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.
With The Dark Blues having reached the semi-finals of the Coca Cola Cup and been riding high at the top of the old first division early in the season, by the time book two of the scrapbook years came to an end, much of that early optimism had frittered away. A run of poor form - especially in front of goal - found The Dee’s trailing St Johnstone by a massive 11 points as they battled for the one and only automatic promotion spot into the land of milk and honey, known otherwise as The Scottish Premier League.
The sale of Jim Hamilton to Hearts for £200,000 highlighted the two other major issues Dundee faced at the time. Namely a budget that barely seemed able to cover the heating bill, never mind a promotion push and the complete disinterest of the club’s latest white knight turned villain, Canadian ‘business man’ and club owner Ron Dixon.
Book three in the scrapbook years begins with Dundee heading to East Fife for a rescheduled fixture between the pair. The original match having been plunged into darkness by a Bayview floodlight failure with The Dee leading 2-1, as they had looked to end a run of six league games without hitting the back of the net.
East Fife would again grab a goal in the hastily arranged December 17th fixture, but this time the mighty Dark Blues would see things fully click into place at the business end of the park. Two goals from Iain Anderson and single strikes from Robbie Raeside, David Winnie, Paul Tosh, Gavin Rae and Jerry O’Driscoll negating Stefan Winiarski’s consolation as The Dee won 7-1.
Having recently arrived from Peterborough, frontman Lee Power would actually be crowned as man of the match, even if the English striker branded himself as “hopeless” in the next night’s Evening Telegraph for failing to get in on the scoring act. Although both he and O’Driscoll, who had actually been an injury doubt for the game, would prove to be key as Dundee looked to fend off St Mirren, Airdrie, Partick Thistle and Falkirk in the fight for the playoffs.
Therefore, it was vital that The Dens Men wouldn’t hand The Jags any Christmas cheer as the pair met in Glasgow on Boxing Day. Things started well with Iain Anderson’s “rising drive”, as The Courier described it, opening the scoring as it left Thistle keeper John Hillcoat grasping the air.
Partick would equalise with a hotly disputed Jered Stirling penalty. The Dee’s Robbie Raeside being penalised for handling in the box after the ball clearly struck him on the chest. With Gareth Evans then sending the home fans into raptures with their team’s second goal, it was up to Paul Tosh to ensure the Christmas presents were equally shared as he “fired in from 25 yards”.
As is the way with rearranged fixtures, they often throw up quick-fire return clashes. Hence only 11 days after Dundee had hammered East Fife by six goals at Bayview, they welcomed them to Dens and did it all over again. This time The Fifers couldn’t even muster a consolation, Dundee running out comfortable 6-0 winners as the Sunday Mail put the headline ‘Lee Throws The Power Switch’ up in bright lights.
Having failed to find the net in the first fixture, The Dee’s latest signing would fire home twice. Jerry O’Driscoll would add two strikes of his own, with wide man Paul Tosh and midfield maestro Chic Charnely also scoring. Although the match would also be notable for the minute’s silence that preceded it to honour ex-Dee Bobby Robinson, who sadly passed away that week.
With The Dark Blue faithful needing their fingers to keep tally of their team’s recent scoring exploits, by Monday 30th December, they were using them to cover their eyes as The Daily Record blared out ‘Duffy Ready To Go’ right across their back page. Long seen as the galvanising force keeping Dundee FC together in the face of their Scarlet Pimpernel owner and the impotent board he left running the club, this was the news that Dundee supporters feared the most.
Having led the club to the Coca Cola Cup final the year before and kept his charges competitive in the 1st Division in the face of all manner of player comings and goings - including the sale of prize assets Neil McCann and Jim Hamilton to Hearts in quick succession - many believed that without Jim Duffy at the helm, Dundee were doomed.
What had been expected to be a stormy AGM the night before turned into an easy ride for the board, even with the £20,000 to £25,000 losses they were incurring on a monthly basis. All the focus turning to Duffy as he announced, according to The Record, “The bottom line is that I do not know whether I will be here next year or not. As a manager I feel my credibility is waning. The board members might be slightly shocked to hear this but I would be more liable to listen to job offers today than I would have done three or four months ago.” Before he would go into worrying detail on his situation, “I have had phone calls from Premier League clubs, including Hibs, but I asked them to make a formal approach to the club and it would be considered.”
Personal ambition, however, wasn’t Duffy’s only motivation, with his frustration at the restrictions he was working under at Dens clearly an even bigger factor in his earth-shattering proclamation. “I have no real money to work with” he would confess “and it seems like you are going round in circles.” Although the local press would maybe sum things up even more succinctly with the quote from the manager of “It’s like bouncing your head against a brick wall…”
If Duffy’s comments had been intended to soften up the Dundee support, then they only had a few hours for the news to sink in. The same day’s Evening Telegraph ensuring every Dundee fan’s New Year would not be a happy one as they declared ‘Duffy Quits Dundee’. Long rumoured to be on their managerial radar it was indeed Hibernian that lured Duffy from Dens, the promise of £700,000 to spend on players at a top-flight team just too good to turn down.
Vice-chairman Malcolm Reid would suggest in the same newspaper that Duffy had already refused three offers to extend his contract at Dundee, with talk of a salary offer of £80,000 also bandied about. Although, if anyone knew that the club couldn’t afford to honour that deal, then surely it was the manager of the cash strapped Dee’s?
Never a support to overreact, Duffy’s departure was met in the much-missed Sporting Post on Saturday 4th January 1997 with the headline, ‘Is This The “Beginning Of The End” For Dundee?’. Former supporter’s association secretary Jim Mackay suggesting only Duffy could keep the club competitive on a “shoestring budget”, before reminding us that the now ex-manager and some directors at the club had gone as far as to “stump up their own cash to help pay wages during particularly lean spells.”
Admittedly, by this stage assistant manager John McCormack had been announced as Duffy’s successor and welcomed into the lion’s Dens with an away game at league leaders St Johnstone. Having scored 15 goals in their last three games, Dundee had every right to go into the New Year’s Day fixture in good spirits, even if their talisman had left the club just days before. However, if predictions of doom after Duffy’s departure seemed to be at least slightly over the top, a 7-2 hammering in Perth was reason enough for panic to set in (and for this Dee to leave a match early, which I’ve only ever done three times in my 35+ years following the club).
Hardly a vintage performance from those in their white away tops, a 1-1 score line at half-time gave no indication of what was to follow. Billy Thomson in the Dundee goal having a personal nightmare as he flapped at numerous cross balls and shots, resulting in the blame for at least two goals being placed squarely at his feet. However, the sheer embarrassment of losing seven goals wasn’t down to one individual, with not a single Dundee player being anything less than abject in their display.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, at 6-1 behind tempers flared and Dee defender Robbie Raeside appeared to plant a right hook on the jaw of his own teammate, Chic Charnely. Having missed the incident, referee Willie Young was made aware by one of his assistants and promptly allowed Charnley’s past disciplinary problems to cloud his judgement. With a second yellow brandished at the bemused player, it was quickly followed by a card nearly as red as Charnley’s throbbing face. Even Saints’ frontman Roddy Grant tried to step in on behalf of his clattered, stunned and punished opponent, but to no avail. The taps in the away dressing room being turned on prematurely once more for Charnley, as they had been so many times before.
With ten minutes to go, Saints would rub salt in the wounds with a seventh goal, before Jerry O’Driscoll would slot home a penalty for Dundee in the dying minutes. And much though they would protest otherwise in the press, there was a strong feeling that all at Dens were quietly relieved when their game against St Mirren three days later in Paisley, was postponed due to bad weather.
New Dens boss ‘Cowboy’ McCormack would keep his handling of the sending off in-house, but as the days rolled on it became clear where he thought the blame lay. Free from suspension after Power and O’Driscoll would fire The Dee’s to a much needed 2-1 home win over Airdrie on the 11th of January, Charnley still wasn’t in the squad as Dundee beat Clydebank 1-0 at Dens a week later, thanks to another Jerry O’Driscoll winner - his 7th goal in 8 games.
The first of those two matches were also notable for Dundee’s Arsenal style Firkin Brewery Kit being put in the ‘wrong wash’, resulting in the Dee’s playing in a dark and light blue mishmash. The sleeves and collars taking on a ghostly blue hue due to the colour of the strip’s body bleeding as it tumbled round and round, in what could be seen as a rather bleak metaphor of Dundee’s recent hurdy-gurdy fortunes.
Three days later The Courier would report that Charnley was “off sick” from training, before ‘Cowboy’ would deny the next day that he and the midfielder had had a bust up. But only two days later Dundee supporters were dismayed, if not surprised, that Chic Charnely had been freed by the club. Bringing his short, dazzling and controversial stay at Dundee to an end. If anyone had doubted McCormack’s words to the local press just after his appointment that “Cowboy aims to do it his way”, then this move, which saw a firm Jim Duffy favourite head for the exit, surely proved it.
Few, however, could have been that surprised when Charnley’s old boss stepped in to take the mercurial talent to Easter Road on a “No-play, No-pay Deal”, according to The Courier. Although, after an early honeymoon period for player and manager alike, things slowly unravelled at Hibs for both.
Eh Mind O' Duffy is Continued here...