Once in the hot seat at Dens, ‘Cowboy’ made ‘Wee Georgie’ his number one signing target, spending a full afternoon convincing the player that his future still lay in Dundee and resulting in the frontman re-signing until the end of the season. Shaw however, clearly had an axe to grind as The Courier headline revealed ‘Shaw Pays Big Tribute To McCormack’. With the ‘new’ signing explaining further… “If I’d been given the same offer by Jim Duffy back at the start of the season I wouldn’t have been looking for a move in the first place.” Going on to have another swipe at his ex-boss by adding “…And from where I am standing it seems there’s one rule for managers and one for players, because while I was unable to join another Scottish team because no-one could agree a fee with Dundee, Jim Duffy was able to take himself off to Hibs no problem.”
And Shaw wasn’t alone in giving ‘Cowboy’ a much-needed boost, Aberdeen fringe player Hugh Robertson - he of the rocket shot - making the short trip down the A90 to bolster the Dundee midfield on a free transfer. However, with the books to be balanced Andy Cargill, who played in a similar position to Robertson and had been in and around the Dundee first team for a couple of seasons, was allowed to leave Dens and join Forfar. While legendary Dark Blue striker Iain Ferguson was also told he was free to leave the club, ending his third and final spell in front of the Derry faithful. Ironically the departure of ex-player-manager Jim Duffy to Hibs had also depleted the squad further, the veteran defender finally hanging up his boots on an illustrious, if injury blighted, career on the park.
Following that, midfielders Kevin Bain and Gary McKeown both returned to Dens. The former having turned down the offer to stay with Portadown on loan for another month, although he did admit that his future still lay elsewhere. Whereas the latter, having had a trial with Exeter City ‘aborted’ due to injury, signalled he’d like to remain at Dundee and fight to get back into the first team.
Dundee were also linked with Stephen McAnespie around this time, Bolton looking to offload the ex-Raith Rovers man for the ‘cut price’ fee of ‘just’ £300,000. Which with everything else going on at Dens immediately suggested that the ‘enquiry’ Dundee had made about the player was more about showing intent in the press than actually adding to the squad. Especially when you factor in the story that appeared in The Courier on the 12th of February - ‘Dundee Accused Over Fee’ - explaining that the club had failed to pay Cupar Hearts the minimum amount recognised by the SFA of £200 when they acquired the services of young striker Graham Bayne.
Having steadied the ship after the New Year horror show in Perth, on the park the ‘Cowboy’ bounce began to fritter away. With Lee Power sent off for appearing to stamp on the Buddies’ Jim Dick in the 23rd minute of their rearranged away game at Paisley, Dundee fought on valiantly, but to no avail. 2-1 ahead thanks to the ‘new’ boys Shaw and Robertson, and with Jerry O’Driscoll having missed from the spot, with just over 20 minutes remaining the roof caved in. Strikes from Paul Fenwick and Tommy Turner meaning the Dee left with nothing to show for their efforts.
However, young strike sensation Jerry O’Driscoll would hit the headlines again with his ninth goal in 11 games when he scored a late, deserved, equaliser at Brockville Park against Falkirk in Dundee’s next fixture. Leading the Evening Telegraph to exclaim that the frontman had ‘Twin Targets’ of keeping his amazing strike rate going and forcing his way into the Scotland Under 21s. On this form, who could blame him?
Repaying the faith his new manager had shown in him, it was George Shaw who scored once again as Dundee achieved a single goal victory away to Stirling Albion. But as is so often the way for Dundee, as soon as a player shows some form, he is linked with a move away from the club. The Sporting Post finding John McCormack issuing a ‘HANDS OFF’ warning to his old boss Jim Duffy, as the latter looked to bolster his Hibs squad. The article going on to link no less than six Dee’s with the Edinburgh outfit.
‘Cowboy’ would admit that he’d already had to fend off bids, although he refuted that any of those had been for Shaw himself. Tellingly, The Post would go on to suggest that any two of Barry Smith, Dariusz Adamczuk, Paul Tosh, Iain Anderson, Jerry O’Driscoll and Lee Power, could be headed to join their old boss, giving the impression that the paper knew much more than they were willing to let on…
Even with that win at Forthbank, Dundee still found themselves some 13 points behind champions elect St Johnstone, although they did remain three points clear of Partick in third and a further two ahead of Airdrie and St Mirren. So, with the league season stumbling along, the Dundee faithful turned their attentions to the impossible dream otherwise known as the Scottish Cup.
Drawn at home against mid-table Second Division (the third tier back then) side Queen of The South, Dundee went in as red-hot favourites. An early Lee Power volley in the January 25th 1997 tie would suggest the bookies’ tag was merited. But by half time Gary McGlynn in the Dundee goal had had to make a wonder-save before QotS had a strike disallowed for offside. All of which came after Alexander Nesovic had already levelled the scores.
A super-sub appearance from Iain Anderson swung the tie decisively in the Dark Blues’ favour, as he set up Jerry O’Driscoll to head The Dee back in front, before ‘Ando’ himself slammed home a 35 yarder that ended the contest.
The prize was a trip to Morton, who were trailing Dundee by 11 points in the league. Played on the 15th of February 1997, Anderson would again find the net, but with his counter being a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw (Lee Power scoring an earlier equaliser as Morton went 1-0 and 2-1 in front through Derek Lilley and Warren Hawke), the tie went to a replay the following Wednesday.
Goalless after 90 minutes the completely uneventful game went to extra time, Morton youngster Barry Mason coming off the bench to knock The Dee out of the cup once more. The next night’s Evening Telegraph describing the game as a ‘Sorry Sequel’.
The match had been notable for a pair of missed penalties, Lilley failing from the spot on the 79th minute for Morton, before the inform Anderson did likewise for Dundee bang on full time. The midfielder adding ruefully after the match that he “was going to put it in the other corner, but changed [his mind] during the run-up. I still can’t believe I missed it”, he added dejectedly. A sentiment that those Dee’s in attendance agreed with wholeheartedly.
With the league campaign all about trying to hold on for the one and only play-off spot and the cup a distant dream, ‘Cowboy’ set about cheering up those of a dark blue persuasion with a spate of contract extensions. Anderson, O’Driscoll, McGlynn, Barry Smith, Craig Tully and Gavin Rae all agreeing to new terms with the club.
However, the manager’s future wasn’t so secure, the 1st of February edition of The Sporting Post damning in its criticism of the DFC board in their opinion column. Under the headline ‘DENS BOARD IS WRONG’ (their caps lock rant, not mine), the piece went on to detail “Once again, Dundee Football Club has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons - this time over the way new manager John McCormack has been treated…”
Announced as Jim Duffy’s permanent successor the day the previous manager departed, the board had insisted they were only awaiting ratification from erstwhile chairman Ron Dixon to confirm the deal. A claim vice-chairman Malcolm Reid had repeated more than once in the intervening weeks. However, the article went on to explain that the reality was somewhat different.
“Twice this week alone,” it continued, “on Thursday and yesterday morning, he [Reid] had said he expected McCormack to be offered and to sign, a long-term contract. However, after a board meeting yesterday, it emerged he had only been offered a deal until the end of the season, at which time the situation will be reassessed. That, a period of just 14 weeks, can hardly be described as permanent.”
This however was indicative of the wider picture at Dens and much though the local press were within their rights to have a go at the dithering Dundee board, in reality the ship they were steering was so unsteady that it was more impressive they’d made any appointment at all. Such were the rumour and counter rumours about the club’s future.
Way back on the 16th December 1996 Reid had been forced to deny that Dundee Football Club were now up for sale at the cut-price sum of £200,000, telling the ‘Tully’ it was “absolute nonsense.” Before reasonably adding, “…if that was the asking price, Jim Duffy and I would have bought the club by now.” Duffy adding angrily, “This…is complete garbage and I’m fed up reading it.”
The same paper suggested on the 7th of January 1997 that Dundee chairman Ron Dixon could ‘Call In At Dens’. Suggesting his potential visit may lead to progress in a buy-out of the club by Reid and Duffy, but, unsurprisingly, he never appeared.
Three days later The Courier would this time proclaim that they believed Dundee were ‘Still On Prince’s Agenda’. As they alluded to an alleged interest in the club from Nigerian Prince, Obie Okehi. In these current days of email communication, that all sounds like some dodgy online scam, but the paper spoke to Manchester based business man Ron Duncan who accompanied the Prince to Dens, and who mentioned that the Nigerian royalty was looking for somewhere in Europe to showcase footballing talent from his homeland (conveniently forgetting that work visa restrictions made that idea impossible). Before going on to detail that his associate already owned Orlando United and a newly formed club in Lagos. Although as these ‘deals’ always seem to, the article closed by mentioning that Okehi was also taking an interest in Falkirk and Partick Thistle, along with being linked with Kilmarnock the year before (maybe he emailed Hamilton Academical last season too….?).
It wasn’t long though before Okehi bowed out, the Evening Telegraph on the 28th January stating that he valued the club at no more than £500,000. Putting an end to yet another farcical twist in the club’s ownership. Although the unexpected headlines kept on coming, the same paper just one-week later plastering ‘DIXON DEBT CLAIM’ across its back page.
With the Dundee owner failing to defend an action against him for £28,000 at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, it was revealed that if he continued to ignore the case, Dixon would be declared bankrupt. If that happened his own solicitor, Tony Caplan of Glasgow, who hadn’t received instructions from his client, detailed the possible ramifications. “If Mr Dixon is declared bankrupt, he wouldn’t be able to hold office as director or secretary of a company.” Adding that he thought it “unlikely” that the largely invisible Canadian would be back in touch with him. The clearly exasperated Malcolm Reid adding that “he had not seen the story about the action and did not want to hear it.”
However, even with all this turmoil being played out in the press, there was a chink of light for The Dee faithful. It arrived on the 15th of January 1997 with The Courier headline ‘City Business Man’s Dens Park Interest’. The man in question being a certain Peter Marr who stated “I don’t like seeing the club the way it is,”. The same day’s Evening Telegraph went with the headline ‘Price Must Drop’, as the possible new owner said his valuation of the club was in line with Malcolm Reid (and Prince Okehi’s) £500,000 estimation. Adding that Dundee fans should not look on him as their messiah…
Covering the time between the 16th of December 1996 and 19th February 1997, this book found Dundee play nine league games, winning five of them, drawing two and losing two, plus a win, draw and an extra-time loss in the Scottish Cup. Andy Cargill, Ian Ferguson and Chic Charnely would, alongside Jim Duffy, leave the club, while Hugh Robertson would join the Dundee ranks as George Shaw made a surprise return thanks to John McCormack being installed as manager.
However, as was often the case for Dundee, it was the off field happenings that dominated and would set the tone for the next few years to come.
To be continued…