Back in 1996 I began keeping a scrapbook detailing the fortunes of Dundee Football Club. Clippings from newspapers and other little oddities such as team-photo prints and the prospectus trying to cajole fans into buying shares in the club, all stored away for posterity. Twenty-two years later, one of my daughters was tasked with retrieving the surprisingly un-battered books (67 of the 70 that were filled - 3 remain missing in action) from our loft and for the first time in over two decades I’ve been reliving Dens days of yore.
Do you remember Mark Ward? Laurent Croce? Ole Petter Skonner? No? Neither do I, but they all played a part in book two of the scrapbook years, Dundee looking yet again to drag themselves out of the 1st Division (remember that?) while struggling to score goals on the field of play and looking like a soap opera off it.
With book one having gone walkabout, our first travel back in time begins in the second tome, which picks up our story on Tuesday 17th September 1996 as Billy Thomson and Barry Smith could be found posing in The Courier with a mop and bucket just below the Dens Park Main Stand. According to the press, the goalkeeper and defender were hoping to ‘mop up’ Aberdeen in the quarter final of the Coca Cola Cup the next night, having seen off our neighbours in a penalty shoot-out in the previous round (which must feature in the lost book!). With the Evening Telegraph exclaiming The Dons to be ‘red hot’, it was clear that the opposition, who had easily beaten Dundee in the previous year’s final, were strong favourites once again.
Thomson and Smith may have been trotted out to the media pre-match but it was Paul Tosh who hit the headlines with a stunning cushioned header and volleyed finish, which would still be orbiting the planet now had it not struck the back of Nicky Walker’s net. The deadlock broken, the game ebbed and flowed, before the Dee’s Kevin Bain sent a searing volley against the Aberdeen crossbar, but as is so often the case for Dundee, punishment for that miss wasn’t far away. With the cleaning ladies in defence proving they couldn’t even deal with the merest hint of spilt milk, Smith and Thomson made a hash of a weak cross into the Dundee box; a case of ‘after you’ finding the keeper brushing against ex-Dundee striker Billy Dodds, who dutifully added a triple Salchow to his unabashed clatter to the floor. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the play actor then rubbed salt in the Dundee wounds by tucking the resultant spot kick into the bottom right corner of Thomson’s goal.
Not long after burly ex-Hull man Dean Windass received a yellow card for Aberdeen for bundling into Dundee midfield maestro Chic Charnley, already booked alongside the home team’s Robbie Raeside in a melee after the penalty award, Windass trotted towards the right hand side of the Main Stand for an early bath.
Dundee could sense that now was their moment but it wasn’t until the last minute of the tie that target man Jim Hamilton prodded a George Shaw through ball under Walker and into the Provie Road end goal. The experienced goalkeeper really ought to have done better with the rather tame effort, but thanks to that decisive moment, Dundee were semi-final bound for the second Coca Cola Cup campaign on the trot.
On the domestic front things were going equally well for Dundee, a 2-0 home win against East Fife being followed by a single goal victory in Perth. A 2-1 Dens triumph over Clydebank (who we now know as Airdrieonians after a spell under the name Airdrie United) followed before a Robbie Raeside inspired 1-0 away win to Falkirk continued the run of good form, even though Chic Charnley was met with his fifteenth career red card during the game.
Charnley’s manager, Jim Duffy, announced post-match that he wouldn’t be punishing the player as he thought Chic had been harshly dealt with. The authorities however thought otherwise and promptly handed the hugely talented but much maligned midfielder a five match ban.
The first game of the playmaker’s enforced absence quickly illustrated just how vital the ex-Partick man had become to Duffy’s side; the wheels suddenly coming off what had appeared to be an unstoppable Dundee juggernaut as Charnley’s old club strolled to a 2-0 win at Dens. But with 20 points taken from the first 10 games of the season Dundee were still three points clear of St. Johnstone at the top of the league.
During this time ‘wee’ front-man Georgie Shaw would, in these pre-transfer window days, catch the eye of, rather bizarrely, Real Mallorca. The diminutive striker signing a succession of one month deals at Dundee as a long ‘will he - won’t he’ saga played out. During which time Stuttgart Kickers added to the uncertainty by also taking an interest in the player’s future.
With a knee injury to Dundee’s English midfielder Gary McKeown compounding the creative woes begun by Charnley’s suspension and team boss Duffy being linked with the vacant manager’s job at Hibs - which ex and future Dee legend Jocky Scott was currently keeping warm after the sacking of Alex Miller - as ever, supporting Dundee was never boring.
With the cup win over Aberdeen being rewarded with a ‘neutral’ Edinburgh clash against Hearts at Easter Road, that the headlines on the back of The Tully bellowed ‘Welcome Cup Cash’, made it clear that Dundee’s problems ran deeper than a shortage of numbers in middle of the park.
Ex-United midfield dynamo Jim McInally was linked with the club on the 2nd of October, but announced his return to ‘them across the street’ the very next day (although he’d turn up at Dens for a second spell with Dundee soon after), before a succession of bit parts, trialists and journeymen spun through the revolving doors of Dens Park.
In the meantime a lacklustre and mistake strewn first hour against Hearts in the Coca Cola Cup semi final found The Dee three down, before Jim Hamilton clawed back a consolation goal. Dundee spent the rest of the match in the ascendancy, but the cup dream was over for another year during a time when as a 1st Division outfit we proved a thorn in the side of many a top flight club.
That late consolation was a rarity for Dundee in the coming weeks, The Evening Telegraph bestowing the unwelcome headline ‘1 goal in over 1000 minutes’ on Dundee on the 1st of December.
The intervening period coincided with all manner of bizarre cameos in the Dundee starting line-up. Ex-‘million pound’ West Ham midfielder Mark Ward turning in an anonymous performance in a 1-0 Dens defeat against St.Mirren, courtesy of The Buddies’ free scoring cart-horse Mark Yardley. While two games later Frenchman Laurent Croce proved equally ineffectual; the ex-Toulon, Sochaux and Cretail man given the hook after 81 minutes, never to be seen again (well not in the dark blue of Dundee, anyway) as George O’Boyle gave St. Johnstone another single goal victory over The Dee’s.
Middlesbrough youngster Stephen McGargle (I’m not making these names up, honestly), was next to try his luck at Dens. With his main club signing future Dee cameo man Fabrizio Ravanelli, the hopeful hit-man knew he needed to look elsewhere to get game time. However, like Icelander Gretar Hjartsson the striker never kicked a ball in anger in Scotland before heading home.
The Dark Blues’ form continued its worrying dip and by the 30th of November, the mighty Dee had whimpered their way to only three more points and were now 5th in the table, some 12 points behind new league leaders St.Johnstone. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, estranged club owner Ron Dixon (see UWT’s story here for more details on this ‘colourful character’) failed to return to Dens as promised for talks with vice-chairman Malcolm Reid and first team boss Jim Duffy, regarding a mooted, if left-field, take-over of the club by the pair.
On the park it was hoped that Norwegian Ole Petter Skonner would help turn the club’s goal drought round, but a glaring miss from 6 yards against third bottom Clydebank resulted in a Sunday Mail headline of ‘No Score Bore At Boghead’, as the Bankies borrowed Dumbarton’s home as they continued a slow six year stumble towards extinction.
So, surely all that was needed for Dundee to turn their ship around was a tie against rock bottom East Fife who, as the Tully delighted in telling us, shared the season’s worst record across the whole of the UK with FA Carling Premiership side Nottingham Forest. Both teams having amassed only one win each.
And so it proved....almost. Goals from Robbie Raeside and Jerry O’Driscoll (who had been punted out on loan with Andy Cargill to Portadown, only to be recalled soon after) within the opening 23 minutes breaking the drought. However, East Fife struck back through Robert Scott, who blasted past 18 year old debutant Dundee keeper Gary McGlynn, as the rookie understudied for the injured Billy Thomson. The Methill men then went on to have an equaliser chopped off for offside.
And then the lights went out on Dundee’s lead…literally. Floodlight failure ending the tie after only 48 minutes, and with it dreams of a first Dundee win in seven games were dashed by a Bayview power failure.
It was a bad night for Dee’s all round, Dundee fan Fergus Hutchison explaining to the local press that he and a group of fellow supporters had found the door “slammed in our faces” when they asked for a refund, or at least tokens to gain entry into the fixture when it was rearranged. Although East Fife did go on to explain that they were supposedly finalising details with Dundee and the league authorities about how to reimburse those they’d left in the dark.
Thankfully just 4 days later on Saturday 7th December, Dundee did again find the net twice and this time both goals counted, as the 19 year old pair of Iain Anderson and Gavin Rae scored either side of a hotly disputed disallowed Falkirk ‘goal’. With McGlynn still between the sticks and Craig Tully in defence, alongside Rae and O’Driscoll, it was a young Dundee side who grabbed the victory against the team who had, back in October, also been the last to allow The Dee to hit the net on league action. However, it was the returning talisman, Chic Charnely, who had made the biggest difference for Jim Duffy’s team, orchestrating a much needed win from central midfield.
Ole Petter Skonner, or ‘O.P.’ as Duffy dubbed him in the press, would again come off the bench late in the match for Dundee, and the Norwegian would make his one and only start for the club against Stirling Albion on the day book two of my scrapbooks would reach its final page, on the 14th November 1996.
Did he score? Of course not. Jerry O’Driscoll being the man who nicked a goal in the 79th minute for Dundee, before Tom Tait would grab only his team’s 14th point from 18 games with an equaliser just 2 minutes from time. Dee manager Duffy would, according to the Sunday Mail, “scream his disappointment”, accusing his players of having “a lack of determination” as they let two points slip away. Although it did find them back up to fourth and one less point adrift of St. Johnstone with 11 points now separating Dundee from the top of the table.
As ever at Dens, what was happening on the field was only half the story, the club being hit with a loss of £172,956 on the year to May 31st 1996, partly down to a near £54,000 penalty incurred by the club for not dealing with their VAT ‘properly’. The story in The Courier going on to detail the flow of money into - and out of - the club through Ron Dixon’s companies, along with legal disputes with former directors and associated firms. Unfortunately these would become ever stronger themes in the months ahead.
On the evening of the 13th December, the same day the losses had been revealed, The Evening Telegraph promptly ruined every Dundee fan’s Christmas. The paper announcing that talented young striker Jim Hamilton would follow his ex-team mate and Dundee’s current boss, Neil McCann, to Hearts for the sum of £250,000 and, supposedly, a player in return. Jambo John Colquhoun, however, promptly refused to make the switch, while a rumoured deal with Kevin Thomas didn’t come to fruition either. Instead Duffy would bring in ex-Norwich frontman Lee Power, who signed just too late to join his beleaguered team mates as they stumbled to their 1-1 draw in Stirling.
During the near two month period this scrapbook covered, Dundee played 13 league games, winning five, losing three and drawing four, and one was, of course, abandoned. While a memorable League Cup quarter final win over Aberdeen at Dens was followed by a disappointing semi ‘pay day’ defeat to Hearts.
With youngsters Scott Ferguson and Barry McGregor (from Australian outfit Mount Prichard) also having short trials at the club, amazingly, eight players would come into Dens during that period. Only Lee Power would stay for any length of time (although not that long, but more of that another day). Three would depart the club, Jim Hamilton, George Shaw (initially to League of Ireland side Home Farm, before his move to Spain would fall through and he’d return to Dens for a time), and youngster Dave Fisher all waving goodbye, with the latter joining Montrose. While Jerry O’Driscoll and Andy Cargill would be put out on loan only to be recalled almost immediately due to injuries and suspensions within the squad.
In truth. all the player coming and goings and the rumours they created were a now much missed part of any league season in these pre-transfer window days, and they added at least some intrigue for the Dundee support as our season wound to an anticlimactic conclusion. However, with scoring droughts at one end and stupid goals conceded at the other, in many ways while this period in Dundee’s history may seem like it comes from a different age altogether, little has changed. Even if, thankfully, much has.
To be continued…