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    Jacky, Cowboy and The Pole

    Tales From The Scrapbooks Part 5

    Even following the worst of seasons, after a few weeks most football supporters can’t wait for the whole thing to start again. However, as the 1996-97 season came to an end with yet another failed tilt at the title, or indeed even a play-off spot, there was palpable excitement amongst the Dark Blue faithful. Over the next few weeks barely a day would go by without another reason for that anticipation to build and build, with reports of player acquisitions and a change of owners being a constant feature in the local and national press. So much so that the latest tales from the scrapbooks focuses fully on a period when Dundee didn’t play a single game of football that really mattered. 

    Taking care of the final pieces of last season’s business, Barry Smith who had just completed his first full season with the club after joining from Celtic in the deal that took Morten Weighorst to Glasgow the season before, was pictured in Monday May 12th’s Evening Telegraph holding the Andrew De Vries trophy after having been named as Dundee’s Player Of The Season. Whereas it was striker Jerry O’Driscoll who was pictured with young Dee supporter Ian MacLeod and the rest of the Dark Blue squad having being nominated as the Junior Dark Blue’s POTY after scoring 11 goals in the previous campaign.

    However, most eyes were turned on the issue of the club’s ownership, local business brothers Peter and Jimmy Marr still working to tie up the final strands of their proposed takeover of Dundee Football Club from its current, often absent leader, Ron Dixon. Although as had been the theme for the closing weeks of last season, ‘The Tully’ suggested in its May 12th headline, ‘An EGM May Be Called - Another Dens Hitch’. The reason this time being that even though the Marrs had upped their share offer from six pence per share to fourteen pence, The Takeover Panel were concerned that most of the initial £1.3 million offer would be structured as loan repayments to Dixon, rather than through the sale of his 72% share of the club. But Peter Marr was undeterred stating that “we will do whatever is required” to get the deal over the line. And just the next day in The Courier the businessman was quoted as saying he “would certainly expect to get the backing of the minority shareholders at any EGM”, should that be necessary.

    Hence it was before he had been confirmed as owner that Peter Marr gave The Courier the headline ‘Job Security For McCormack’, saying that although he had not intended to make any announcements before the takeover was formalised, it would have been wrong to leave the manager unsure of his future. Adding “He [McCormack] has done a great job for Dundee in very difficult circumstances since taking over. He is contracted for two more years and we were always going to honour that deal.” 

    Things weren’t quite so certain for another member of the Dundee backroom team, however, youth coach Ray Farningham being linked with his first move into management with Arbroath. But ‘Jinky’ wasn’t the only name being connected with the job vacated by ex-St.Johnstone coach Tommy Campbell, who had left the club he’d taken to rock bottom of the Scottish professional leagues, to accept the manager’s job at Montrose. Tom Steven, Jim Moffat and Julian Broddle were all supposedly also in the frame for the Arbroath job but in the end it would be Tayport’s Dave Baikie who would lead The Gable Endies into the new season. While St Joseph’s manager and ex-Dundee player Kenny Cameron was also announced as joining the new-look Dee’s coaching staff, although it wasn’t really clarified at this stage what his role would be.

    On the same day there was a signal of intent from the Dens Park club that season 97-98 would be a big one not just in terms of leadership. The Daily Record back page blaring ‘Irvine Race On’, adding ‘Four Clubs Chase Freed Dons Star’, with St Johnstone, Motherwell, Burnley and Dundee all linked with “The heartbroken 31 year old Brian Irvine who was axed after 12 years at Pittodrie.” Somewhat worryingly the Aberdeen defender had in recent times found a Judas sign hanging from his dressing room peg after he’d accused some past and present Dons players of lacking commitment. Key for Dee’s however was that the only manager from those linked clubs that was quoted in the article was ‘Cowboy’ McCormack, who succinctly said “I’m definitely interested. Brian’s a quality player.” 

    That news was tempered by the same paper suggesting ‘Thommo Target For Duffy’. The ‘Thommo’ in question being Dundee goalkeeper Billy Thomson, with it being reported that with young Gary McGlynn looking to make the Dundee goalkeeper’s spot his own, John McCormack might not be too hard to deal with if ex-Dark Blue boss Jim Duffy came calling to add the ‘keeper to his Hibernian squad.

    Two Dee’s definitely leaving Dens were veteran striker Iain Ferguson, who was being freed after his third spell with the club, along with Barry Thomson. The next day the then current longest serving Dundee player, Gary McKeown and defender David Winnie were also released, with long unsettled frontman George Shaw being made available for transfer by mutual consent. The week’s squad restructuring being completed by the signing of Dundee YTS player John Elliot on a professional contract.

    June began with the news on the 2nd of the month that Dundee were now being linked with current Dundee United player-coach Jim McInally, but proving that the takeover saga was hindering Cowboy’s ability to build his squad, the deal could not be finalised. Although that issue hadn’t stopped the manager from offering George Shaw a new 2 year deal, which the striker was, according to The Daily Record, likely to turn down.

    The main job for McCormack at this stage was to organise his first pre-season as boss, with a mooted tour of the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, cancelled days after it was announced due to guarantees over facilities and opposition falling through. The manager instead suggested his new charges could head north to play Highland League opposition. However, the only north that Dundee would be headed towards would actually be south, with a five game North of England tour finally settled on. Dens Park fixtures against Portsmouth and top-flight Kilmarnock rounding out the build up to the real ball coming out. 

    With that announcement made on the 10th of June, The Dark Blues would, the very next day, be installed as joint favourites to win the league alongside recently relegated Raith Rovers. That may have felt a little premature given that what Dundee lacked at that very moment was a squad capable of making a title challenge, but with the takeover finally nearing completion the football press were now fully aware that Dundee were about to have, in comparison to recent years, money to burn. Hence the silly season was in full swing, with long rumoured Dundee transfer target Billy Davies, currently of Motherwell, once again linked with the club, while on the 15th of June it was freed Rangers and ex-Everton star Trevor Steven that The Sunday Post suggested could be headed Dundee’s way.

    What was sure, however, was that ex-Arab, and to be fair, ex-Dee, Jim McInally would be back in Dark Blue for the upcoming season, £20,000 headed to United to secure the midfield general’s services on Friday 13th of June, with The Record featuring a picture of the tanned player wearing a matching chino and shirt combo that would make the eyes bleed. Although, maybe it was that they insisted on featuring him with Tannadice Park in the background of the picture that truly caused offence? And with his history with the club across the road still strong in the memory, the player admitted the next week in the same paper that he had “to win over Dens fans for the second time because I owe this club everything” as McInally reminisced that a three month loan spell under Archie Knox at Dundee some 13 years previous was what really started his career. 

    Tuesday the 17th of June was the day that Dee’s had been waiting for, the Evening Telegraph picturing Peter Marr behind his desk in budget Alan Sugar pose, under the block capital headline ‘MARRS IN CONTROL’. With the next day’s Courier sending a headline message to all Dee’s with ‘Dundee’s New Owner Sounds Rallying Call’ as he invited “Dark Blue sympathisers everywhere to unite behind the club to make it once more a force to be reckoned with”. Adding that “it is a huge relief to get things all tied up … we genuinely have the best interests of Dundee FC at heart and will be doing everything we can to bring good times to Dens Park.” 

    The positivity was echoed by Malcolm Reid, who officially remained in day to day control of the club until all the details were formalised, when he commented “The last 18 months, since Ron Dixon said not a penny more, have been very difficult. You’ve got to thank the past and current manager (Jim Duffy and John McCormack) who were working under those financial constraints”, although the acting chairman now believed that the club was in a “nice position” financially compared to other Scottish outfits, with Dundee’s debts now down from £1,000,000 to around £400,000. 

    Reid would also encourage “investors to sit tight” with The Courier, adding the sub-headline, ‘Future Is Bright - Don’t Sell Now Is Reid’s Advice’, as the temporary custodian commented that those investors who had “stayed with us through the hard times, shouldn’t miss out on a bright future. I’ve heard the plans for the club and I’m impressed. Things seem to be on the up.” That wouldn’t stop the acting chairman resigning as a matter of formality and selling most of his 233,544 shares to reinvigorate his business interests outside of football… 

    Very quickly the revolution began behind the scenes, new board members Jim Connor and Derek Soutar appointed to the marketing and communications department, with graduate Brian Gray joining them. So when The Firkin Brewery announced they’d continue as the team’s shirt sponsor for the upcoming season with the biggest deal in the club’s history, it was a great start for the new appointments. And that financial positivity would continue right up to the start of the season, the club revealing that they’d outstrip last term’s total sponsorship income in just their first month in the role. Meaning that all that was left to truly cement the feel good factor at Dundee was for the same level of progress to happen on the park. 

    By the 24th of June Dundee were reportedly tracking ex-Hearts ‘keeper Gary O’Connor, who had been released by Doncaster, but the big news was that after a long chase James Grady had finally been snapped up from Clydebank for what was being reported as a cut-price fee of £25,000. The now-defunct club having originally been looking for three times that amount. And if any Dee had doubts over their acquisition’s commitment to his new club they were allayed in The Daily Record on the 27th of June. “I feared I would never get my move to Dundee,” Grady revealed. “When the deal fell through on deadline day [last season], I was gutted. I’m delighted Dundee refused to give up.” Morton had also been keen to snap up the frontman, but Grady had delayed long enough to ensure that Dens Park remained his chosen destination.

    Then came the completion of the deal for Brian Irvine, which was concluded on the 28th of June, making him, along with Billy Thomson (about whom there’d be no more transfer talk) Jim McInally and Dariusz Adamczuk, one of only four players over the age of 24 in the Dark Blue’s squad.

    Home town boy John Ward was next to arrive at Dens, the ex-Arbroath defender attracting attention from not just Dundee but also Grimsby Town and the now defunct Chester City, as well as Danish teams Brondby and HIK. However the defender was obviously keen to wear Dark Blue, signing a 4 week deal with the club to prove his worth. And, with pre-season training beginning on July 3rd, he wasn’t alone in cutting a short term deal, current striker George Shaw agreeing a one month contract, while Gary O’Connor also signed up on a month’s trial. Add in that Cowboy McCormack then brought Darren Magee, who previous manager Jim Duffy had released from the club 18 months prior, back for pre-season and that ex-Hibs midfielder Paul Kane was reported in the press as having been offered a year long deal by Dundee (which came to nothing), and it was clear that the manager wanted to add further to his options.

    And things didn’t slow from there, with former Montrose, Millwall, Rotherham and Peterborough midfielder John McGlashan joining the club on a two year contract, before freed Bristol Rovers defender Lee Maddison took up the offer of a trial, although he obviously impressed as he signed a two year deal just five days later. 

    On the 11th of July manager McCormack and his Polish fan favourite, Dariusz Adamczuk, were pictured at Dens flanked by the midfielder’s fellow countryman Dariusz Dziekanowski, the one-time Celtic hitman arriving to allow both the player and club to size each other up and see if a deal would be beneficial to both. Was it any wonder that The Courier described the Dark Blue’s summer as a ‘Signing Spree’? 

    The biggest name to pull on a Dundee shirt in pre-season however would have no impact on the forthcoming promotion push whatsoever, Home And Away star Isla Fisher - or Shannon as she was known to her adoring soap fans - a rather bizarre star attraction at the club’s 12th of July open day. The Dark Blue wearing TV star admitting to The Courier that her dad was actually a Rangers supporter… 

    Isla wasn’t the only attraction, with DJs, face painters and of course the first team squad entertaining the 3000 strong crowd that turned up. The Courier also pictured ‘Jacky’ Dziekanowski signing autographs and George Shaw giving a young fan a peck on the cheek while a lad with his face painted as a tiger and wearing, rather bizarrely, a Newcastle United away top stared dolefully at the camera with a look that suggested this awkward image was an out-take from Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights!   

    Back in the real world Dundee opened their pre-season account against Macclesfield on Thursday the 17th of July, although The Dee had headed south without defender John Ward, who McCormack had informed wouldn’t be offered a deal by the club, or Dziekanowski, who couldn’t yet obtain a work permit. The player not, as was the criteria back then, having turned out often enough for his national team in recent years to convince the employment authorities that he’d be an improvement on the home grown players he could potentially be replacing. 

    The absentees didn’t adversely affect Dundee who ran out three goal winners, with strikes coming from debutants James Grady - who “cracked home a 25 yarder after receiving a pass from Eddie Annand” - and Brian Irvine - who “thundered home a 71st minute header from an Iain Anderson corner”. An Edey own goal added a sheen to the scoreline for the Dark Blues, who had spurned numerous opportunities to add to their tally, with new signing Jim McInally having been reported as pulling all the strings in midfield. 

    Two days later Cowboy’s men racked up a 2-0 win against Lancaster City. This time it was the turn of new singing John McGlashan to get on the goal trail, powering home a header from a Kevin Magee cross and adding to a tenth minute headed goal from defender Robbie Raeside. Again it was that man Magee who had provided the chance, this time from a free kick the speedy wide man had also won. The manager, however, wasn’t impressed and said of his charges “They may have settled for 2-0 but I hadn’t. We’ve got competition for places and those players who play in the first league match will have earned it.”

    The warm up games continued to come thick and fast, with a second 3-0 win of the tour being secured on Monday 21st July against Barrow. This time it was wee George Shaw who grabbed the headlines as he slammed home a double. The first coming early in the second half from a clearance from ‘keeper Gary O’Connor that the striker hammered home after almost tangling with his own team mate, Eddie Annand, while for the second he was on hand to tuck away a rebound after a Dariusz Adamczuk shot, although the frontman had looked decidedly offside. A lofted pass in the final minute that was slotted home by Iain Anderson completed the scoring on a night that Dundee could and maybe should have scored more against an opposition that fought hard but were for long periods outplayed. 

    ‘Harsh Words For Sub-Par Dundee’ was the headline in The Courier after Dundee’s next fixture against a Gretna side featuring Iain Ferguson, who The Dee had released just days before. The 1-1 scoreline not pleasing the manager, and neither did the lacklustre performance. Gretna’s Paul O’Hagan took only three minutes to put the part-timers in front from a corner, while it would be recently promoted ex-YTS lad John Elliot that would grab the equaliser for Dundee in the 18th minute, firing home from the edge of the box. 

    The manager may not have been all that happy but he must have been pleased with the performances and attitude of young Darren Magee, the midfielder delighted to sign a two year deal after impressing during his trial. And he wasn’t alone in making a positive impact, with surprise trialist, Dave Rogers, who McCormack described as a “winner”, starring for Dundee as they ended their English tour with a narrow 1-0 win against Morecambe, courtesy of a Jerry O’Driscoll goal, with the defender heading north with the rest of the squad on the team bus after the match with the intention of trying to secure a permanent deal. 

    His next chance to impress would arrive on Saturday 26th July 1997 against Portsmouth as 1832 supporters would turn out at Dens Park for a first glimpse of Cowboy’s new look side. Eight new arrivals would get a run out that day but it was James Grady who grabbed the attention, steering the ball past ex-Celtic keeper Alan Knight from 16 yards from a Kevin Magee cross to put The Dark Blues in front. A stunning 25 yarder from Pompey’s Dion Burton would take the shine off a strong performance but the home support still showed their appreciation for their new team at the final whistle. 

    Proving what a good piece of business Dundee had completed when they secured the signature of central defender Brian Irvine, the same day’s Sporting Post revealed that the club had already turned down bids to lure the ex-international away from Dens. “It’s true,” McCormack added. “Two clubs have come in for Brian but that doesn’t surprise me, because he is a high profile, quality player. I’ve made him aware of the interest and he is more than happy to be here, which is good news.”

    Ahead of the final warm up game for the club against Kilmarnock that evening, the Tuesday 29th of July Courier announced ‘McCormack Makes Use Of New-Found Options’, suggesting that new signing Lee Maddison and the two remaining trialists on the club’s books, goalkeeper Gary O’Connor and defender Dave Rogers, would all feature in the starting line-up. However by the time The Evening Telegraph hit the news-stands O’Conner had already been told he could leave, the manager commenting, “He’s done well for us, but he just isn’t commanding enough for what I want.”

    That meant that Dundee went into the friendly with veteran Billy Thomson between the sticks. Worryingly, his injury problems from last season would immediately rear their head once more, the big goalie taken off after only 28 minutes, with last season’s deputy - young Gary McGlynn - thrust once more into the spotlight. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be a happy night for the youngster, Dundee suffering their first defeat of the pre-season, going down 4-2 at home to Kilmarnock after being two goals to the good. A Jerry O’Driscoll tap in after strong work from George Shaw and Kevin Magee got The Dee off to a flyer, with the young striker adding to his tally in the 18th minute; this time direct from a Magee cross. 

    Almost straight from the restart Killie frontman Paul Wright would outstrip Rogers to the ball to squeeze home Killie’s first goal, before David Bagan picked up a Ray Montgomerie through ball and slotted it under the onrushing McGlynn on the stroke of halftime. From there on it was one-way traffic, Kilmarnock’s Jerome Vareille twice going close before grabbing his side’s third, with Wright rounding out the scoring late on. 

    McCormack would give brief run outs to youngsters John Elliot, Graham Bayne and Steven Milne but even they wouldn’t take the edge off the manager’s fury at his side’s capitulation against a top flight opponent that looked there for the beating.

    Add a knee injury for two goal hero O’Driscoll to the back issue suffered by Thomson and with the new season only three days away, it had looked to be an expensive night for Dundee. 

    The next day however, the injuries to the keeper and striker were being reported as less serious, while The Record went with the headline ‘Cowboy Axes Dens Fall-Guys - But New Boy Rogers Dodges Flak’ as the central defender signed a two year deal. The manager elaborating when he said “Several players TOTALLY disappointed me. There’s no room for hangers on here and they are under no illusions at the task they’ve now got.”

    With The Courier being resplendent on Friday the 1st of August - the day before the league season began - with a Dundee FC squad photograph featuring some 32 players, by the time the Evening Telegraph would roll off the presses it would already be out of date. The ‘Tully’ had revealed the day before that Dundee had already had two bids turned down for an anonymous player but on the eve of the season this mystery signing had agreed a two year contract in a deal that not only saw The Dee part with an eye watering (by their recent standards) £60,000 but also found their pre-season in form midfielder Kevin Magee - valued at £40,000 - heading in the other direction. 

    The player in question was a certain Robert Douglas, the part-time fireman and brick layer having been prized away from Livingston after John McCormack had hounded the Almondvale club’s manager Jim Leishman about the commanding goalkeeper since May of the year before. And with the man that Douglas looked set to replace, Billy Thomson, signing a deal to become a player coach, Dundee would head into the new season at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Falkirk the very next day buoyed by the news and full of new found confidence…

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