There are very few players in the modern age that can be describe as ‘Dundee Legends.’ We have collected an abundance of fan favourites throughout the years but in my time following the Dark Blues, none come close to reaching the levels that Barry Smith did for the club.
Barry Martin Smith began his career with Celtic when he signed a S-form for the Glasgow club from Giffnock North AFC on the 21st June 1991. Due to a defensive crisis that the Glasgow team were having at that time, he would make his debut at the tender age of seventeen just a few months later in a 4-3 defeat against Falkirk.
During his four-and-a-half-year-stay with Celtic, Smith would find himself as the captain of their reserve team throughout this period and would also make twenty first-team appearances.
His Celtic career would come to an end in December 1995 when he was part of the £600,000 deal that saw fan favourite Morten Weighorst head in the opposite direction, a move which the defender was more than open to.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Celtic, but after being on he fringes at Parkhead, I came to Dundee to get regular first-team football,” said Smith as he prepared to turn out for Jim Duffy’s side.
In what would be the first of many appearances for Dundee, his debut came in a 4-2 defeat against Dunfermline at Dens Park on the 9th December 1995 in what was a tough season for the Dee. The Dark Blues had found themselves 2-0 up but would eventually concede four goals and see Paul Tosh sent off. Despite playing as a full-back with the Parkhead club and also making his debut in that position for the Dee, Duffy would mainly play him at centre-back.
Commenting on the switch, “Jim Duffy was the man responsible for that switch and it’s a role which I relish,” said Barry.
Smith was signed after the Coca Cola League Cup Final but that trip to Hampden Park kept the doors at Dens Park from permanently shutting. The club also finished a lowly fifth place in the First Division but the defender would cement his place in the Dundee starting XI by turning out for all remaining twenty games of the league campaign.
Despite only being at Dens for a relatively short period of time, the following season witnessed Barry being named as the club captain after Neil Duffy was transferred to neighbours Dundee United for £200,000. Smith would hold the captain’s armband until the day he would leave the club.
After narrowly missing out on a play-off place in his first full season as player and captain, Smith won the Player of the Year award and would then go on to better that in the 1997-98 campaign when he led Dundee to the First Division title, clinching the clubs place back in the top league.
Smith recalled, “It was brilliant to win promotion. That was what we aimed to do at the start of the season and to achieve it was so many games to go was different class.
“The First Division winner’s medal was also my first major honour after winning three Reserve League titles and three Reserve League Cup winners medals whilst I was with Celtic.”
For the 1998-99 season, Dundee would finish fifth In their first season back in the Premier League since 1994, their highest finish since 1974-1975. Smith made 35 appearances, only missing three games and he was rewarded with a new three-year deal by Jocky Scott to keep him at the club until 2003.
The following season saw Dundee finish seventh but it would not be enough to see Scott given a new contract and a new management team of Ivan and Dario Bonetti were brought in and who in turn, flooded Dens with foreign signings. Many homegrown talents were moved on with not much hope given to the ones who remained but despite this, Steven Tweed, Gavin Rae and Barry Smith found themselves integral parts of the first team.
Under Bonetti, Smith found himself deployed at full-back but most importantly, he also found himself remaining as club captain despite the presence of Georgian International captain Georgi Nemsadze playing in the same team.
“I’ve never been much of a talker on the park and besides, football is an international language,” Smith remarked.
“In any event ideally, every team should have eleven captains with everyone taking responsibility for their own job. I’d like to think that I lead by example by always going out and giving 100% on the pitch.”
Smith was ever present in the multi-national team that now occupied the Dens Park pitch and, in the summer of 2001, penned another three-year deal. The dependable captain had only missed two matches all season and in 2001-2002, he played in every single match.
It was in that season that Smith made his 200 appearance for Dundee, missing just nine games in total since his transfer in 1995. This landmark came on September 29th 2001 but unfortunately this occasion wouldn’t have a happy ending as Aberdeen ran out 4-1 winners.
The Bonettis’ two-year reign would come to a halt when it was ‘mutually agreed’ that their contracts would be terminated and, in their place, would be the man who had initially brought Barry Smith to Dens just under eight years beforehand, Jim Duffy.
This meant another position change for the skipper and he found himself in a three-man midfielder consisting of himself, Gavin Rae and Giorgi Nemsadze. A new look Dundee side including Lee Wilkie, who had been brought back in from the wilderness, Jonay Hernandez, Nacho Novo and Steve Lovell seen an upturn in fortunes as the team. The Dee ventured on a nine-match unbeaten run in the league which resulted in a top six finish but in between all of that, victories over Aberdeen, Falkirk and Inverness Caley Thistle had placed the club in it’s first Scottish Cup Final appearance since 1964.
Barry Smith would proudly lead out the team on 31st May 2003 and after just four minutes, his 25-yard strike beat Stefan Klos in the Rangers goal but would be denied by the post. It would not be our day with Rangers winning the cup 1-0. The Dee would however, with Smith at the helm, would be involved in European action since the first time since 1974.
The European adventure was short and memorable but disastrous news was on its way when the club plunged into administration and the squad suffered huge redundancies. Smith was one of the lucky ones to be kept and with survival on and off the park a necessity, the captain led by example and rallied the team to a seventh-place finish, even taking a massive wage cut to help the club.
Our luck would run out the season after. We went into the last game of the season against Livingston knowing a win would guarantee our safety. Smith highlighted the importance of this match when he was interviewed by the press: “I’ve played in Europe, a Cup Final and in hundreds of league games but this one is the biggest of the lot. There have been many highs and lows over the past 10 years and we’re now in the situation where a win this weekend would be a massive high because of what survival means to the club.”
On the day though, we could only produce a point and were relegated to the First Division.
2005 would be Smith’s testimonial year for the club but because of relegation from the top-flight, he took another pay cut as Dundee still struggled off-field. The whole season was a disappointment with only a Scottish Cup Semi Final appearance proving to be a high point and the last two games of the season, he was appointed caretaker manager along with Bobby Mann following the sacking of Alan Kernagahan.
The thirty-two-year old’s last ever game for Dundee was to come on the last game of the season in a 3-1 victory at Queen of the South. It was his 433rd appearance for Dundee spanning a decade, only bettered by Doug Cowie and Bobby Cox in the most appearances column for Dundee.
With a one-year contract on the table, Smith decided it was time to move on and signed on for two years with Icelandic club Valur. He left Dens with a heavy heart but couldn’t turn down the chance to sample football abroad.
“I’m sad to go but it’s a chance to go abroad which I simply could not pass up at this stage of my career,” proclaimed the outgoing captain.
While across in Iceland, Barry helped Valur to the Premier Division title in 2007 and played in the first tie of their UEFA Champions League Qualifying match against BATE Borisov. During the Icelandic close season in January, he returned to Scotland with loan spells with Partick Thistle (2007) and Morton (2008) before returning home to Dens Park to become the U19s coach in November 2008.
During this time, he was loaned out to local side Brechin City who played part-time so this enabled him to carry on his coaching duties with the Dee but just like 2003, more catastrophe was on the horizon and Smith would be asked to guide the club through more dark times.
For the second time the club would suffer the indignity of plunging into administration. The management team of Gordon Chisholm and Billy Dodds would lose their jobs and Barry Smith would be asked to take over the managers role on a caretaking basis with Robert Douglas and Matt Lockwood beside him.
With the club being given just a 50/50 chance of making it past Christmas and suffering a massive and unprecedented twenty-five point deduction, our modern day ‘Mr Dundee’ overcame all the obstacles in front of him as the club not only survived relegation to the Second Division, but finished comfortably in midtable.
With a trimmed back squad, Barry would have to rely on what first team players that were left playing through the pain barrier, youth players stepping up to contribute to the cause and asking for players to play as trialists for three matches with the sole aim of keeping the alive. He succeeded in doing so and along the way, the term ‘Deefiant season’ was penned as this team went on an amazing club record twenty-three match unbeaten run.
Smith spoke about this time a few years later for The Evening Telegraph when he said: “I do believe if the team hadn’t stayed up someone would have shut the doors at Dens.
“Collectively everyone responded, the coaching staff, office staff, players and definitely the fans rallied around the club. Though it was a really negative time, we turned it into a positive one which then led to promotion the following year.”
“I don’t like to single anybody out but Robert Douglas played a massive part.
“It’s difficult to say just how much he helped gelling the players together. All the players and their wives and families were invited round to his all the time and that really generated the team spirit.
“He really made sure the team was a real team and that’s not even talking about what he did on the park.”
His reward that summer was to made the permeant manager on a three-year deal and would lead the club to second place the following season. Even though there was only the one automatic promotion place for finishing first up for grabs at this point, Dundee would be catapulted into the top-flight following the liquidation of Glasgow Rangers. The whole timing of the events left Smith with next to no time to adjust for this after initially preparing a team that would potentially win the First Division.
Dundee were always doomed to fail that season with their unlikely promotion only a few days before the kick-off to the campaign but the Dundee board sought to try and salvage their Premiership status by sacking Smith when most fans would have kept him in the manager’s position for another season, giving him fair crack of the whip.
Nonetheless, the removal of Barry from the manager’s office brought an end to over twelve years of association for one of our all-time great servants.
Reading about his time with the club, it’s very rare to see someone show the level of commitment and loyalty to any club as Smith did with Dundee, especially since he grew up in Paisley and had no prior affiliation with the Dee.
Barry Smith was inducted into the Dundee Hall of Fame in 2009. The list of greats who will forever be etched in our history will consist of names such as Cox, Scott, Gilzean and Barry Smith tae.
Honours at Dundee
Scottish League First Division winner: 1997/98
Scottish Cup Runners-Up: 2003
Player of the Year: 1996/97