Old habits die hard in Dundee derby

December 7, 2012

Patrick Barclay and Jamie Trecker grew up near Dundee as passionate football fans of the city’s rival clubs. That rivalry, between Dundee FC and Dundee United, is one of the world’s most unique: the stadiums are separated only by a street, and your authors were able to amble back and forth between the rivals each weekend as kids. With the Tayside Derby on this weekend (live, FOX Soccer Plus, Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET). Paddy and Jamie explain why this match is so special -- and why the other guy’s team sucks.

Barclay: I fell in love with the dark-blue shirts of Dundee in 1957, when I was 10 years old and my grandfather finally gave in and took me to a match. Although technically there were two Scottish League teams in the city, United hardly registered. They were in the Second Division and all you noticed of humble Tannadice on the stroll to Dens Park – the stadiums are less than 100 yards apart – was a tiny wooden grandstand in which the changing facilities were so rudimentary that the mighty Rangers, when drawn away to United in the Cup, chose to put on their kit at Dens and walk to the match.

After four years, Dundee turned from good to brilliant. Bob Shankly, brother of Bill, the founder of the modern Liverpool, became the first member of the family to build a championship-winning side. To me every player was a star – and still is – but the man who stood out was the leading goalscorer, Alan Gilzean. He wasn’t so much a striker as a study in nonchalant assassination and went on to become a legend at Tottenham Hotspur as well – so much so that last month, when 'Gilly' paid his first visit to White Hart Lane in 40 years, a London audience of all ages rose in acclaim.

After the Scottish title season (which remains Dundee’s one and only) came the European Cup – the forerunner to the Champions League. The draw first paired us with Cologne, the West German champions, and I can remember simply hoping for respectability: a home draw and a relatively light defeat over there, say. After 20 minutes we were pinching ourselves. With Gilly rampant, we were 5-0 up. It ended 8-1 and, although the Germans won the second leg 4-0, we were through.


Next we swept aside Sporting of Lisbon to earn a tie against Anderlecht, who had probably their best team ever but were beaten 4-1 on their own pitch. My memory of this was listening to a radio broadcast in Flemish. I couldn’t understand a word except 'Gilzean', which the commentator seemed to be using a lot – and in a rather gloomy way, so I knew we’d done well. This took us to a semi-final against Milan and harsh reality. But what a journey it had been and I thanked God for making me a Dundee supporter.

At this stage there was only one downside. United had improved and been promoted. In a way, it simply broadened our opportunity to watch good stuff, for in those days you supported the reserve-team players as well as the stars. They’d kick off around 2.30pm instead of 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in winter to save on the floodlight bill and so, having watched our reserves, we’d head across the road and watch the final half hour of the first-team game at Tannadice – they threw open the gates and let you in for free.

Happy days they were but they didn’t last. Dundee declined, United emulated both our title success and our European Cup semi and then did some more. Although they’re still top dogs – the first derby of this season proved it – it’s only temporary. True, it’s lasted the best part of half a century, but it’s still a blip.

Trecker: I came to United in the 1970s, well after they had been Dundee Hibernian and just after they had been a bizarre footnote in the old NASL. (United were imported whole cloth to America to play for two seasons as the Dallas Tornado; the glaring orange uniforms they wear today were acquired during that American tour.)

Like many fans, I support United, admittedly with an ardor that borders on the delusional, because they are my father’s team. Jerry, whom older readers will know as the Hall of Fame soccer writer in this country (and the backbone of your coverage on @FOXSoccerTrax to boot) is an obsessive who used to rig up elaborate systems to hear shortwave broadcasts of games from the more obscure corners of the world. You do not want to know about the era of satellite television, and why he picked United is a story I have not entirely got to the bottom of. I believe it was proximity: my mother’s family was from St. Andrews, and I imagine my father got to Tannadice and flipped a coin. In truth, we went to both teams' home games every week.

But United were the crafty ones. They got their nickname, 'Arabs' from the fact that they spread a bit of sand on a frozen pitch. And the United of my era was an exceptional team: Davie Dodds, Paul Neary, Hamish McAlpine and Paul Sturrock may be Greek to Americans' ears, but these men were the backbone of the last great Scottish national team.

This should be measured in context: Dundee is not exactly a vacation spot. In my era, it was a failing shipbuilding town, sliding into drugs and violence. It was best known for marmalade and comic books. It was tough. But there was also very little distance between the players and the small coastal communities that surround the city. I got to take shots on McAlpine’s net at the St. Andrews fun fair (and I beat him, I did) and autographs off Sturrock at a chip shop.

United, like Dundee, have also won just one Premier League title. We also are a club with a sense of proportion, going so far as to celebrate coming second in the UEFA Cup. I have the scarf to prove it. We have also kicked Dundee’s butt up and down that massive hill that separates the two grounds from the rest of the city for ages now, and I fully expect we will do the same this weekend. It will be glorious.