy and his replacement Alan Kernaghan both sacked.
Alex Rae replaced the Irishman in the summer of 2006 but a third and then second place finish couldn’t get The Dee back up and he was replaced in November 2008 by Jocky Scott for his third spell in charge.
Scott’s first game in charge stopped the rot with a 1-1 draw at home to Airdrie United and the following week on November 8th, Dundee got their first win since August 23rd with an impressive 1-0 victory over Dunfermline in Fife thanks to a goal from Guadeloupe international Mikel Antoine-Curier.
Results continued to pick up with just one league defeat in nine as well as running Celtic close in the third round of the Scottish Cup at Parkhead when Colin McMenamin gave The Dee a 1-0 lead before eventually losing 2-1.
Another run of only one defeat in nine in February / March saw Dundee propel up the league but their poor early season form meant that they never really put pressure on St Johnstone and Partick at the top.
In April Dundee held their first ever Hall of Fame Dinner at the Invercarse Hotel and manager Jocky Scott was one of eight inaugural inductees alongside William Longair, Alan Gilzean, Billy Steel, Doug Cowie, Claudio Caniggia, Bobby Cox and Barry Smith, Scott’s former captain from his last spell in charge whom he would bring back to Dens to coach the Under-19s.
At the end of the season Dundee finished a credible fourth, fifteen points behind champions St Johnstone who won the League with 65 points – four less than Dundee had as runners-up the year before.
Hopes were high therefore that promotion could be achieved in season 2009/10 under the guidance of the experienced Scott who had led Dundee to the First Division title in 1998. After years of struggling with the financial constraints caused by the administration period of 2003/04, it looked like those days might be behind the club thanks to new investment that had come into the club in the summer of 2009.
That investment came in the form of Aberdeen businessman Calum Melville who joined the board in March 2009 after answering a newspaper advert from Dundee F.C. chairman Bob Brannan which invited investment into the club. Prior to the forty-one year old's arrival at Dens, Dundee, if not exactly reaching for the stars, were hardly in the gutter either and the board, having studied the impact of administration, realised that they couldn't afford to live beyond their means and if that meant fans had to lower their expectations, so be it.
Such pragmatism exited Dens Park however when Melville breezed into the City of Discovery with big promises and grander ambitions and journalists regaled Dundee supporters with various tales of Melville's wealth, from his princely house in Gleneagles and his Bentley, to how he wasn't averse to hearing himself compared with the American billionaire, Donald Trump.
Brannan had placed the advert in The Sunday Times at a cost of £5900 in February 2009 advertising for ‘Business Directors’ and at the club’s AGM a few weeks later, told the assembled shareholders that a shortlist of ten interested parties had been drawn up. By the end of March that list had been reduced to one and on the 26th of the month, Melville was invited to come on board.
Melville was born in Aberdeen and made his fortune through commercial and residential property, hotels and the oil and gas industry in the Granite City, and was a lifelong Dons supporter. He was listed in The Sunday Times top 500 rich list in 2008 and in his first public interview since joining Dundee in the Evening Telegraph on April 27th, Melville revealed that the board had come up with a plan that for every full price season ticket over the figure sold the previous year, they were going to match it pound for pound to invest in the playing staff.
“If we sell a thousand more than last year, that’s £280,000 from the fans and we will put in another £280,000 to match that and get the best players we can”, said Calum in an exclusive interview for the local press. “We are having a genuine push to get back to the SPL and the term we will use again and again is that second is last. There is no second prize in the First Division and we have to be first.
“We have to get promoted and the guys in the street have to know that and support us accordingly. I’ll say it again and keep saying it – the mantra for next season is second is nowhere.”
Before then Brannan had already announced at the club’s annual Hall of Fame dinner on April 3rd that the budget for the playing staff would increase by 25% for the following season and that manager Jocky Scott was already identifying some exciting signing targets.
An approach for one of those signing targets was made on the last day of the season against Partick Thistle when Scott asked Jags manager Ian McCall about the availability of midfielder Gary Harkins who had been outstanding despite Dundee’s 4-0 win. Harkins had been nominated for the First Division player of the year award and after a protracted three-month transfer saga, Jocky eventually got his man for a fee of £150,000 plus add-ons which was funded by the new director.
Also on Jocky’s radar was nineteen-year-old Livingston striker Leigh Griffiths and an approach was made for the Scotland B cap in April shortly after Melville joined the club. This approach was immediately rebuffed by the West Lothian club and Dundee looked to have a job on their hands to secure his services as the much sought after youngster was also being coveted by a number of SPL clubs including Hearts who publicly stated as much. Dundee, however, were the only club who put cash on the table and on June 25th, Livingston accepted Dundee’s offer of £125,000 and “Sparky” was on his way to Dens.
With a number of new players, including some with international experience, reported to also be close to joining Dundee, Melville was asked in an interview with the Dundee Mad website if the club could sustain the wages they were now offering without him.
His answer was emphatic and he said, “Yes. This is not a Gretna situation. This club is only sustainable in the long run in the SPL and that is where we need to be. We can pay good money now so imagine doubling the crowds and having SPL football to offer. We are aiming for regular 4th to 8th place in that league. I need to make it clear the players joining the club just now, they are not mercenaries. They are not being paid SPL wages, they are being paid good First Division wages. There are fantastic bonuses in place for success in this league and to get out of it. They get First Division wages now with built in SPL wages after promotion. They are buying into the opportunity we are giving them. The board, the fans, the backroom staff and the players, we are all in this together. Everyone wants to see this club back in the SPL.”
To invest to get into the SPL was clearly Dundee’s plan as the build-up to the 2009/10 season saw a host of new players join the Club, including former Scotland internationalists Brian Kerr and Colin Cameron, Northern Ireland internationalist Chris Casement, goalkeepers Tony Bullock and John Gibson, strikers Pat Clarke and Sean Higgins and midfielder Ritchie Hart. In total eleven new players joined the club and straight away things seemed to click into place in the first game of the season when Stranraer were dispatched 5-0 in the League Cup 1st round, with three of the new boys on target.
By the end of October, Dundee had reached the final of the ALBA Cup, the League Cup quarter-final after beating SPL Aberdeen in the third round, and were level on points at the top of the league with Queen of the South and the next two months would see Dundee win the ALBA Cup and open up that eight-point gap at the top on Boxing Day.
Dundee had reached the Scottish League Challenge Cup Final, now sponsored by Gaelic speaking television channel BBC ALBA for the third time in their history where they met fellow First Division title contenders Inverness Caledonian Thistle at McDiarmid Park on Sunday 22nd November 2009.
In a thrilling final, Dundee were 2-0 down at half-time but stormed back in the second half to win 3-2 thanks to an own goal from Caley’s Nauris Bulvitis and strikes from Gary Harkins and Craig Forysth to lift the cup for the second time.
“That was a big win,” said an understandably delighted Dundee manager Jocky Scott when he emerged from the home dressing room. “It was a big win though not a big score and hopefully that will inspire the players for the future and prove to them that we are a good side when we do the right things.”
Immediately Jocky appeared to be right as the ALBA Cup win inspired the players to storm to the top of the Scottish League First Division with impressive away wins against Ross County (1-0) and Partick Thistle (2-0) in the immediate aftermath of the Cup Final. These victories were followed by two 3-1 home wins over Ayr United and Morton and after a Boxing Day draw against the recently relegated Inverness, the Dark Blues had opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the table ahead of Queen of the South and a twelve-point lead over the side from the Highlands who had been arguably Dundee’s biggest threat to promotion pre-season.
December saw Jocky Scott win the Irn-Bru First Division Manager of the Month Award and Gary Harkins named as the Irn-Bru Phenomenal Player of the month and in the first half in Inverness on the 26th, Dundee were extremely comfortable against one of their main rivals and went in at half time 1-0 ahead thanks to a Leigh Griffiths penalty. A win would mean a fifteen-point gap being opened up over the Highlanders but the second half was a completely different proposition and The Dee were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw.
Having endured a long trek on Boxing Day, Dundee were also disappointed that the Scottish League fixture list had given them another match on the road at New Year, this time away to Airdrie United. This had meant that the club had missed out on some potentially decent revenue as the festive fixtures are often well attended while the fixtures before Christmas are normally amongst the lowest of the season for every club and Dundee had hosted Morton on December 19th in front of just over 4000.
However, by the Monday in the lead-up to Airdrie on January 2nd, it became clear that the match was already in severe jeopardy due to the weather and at Melville’s suggestion, Dundee approached The Diamonds and the Scottish League to have the game moved to Dens as the Dark Blues had under soil heating and were confident they could get the fixture played. Melville felt this would give Dundee a great chance to get some revenue in over the festive period, as well as continue the recent good run, and with the majority of other games likely to be off, Dundee could increase their lead at the top.
Melville approached the Scottish League personally and all parties agreed that the game could go ahead at Dens on Sunday the 3rd with the corresponding fixture against Airdrie in March now being swapped to be played at the Excelsior Stadium.
A monumental effort therefore took place to get the game on but by Sunday lunchtime, Club General Manger Jim Thomson, who had overseen the operation, feared the worst as temperatures plummeted in Dundee. To everyone’s relief, referee Colin Brown finally did deem it playable at 2.20pm but in hindsight, it would have perhaps have been better if he hadn’t as, in the words of Jocky Scott, “Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong on that day.”
In the sub zero temperatures Dundee slipped to their first defeat in fourteen as Airdrie deservedly won 1-0. It was a tale of two penalties with Leigh Griffiths’ spot-kick being saved with the game at 0-0 before Kevin McDonald sent Rab Douglas the wrong way with his shot from twelve yards shortly afterwards.
As the fans watched the pitch start to glisten towards the end, Airdrie were reduced to ten men and still Dundee couldn’t make the breakthrough in a game that was to have ramifications for the rest of the season. Losing to the side at the bottom of the league was a serious blow and was a big dent to the players’ confidence and the swapping of the fixtures meant that Dundee would now have six of their last nine fixtures away from home for the title run-in. The pitch itself also took some serious punishment and cut up badly and it didn’t really recover from this until pre-season. It meant that it was often more of a hindrance to Dundee and a help to the opposition when they visited Dens and it could affect Dundee’s passing game.
One such game was three weeks later when second-placed Ross County came to Dens and snatched a 1-0 win in a drab affair to cut The Dees’ lead at the top to six points having also played three games more. There was a huge surprise for the Dundee support at kick-off when top goalscorer Leigh Griffiths started on the bench, having been left out of the starting line-up as a punishment for turning up late. Dundee were 1-0 down at the break and so Sparky came on at half time but he couldn’t inspire the Dark Blues as they turned in a dismal performance and blew the chance to go twelve points clear. It was another dent to the players’ confidence and it gave both Highland sides the chance to close the gap on Dundee at the top.
Melville’s appearances at Dens however had become more infrequent since Christmas and he claimed this was due to being busy with his business interests and he was censored by the SFA after claiming to BBC journalist Jim Spence that Dundee might offer Dundee United £500,000 for Scott Robertson in the January transfer window. Dundee had already outspent the likes of Rangers that season and the SFA gave Melville a ‘slap on the wrist’ as it was seen as ‘tapping up’ the player.
On February 20th Dundee were due to play Partick at Dens but on the eve of the match the club received some devastating news that legendary skipper of the 1962 championship winning side Bobby Cox had passed away during the night. ‘Sir’ Bobby as he was known by the fans was a regular at Dens on match days until he had recently taken ill and the club honoured him with a minute’s applause before the game. The players stood for the applause in front of the stand which bears his name and they furthered honoured his memory when current captain Eric Paton scored the winner in a 1-0 victory.
Less than a month later however, there was more devastating news when another of the League winning side, Hugh Robertson, passed away, but by then Dundee’s results had been on the slide. On March 6th Dundee again came back from 2-0 down against Inverness to draw two each and keep Caley at nine points’ arms length but that lead was being whittled away with a draw at Ayr and a defeat again to Airdrie later in the month.
There was a further blow on March 13th when Dundee lost at 2-1 home to Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup quarter-final and this disappointment was further deepened when the Fife side drew Dundee United in the semi-final in what would have been a huge money spinner for the club.
That defeat, coupled with the loss at Airdrie, signaled the end of Jocky Scott’s time in charge and the shocking performance in Lanarkshire had been the final straw for the board. Calum Melville wasn’t at the match at the Excelsior Stadium but he took the responsibility himself to personally inform Scott of his fate and left his home in Aberdeen to drive south give him the bad news after a conference phone call between the directors decided the manager had to go.
In a statement released by the club via the official website, it explained why the decision had been made despite Dundee still being top of the league. “The unanimous decision of the board was not taken lightly but it was felt in view of the results since the turn of the year that the move was essential and in the best interests of the club.”
Recent performances had indeed been poor and with the lead now down to just three points, there was a worry that Inverness were going to overhaul The Dee sooner rather than later. It was clear now that it was imperative for the club to win the First Division to return to the SPL after a five-year absence and the mantra of ‘second is nowhere’ meant Jocky Scott had to pay the ultimate price despite his side still being top of the league.
Jocky Scott was sacked on March 20th with just nine matches to go until the end of the season and according to striker Colin McMenamin, “The whole place died the day they sacked Jocky Scott and we just never recovered from that. The boys were so close to Jocky and they felt really let down by the board at the time.”
It was not the first time that Dundee had replaced their manager while top of the First Division, it was the third and on the previous occasions Dundee managed to finish the season as champions in their last two successful promotion campaigns. The first was in 1992 when Iain Munro was replaced by Simon Stainrod in February while in 1998, John McCormack was ironically replaced by Jocky Scott during the same month to guide them to the league title.
Having won just two of their eight games since New Year, the board felt a fresh approach was needed to again get Dundee over the finishing line and they were desperate to get a new man in charge before the following Tuesday when the Dark Blues were due to face Queen of the South.
Ironically it was Queens’ manager Gordon Chisholm who quickly became the board’s first choice to take over and they envisaged a management dream team to include former Dundee favourite Billy Dodds, who had been coaching part-time with Chisholm in Dumfries. The Dark Blues wanted Dodds to give up his media career and join Dundee as full-time assistant manager instead of Chisholm’s number two at Palmerston, Kenny Brannigan, and when the pair agreed, they were offered their new roles at Dens.
Chisholm and Dodds were controversial choices for many Dark Blues fans with Chisholm becoming the first man to manage both Dundee and Dundee United while Dodds had criticised the club on a number occasions while working on the radio for BBC Scotland.
Chisholm’s opening match in charge just two days later therefore was against the club he’d just left and the match against Queen of the South was shown live on BBC ALBA. The hope was that Dundee would get the immediate boost that a new manager often brings to a club and the game got off to the perfect start when Queens were reduced to ten men in sixteen minutes. McAusland was sent off for denying Leigh Griffiths a goalscoring opportunity in the box and the striker dusted himself down and scored the resultant spot kick.
The Dee however couldn’t make their extra man count and after an hour Queens drew level through Bob Harris and managed to hold on for a point. In injury time it had looked as if Dundee might snatch a winner when the referee pointed to the spot again, this time for a handball from by Paul Burns but as Griffiths placed the ball on the spot, the Queens’ players surrounded referee Scott MacDonald as he went to consult his linesman and after an agonising delay, he changed his mind and awarded Dundee a corner.
It was another blow to the confidence of the players while the fans had also been noticeably nervy after the Doonhamers’ equaliser. It was a disappointing start for Chisholm with another two points dropped and now they had to face a Ross County side in Dingwall who were only seven points behind with three games in hand and on a high after knocking Hibs out of the Scottish Cup in their last match.
Four changes were made by Chisholm for the trip up north and it looked like Dundee were heading for a timely three points when on-loan Celtic striker Ben Hutchinson opened the scoring just after half time. However, with just three minutes left on the clock, former Dundee forward Steven Craig equalised for County and the game despairingly ended in a draw.
It was another two points dropped and The Dee had now taken just two points from nine in the last eight days. Second placed Inverness had won 1-0 at Partick Thistle to take seven points from nine in the same period and they now dislodged Dundee from top spot to move one point clear.
The following Tuesday was now going to be a crucial one with a full set of First Division fixtures seeing the top four playing each other and second placed Dundee had another away game at third placed Dunfermline, who themselves still harboured ambitions of promotion.
However, it turned out to be a miserable night for Dundee in more ways than one, as they went down by two goals to one on a cold, wet, snowy night on a slippy, muddy surface. Dunfermline were firing on all cylinders from the off and took the lead in six minutes while a lacklustre Dens side were never at the races and went in at the break 2-0 behind. Chisholm sent on all three substitutes at half time and went for broke but an injury time goal from Eddie Malone only served as scant consolation.
In the Highland derby in Inverness, league leaders Caley gunned down fourth placed Ross County by three goals to nil and in the process extended their lead over Dundee. It was a disastrous start for Chisholm, without a win in his first three games, and the three-point lead he had inherited had now turned round to a four-point deficit.
Dundee were now desperate for a win and achieved one at Dens against Ayr United the following Saturday but the 3-0 victory was overshadowed by the news that Caley had come from behind twice against Raith to win 4-3.
Dundee were due to play Inverness on the last day of the season at the Caledonian Stadium and the hope now was that Dundee could get within three points of Inverness before they had to travel north to give them a chance of grabbing the title. Caley however showed no sign of letting up and were on a sixteen-game unbeaten run which stretched back to November and they made it seventeen games on April 6th with a midweek 2-0 win at Greenock which gave them a seven-point lead as Dundee were inactive.
Dundee kept within touching distance of top spot when they won their first league away match of the year 1-0 at Partick but the following week dropped two more points when a late Griffiths equaliser earned a 2-2 draw with Morton.
Sparky’s free kick in the 86th minute at Greenock meant that Dundee were now nine points behind with three games to play and that goal had merely meant that Dundee could still mathematically catch Inverness. To do so they would have to win their game in hand at Raith Rovers the following Tuesday, but after twenty-six minutes they suffered a serious blow when goalkeeper Tony Bullock had to go off with a hamstring injury.
Dundee had been unlucky throughout the season with goalkeeping injuries to Robert Douglas and Tony Bullock and veteran goalkeeping coach Bobby Geddes had already featured on the bench five times before Christmas. In the ALBA Cup quarter-final at Stirling in October, it looked like the forty-nine year old Dundee legend would have to come on when Bullock picked up a knock, but the Englishman played on, much to everyone’s relief.
To avoid a repeat of this scenario, Jocky Scott had brought in former Dundee goalkeeper Derek Soutar in November but now both he and Douglas were injured for the game at Stark’s Park and Geddes was again on the bench and therefore had to come on when Bullock hobbled off. At the age of forty-nine years and eight months, Geddes became the oldest player in Scottish football history and let no one down with a performance that rolled back the years.
However, it wasn’t enough to prevent Raith from taking all three points as The Dee turned in a dreadful performance and the 1-0 win for Rovers handed Inverness the First Division Championship.
The farcical situation with the goalkeeper just about summed things up for Dundee as a fifteen-point lead over Inverness had been overturned to a nine-point deficit. Dundee gained some revenge over Raith on the Saturday with a 2-0 win in their last home game but a 1-0 defeat at Caley on the last day meant Inverness won the league by twelve points, having orchestrated a twenty-seven point swing.
Where it all had gone wrong was what every Dundee fan wanted to know but credit to Inverness who went on a twenty-one game unbeaten run just after their defeat to the Dark Blues in the ALBA Cup final. Dundee, by contrast, had won just four league games since Christmas and didn’t enjoy the boost normally enjoyed by clubs when they bring in a new manager. Dundee never really recovered from the defeats to Airdrie and Ross County in January and took only nine points from twenty-seven after Gordon Chisholm took charge.
After a season which had started with so much hope and promise, it became painful watching the SPL dream, which seemed so close at Christmas, slowly disappear. Dundee had clearly gambled on getting promotion by offering higher wages than previous years and paying the second highest transfer fees in Scotland but it had not paid off.
It was obvious therefore that failure to win the league meant cutbacks had to be made and budgets had to be reduced and new Business Development Manager Harry MacLean, who had joined the club in May 2010 and would become CEO in September, immediately went from raising money to saving it, cutting the first team wages from £31,000 a week to £16,000.
During pre-season, Chisholm had a number of players on trial, training with the squad and on the eve of the new campaign, deals were completed with Nicky Riley, Stephen O’Donnell and Gary Irvine. Mikael Antoine-Curier also joined up with the team after a spell last season on loan at Hamilton and the Guadeloupe international went straight into the side for the season’s opener against Alloa Athletic in defence of the ALBA Cup which The Dee won 2-1.
The league campaign started with a 1-0 win over Queen of the South at Dens with debutants Rhys Weston, Netan Sansara and Jamie Adams on loan from St Johnstone in the side. Dundee achieved that victory despite going down to nine men but the next game saw the Dark Blues go from the courageous to the ridiculous when they crashed out in of the ALBA Cup to Second Division Stenhousemuir, after a dismal performance saw The Dee surrender the trophy with a 4-1 defeat.
Results continued to be poor with a defeat away to Partick and a 0-0 draw with Ross County at Dens before another embarrassing cup exit, this time in the League Cup at Brechin on penalties.
Defeats in Fife to Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath in September started to put real pressure on Gordon Chisholm but rumours started to circulate that there were more pressing financial pressures off the pitch. Internet chatter was suggesting that Dundee may be in some sort of financial trouble and that Calum Melville might be about to jump ship and the dreaded ‘A’ word started to being bandied about.
The local press were suggesting that Dundee owed the taxman in the region of £365,000 and on Friday 1st October, the players and staff were left reeling when the club failed to pay their wages. Financial expert Blair Nimmo had been negotiating with HMRC on the club’s behalf and was trying to persuade them to accept a lump sum now and the balance in the summer but the talks became deadlocked and Dundee decided not to pay their staff after taking independent advice.
The reality now was that if a resolution wasn’t reached, Dundee would have to go into administration for the second time in seven years. On October 14th it was official when the papers were lodged at the Court of Session in Edinburgh and Bryan Jackson of PKF assumed control of the club. It was the third occasion that the club was on the brink due to financial mismanagement and as Dundee arguably sunk to the lowest level in its 117-year history, there was real worry that the club might not survive this time.
As expected, the first task of the Administrator was to reduce the wage costs and release a number of staff with immediate effect. Jackson was involved in the same process at Motherwell when they went into administration in 2002, letting go nineteen players shortly after taking over at Fir Park and on this occasion the number was thirteen.
From the playing staff, Mikael Antoine-Curier, Scott Fox, Charlie Grant, Brian Kerr, Njazi Kuqi, Paul McHale, Colin McMenamin, Eric Paton and Dominic Shimmin were released alongside manager Gordon Chisholm, assistant manager Billy Dodds, youth development coach John Holt and ticket office manager/kit man Neil Cosgrove.
October 15th 2010 was a horrendous day at Dens and Bryan Jackson held a press conference to inform the fans that firstly under-19 coach Barry Smith had been put in charge of the team as caretaker-manager and secondly that Dundee’s debts were much larger than initially feared and were in the region of around £2 million.
Amidst all the chaos and conjecture, Dundee actually had a game to play twenty-four hours later at Stirling Albion and new boss Barry Smith had the job of lifting the thirteen senior players who were left on the books. With so few players remaining, the team virtually picked itself while the substitutes’ bench would have to be supplemented with players from the youth team.
Astonishingly, after such a week of turmoil and despair, a match would have understandingly been the last thing on the mind of the players, but they turned in an excellent performance which trumped anything of recent weeks. In front of a noisy away support, Dundee dominated the first half before Leigh Griffiths gave The Dee the lead not long after the break. Stirling, however, bounced back and equalised despite being down to ten men and although it was one way traffic towards The Binos’ goal, Dundee couldn’t grab the winner as every player gave their all.
Under the circumstances it was a very good point and an emotional week ended with an emotional moment that fitted the day perfectly. Before the match, the players had gone into a huddle for the second match in a row and then at the end, every member of the team, alongside Barry Smith and his coaches, made a point of heading towards the 1000 plus away support that stood to applaud their heroes. The Dundee fans gave the players a tremendous ovation and the bond between the players and the fans was a theme that was to become more prevalent in the weeks and months to come.
As they had done seven years before, the Dundee support mobilised quickly and the Dundee FC Supporters’ Society started a fighting fund in an attempt to save the club while the threadbare squad achieved credible draws against Dunfermline and Falkirk in their next two games.
Before the next match at home to Partick however the club received another blow when the Scottish League hit Dundee with a twenty-five point penalty on November 1st. It was a serious threat to the club’s very existence as relegation could mean part-time football or even closure. It left Dundee on minus eleven points, bottom of the league and in a state of shock.
Dundee were reeling and on the precipice and the next game against Partick Thistle at Dens on November 6th was clearly going to be one of the biggest games in the club’s history as the reaction of the players, staff and supporters would go a long way to showing the footballing world whether Dundee FC had a future or not. The fight for survival was now in full swing.
The players and fans didn’t disappoint as over 6000 turned up to wave their red cards in protest of the draconian 25 point penalty and watch Jamie Adams score in the 85th minute to give The Dee a priceless 2-1 win. It was the first victory since going into administration and there were wild celebrations both on and off the park. The noise nearly lifted the roof off of the old Archibald Leitch stand and Dee-Fiant was now the belief and inspiration.
Victories in the next five games against Ross County (home and away), Morton, Cowdenbeath and Stirling Albion put The Dee on a ten game unbeaten run and chipped away at the gap between Dundee and second bottom place which was now down to ten points.
Against Ross County on January 2nd a familiar face was in the line-up when Steven Robb returned to help out his old club as a trialist. As well as the 25 point deduction the Scottish League had imposed a transfer embargo on Dundee and in the coming months manager Barry Smith would use the 3-game trialist loophole to help boost his tiny squad.
The most celebrated example of this occurred a month later against league leaders Raith Rovers at Dens on February 12th when club legend Neil McCann came out of retirement and put his boots on again for three games. Now working as a SKY Sports pundit, he came to the aid of his old club and old team mate Barry Smith and it was a fairytale return for the winger.
McCann started on the bench and came on after 57 minutes with Dundee already 1-0 down. His appearance saw the tide begin to turn however and with four minutes left captain Gary Harkins scored a fantastic free kick to deservedly level the scores.
Dundee didn’t settle for a point however and four minutes into injury time, those who were there witnessed one of the great Dens Park moments. A Craig Forsyth corner was cleared by a Raith defender but when it fell to Matt Lockwood outside the box, he lofted it back in where it was met by Forsyth who headed the ball down. It landed at the feet of McCann twelve yards out and as he spun and fell to the ground, he lifted the ball gently into the air and watched it float over the Rovers keeper and into the net.
McCann’s sprint towards the South Enclosure belied his thirty-six years and his team mates didn’t catch him till he reached the touchline. When they got there, they buried him in dark blue bodies in front of a frenzied Dundee support which had bounced to the front of the South Enclosure to celebrate with their heroes. It was simply magnificent as Dens reverberated with joy.
The previous week Dundee had come off the bottom of the league for the first time after a 2-1 win at Dumfries and the victory over Raith was incredibly Dundee’s fourteenth match unbeaten.
Ten days later Dundee met Raith again this time in Fife and there was another fairytale in the Dens Park ranks when Lochee United’s Craig Robertson, a lifelong Dee, was offered the chance to turn out for his heroes. Dundee exploited another loophole where Junior players could be used as trialists and Robertson did himself proud with a magnificent performance in the middle of the park in another 2-1 win.
Two weeks later Dundee were back in Fife and their 3-1 win over Cowdenbeath equaled the club’s 19-game unbeaten run record set by the Championship winning side of 1961/62. They broke the record with a 2-1 win over Queen of the South on March 12th and the run would eventually become a new record of 23 games, broken only when Raith gained a modicum of revenge for McCann’s last minute goal with a last minute winner of their own at Starks Park on April 2nd.
By then Dundee had survival in their sights and on Easter Saturday travelled up to Dingwall where victory would ensure not only that Dundee would avoid bottom spot but also ninth place which would have put Dundee into a relegation play-off.
Although Barry Smith had predicted a ‘cracker’, it turned out in the end to be anything but, but no one connected with Dundee cared a jot as in they secured the victory they needed with a 1-0 win in a scrappy affair. In many ways it was a performance which summed up much of the post-administration season as they defended superbly when under pressure, played some neat passing football, ground out a result when most needed and saw a youngster come to the fore by grabbing the winning goal.
The winning goal came from Leighton McIntosh in sixty-five minutes when he took advantage of a poor touch from Michael McGovern to take the ball off the County keeper before rolling it into the empty net in front of the jubilant away fans. It was McIntosh’s fourth goal in three games and as the only fit striker on the books he had really come of age with vital goals at vital times after missing part of the season earlier with a broken wrist, which he still protected with a cast.
The final whistle brought scenes of joy as players, management and fans celebrated the amazing feat of what they had achieved in staying up after the 25 point deduction with two games to spare. Survival had seemed a pipe dream in November but it would be an achievement long remembered.
The following week there was a carnival atmosphere at Dens as almost 8000 fans came out to salute their heroes against Partick Thistle. An entertaining 3-2 win meant that Dundee had lost just one game in 27 and the players enjoyed a lap of honour at the end. Dundee would finish the league in sixth place, 24 points ahead of bottom, 9 points ahead of the play-offs and the players deserved the applause for everything they had done in adversity, giving their all and for playing a huge, huge part in saving the club.
The fans more than did their bit as well, raising an astonishing £250,000 in six months which allowed the Administrator to propose a CVA as early as March 11th. It was accepted without appeal and Dundee officially exited Administration on May 12th to become a fans’ owned club with the Dundee FC Supporters’ Society as the majority shareholder.
The fans-led new board was announced at the end of season player of the year dinner at the Hilton Hotel as was the news that Barry Smith had been appointed permanent manger. He’d been given a three year deal as reward for his remarkable Dee-fiant leadership and this elicited a huge cheer and standing ovation in the room.
Smith’s task was now to consolidate Dundee’s position in the league and build on the confidence of the Dee-Fiant season. It was a new beginning and a new chapter for club and no one seriously expected Dundee to be challenging for promotion as the club started to rebuild.
What the fans didn’t expect however was to be bottom of the league by November after a 1-0 home defeat to Partick. A series of disappointing defeats to Livingston, Morton, Falkirk, Hamilton and Ross County contributed to being rooted to the bottom.
The return of a former hero however changed the fortunes on the pitch when Gavin Rae rejoined the club seven years after leaving for Rangers to raise much needed cash during the first administration. Almost immediately Gavin’s drive and determination in the middle of the park saw results pick up, culminating in a superb 6-1 win at Hamilton in December. Steven Milne, another former Dee who had returned in the summer scored a hat-trick at New Douglas Park as the Dark Blues started to shoot up the league.
By early February Dundee were up to third, six points behind leaders Ross County who had two games in hand but had lost Gavin Rae to his hometown team Aberdeen. The chance to close the gap on the Staggies however came when they visited Dens at the end of the month but a 1-1 draw allowed County to keep their distance and as they won their games in hand, started to pull away at the top.
Dundee kept plugging away however and by the end of March were up to second in the league albeit 15 points behind the Highlanders. By then however Rangers had gone into administration on Valentine’s Day and the press started to hint that second in the First Division may be good enough for promotion should Rangers liquidate. A run of four home games in a row allowed Dundee to stay ahead of Falkirk in second spot and when they beat the Bairns at Dens in early April, it all but ensured that Dundee would finish as runners-up.
A last day 1-0 home win over Livingston thanks to youngster Jamie Reid’s debut goal secured second spot behind champions Ross County and it was another superb achievement from Barry Smith less than twelve months after coming out of admin.
By the end of the season the situation with Rangers was no clearer and the uncertainty became a Scottish football summer soap opera. Rangers had indeed liquidated but when the new season fixtures were released on June 20th, the S.P.L. named ‘Club 12’ on their list as no decision had yet been on the future of the new company headed by Charles Green.
The 2012/13 fixture list gave Dundee an opening day home game against Dumbarton but they were watching the Rangers situation quietly and with great interest. Dundee had finished as First Division runners-up for the third time in five years but if the ‘Newco’ were denied entry into the S.P.L., then The Dee would be in prime position to move back into the top tier after a seven year absence.
After a season of consolidation manager Barry Smith now looked to assemble a Dark Blue squad to attempt to win promotion but as he did so, events with Rangers took a dramatic turn. On July 4th the eleven other S.P.L. clubs unanimously rejected the ‘Newco’ Rangers’ application to join them and twelve days later named Dundee F.C. as ‘Club 12’. For once ‘second was somewhere.
Dundee were handed their Golden Ticket just two weeks before the start of the new season and indeed didn’t actually receive their S.P.L. share until twenty-four hours before opening day and the national summer of uncertainty meant the whole of Scottish football were ill prepared as fixture reshuffling ensued.
The League Cup First Round draw was made in June giving Dundee an away trip to Peterhead but this match was scheduled to take place on the first day of the S.P.L. season as the top flight clubs had a bye. This match therefore had to be brought forward four days to the previous Wednesday meaning Dundee had to cancel a pre-season friendly with Bristol City.
Dundee however had been building for a tilt at the First Division title and had assembled a squad over the summer which reflected this. They scraped through on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the ‘Blue Toon’ but that uninspiring result didn’t stop over 3000 Dees travelling to Kilmarnock for their first SPL game and witness a battling 0-0 draw; a decent start against the League Cup holders.
The next two games however highlighted Dundee’s deficiencies with a 2-0 home defeat to St Mirren and a 3-0 loss ‘across the road’ at Tannadice to bitterest rivals Dundee United in which captain Stephen O’Donnell was sent off live on SKY Sports.
With no goals and no points after three games, it was obvious that Dundee needed to add to their squad but they were unable to do so as they had yet to receive any money from the SPL. With Rangers now playing in the Third Division this caused uncertainty with the television deals and the usual August payment was delayed until September after the transfer window had closed. With Dundee having no overdraft since administration, they were therefore only able to bring in Hartlepool striker Colin Nish on loan until January.
A 1-0 home defeat to Ross County after the derby was followed by one of the worst cup results in the club’s history when Dundee crashed out 2-1 in the League Cup to Third Division Queens Park at Hampden after scoring their first goal in over 500 minutes. A surprise 1-0 win away to Hearts in the next game was followed by six straight defeats and the SPL was becoming a nightmare.
Dundee’s inability to score would plague them all season and despite having seven strikers on the books, the top scorer finished with just seven goals. In fact the strikers scored no league goals in August and from September to January scored just one league goal between them each month.
Long term injuries to key players also didn’t help and throughout the season The Dee lost the services of Carl Finnigan, Jamie McClusky, Stephen O’Donnell, Mark Stewart, Lewis Toshney for extended periods as well as those of new signings David Grassi, Brian Easton and Mark Kerr who had been brought in as free agents for their experience.
A mini revival was sparked in November when another win over Hearts was followed by a draw at Motherwell then victory against Hibs which put second bottom St Mirren in their sights but when the sides met next met in Paisley, the turning point was the dismissal of Colin Nish and the Dark Blues lost 2-1. The decision to move the following midweek game against Kilmarnock to a free Saturday in January meant that Nish would now be suspended for the home derby against United and another 3-0 defeat meant the natives were becoming restless.
A dismal Christmas period put pressure on Barry Smith and after a New Year defeat at Perth, a director was alleged to have leaked to a local newspaper that Smith’s position was under review. Dundee denied this and gave Smith a vote of confidence until the end of the season but on February 20th with just two more points secured, Smith was dismissed.
It was a sad end for a Dundee legend who was elevated from youth coach to manager in October 2011 after the administrators axe fell on Gordon Chisholm. Smith led them on a club record run to avoid relegation, helping literally save the club as well as secure that second place which was crucial in getting into the SPL.
On February 23rd former player John Brown was appointed as caretaker boss and had the job until the end of the season but with Dundee fifteen points adrift at the bottom he claimed it would be ‘a mountain to climb’. League results and displays improved but the ‘mountain was never climbed’ and relegation to the First Division was confirmed on May 5th after a controversial 1-1 draw with Aberdeen. It was a lot later than many expected after a run of just one defeat in nine since Bomber was appointed and Brown was deservedly given the job full-time.
In the summer Dundee endured a soap opera of their own rather than a national one as Football Partners Scotland looked to invest in the club. After a protracted saga, a vote was held at a Supporters Society SGM on August 12th where members voted overwhelmingly to approve the issuance of 100 million new shares in Dundee FC for FPS to purchase. Bill Colvin was subsequently appointed as chairman, with Steve Martin and Ian Crighton rejoining the board alongside John Nelms from American investment group Keyes Capital who was appointed Director of Football Operations.
Manager John Brown spent the summer building a squad to get Dundee back into the top tier at the first attempt and after a sluggish start, were right on the tail of leaders Hamilton after the first quarter.
By the New Year Dundee were on top of new Scottish Championship but after a series of disappointing home results, Brown resigned with his side joint top of the league. To replace him, The Dee turned to former Scotland internationalist Paul Hartley who had done an impressive job at Alloa, leading them to consecutive promotions and his target was to make it a hat-trick by taking Dundee back into the top tier at the first attempt.
Hartley’s first game in charge was against fellow title challengers Hamilton Academical on February 8th and his reign got off to the perfect start with a 1-0 win over his old side, making Hartley the first Dundee manager for 24 years to win his opening game.
Over the next few months the lead repeatedly changed hands between Dundee and Hamilton with Falkirk also on their tales and after a valiant 1-1 draw with Hamilton at New Douglas Park and a convincing 4-0 home win over Cowdenbeath at Dens, the Dark Blues were in pole position with just three games left.
However disaster struck on a sunny day in Greenock when already relegated Morton shocked The Dee with a 1-0 win. Hamilton went back to the top by a point meaning Dundee needed favours from others but just seven days later the football gods were smiling on Dundee as Dumbarton thumped Hamilton 4-1 as The Dee beat Alloa 3-0 in front of a sold out away end at Recreation Park.
It was all set up for Dundee to clinch promotion and the Scottish Championship trophy at home to Dumbarton on the last day of the season where a win would guarantee the title while a draw was likely good enough as Dundee were two points and eight goals ahead of Accies.
Anticipation reached fever pitch as Dens Park sold out by the Wednesday but the capacity crowd in attendance could hardly have anticipated the high drama that was about to unfold. Christian Nade and Peter MacDonald gave Dundee a 2-0 half-time lead but when Scott Agnew pulled one back from the spot with twenty minutes left, the news filtering through from Lanarkshire was that Accies were beating Morton 8-1. The Greenock side pulled one back before Hamilton scored twice to make it 10-2, giving them the eight goals they needed to better Dundee’s goal difference on goals scored.
A goal for Dumbarton therefore would hand the title to Hamilton and The Sons desperately pushed forward in search of an equaliser to spoil the Dark Blues’ party. First there was a penalty shout for Dumbarton, then an almighty scramble in the Dundee box and then with 90 minutes on the clock Kyle Letheren pulled off a world class fingertips save from a Bryan Prunty header as The Dee tried to desperately hang on to their 2-1 lead.
Eventually the referee’s final whistle went and Dens Park exploded into unbridled joy. Dundee were SPFL Championship winners and had won promotion at the first attempt. The helicopter carrying the Championship trophy which had been circling over Dens in the final minutes delivered the trophy and when it was handed over to captain Gavin Rae it signaled that Dundee were back in the big time and could now look forward to the Premiership and the return of the derbies.
Paul Hartley rebuilt the squad in the summer in preparation for the Premiership and it would pay dividends with a top six finish in Dundee's first season back in the top tier. The highlight was the derby victory over United in April which all but secured that top six finish and the success of Dundee's season was emphasised by Greg Stewart's nomination for Premiership Player of the Year and Scott Bain's call up to the full Scotland side.
Article by Kenny Ross - Kenny is the author of 'Dundee: Champions of Scotland 1961-62', 'Dundee Legends', 'Dundee's Hampden Heroes' and 'It's All About the Memories'. A selection of those are available to purchase from the club shop and also online by clicking here.
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