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NEWS: LONG READ: 121 years of history and how Dens Park saved Dundee FC


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Two European Cup semi-finals, two major cup finals, Billy Steel and Alan Gilzean, as well as Claudio Caniggia, international football, league wins and league losses.

The home of Dundee Football Club has seen it all.

This week Dens Park is 121 years old and, though matches won’t return there until October, the old place has quite the story to tell.

August 19, 1899, saw Dundee unveil their new home with a friendly match against Edinburgh side St Bernards and had it not been for the move to Dens in 1899, there would be no Dundee FC for Dees to call their own.

History often repeats and even more than a century ago, decision-makers had outspent their income chasing the dream of glory only for fans to step in and save the club when oblivion was threatened.

In fact, the club founded in 1893 as Dundee Football and Athletic Club were to be liquidated in late 1898 with debts of £400 – £52,000 in today’s money – having seen the majority of their experienced squad leave after an acrimonious dispute over wages and a match called off against Celtic.

Dundee fan Norrie Price, author of ‘Up Wi’ The Bonnets! The History of Dundee FC’ and ‘They Wore The Dark Blue’ books, told Tele Sport: “The season before they went to Dens Park, 1897/98, the club had gone for more high-profile players and had spent a lot of money on wages.

“There were some controversial things happening, some disciplinary issues with players and then some directors not backing up other directors when it came to dealing with it.

“To save money, they went with largely local lads the next season. I think the only top player they had was Sandy Keillor who was an outstanding player for a decade.

“Dundee couldn’t pay off the debt, though, and were wound up. But the Scottish League stepped in, they wanted to keep a presence north of the Tay, and asked them not to pack in but to wait a while.

Dens Park pictured in 1921.
Dens Park pictured in 1921.

“Essentially Dundee Football and Athletic Club liquidated and they played the last two games of the season with the new set-up under the name Dundee Football Club.

“The club were fortunate that the lease for Carolina Port was changed for commercial use and the new like-minded committee moved to Dens Park.

“There were now a group of like-minded people with the same drive and determination to grow the club. And the supporters responded.”

Indeed, a packed Gilfillan Hall saw a new committee formed with the influential Bailie John Robertson appointed president.

Soon, though, the club were without a home as their Carolina Port ground was being taken over by dock work.

Gussie Park was considered before the committee settled on leasing some agricultural land alongside Provost Road and Dens Road.

It was a steeply sloping bit of land but Robertson remarked the creation of the ground had been by “putting stout hearts to a stiff brae” while the stand at Carolina Port was dismantled and rebuilt on the south side of the new pitch.

The new era for Dundee Football Club started on August 19, 1899, with 10,000 spectators and £217-3s-6d – around £28,000 today – taken at the gate.

President Robertson kicked off for the visiting Edinburgh side St Bernard’s ahead of a 1-1 draw.

Dundonian Fred McDiarmid made history by scoring Dundee’s first goal at Dens Park.


Dens Park has been the scene of many happy memories for a great many people in its 121 year history.

The ground has hosted a European Cup semi-final between the Dark Blues and AC Milan, a Fairs Cup semi-final with Leeds the visitors, three internationals between Scotland and Wales in 1904, 1908 and 1936 as well as two League Cup Finals in 1979 and 1980.

Those were some of the great occasions but what does it mean to fans who have been heading through the turnstiles week after week, year after year?

Tele reader Malcolm Stewart has fond memories of watching Dave Curlett, Shug Reid, Jimmy Gabriel, Alan Cousin, Doug Cowie and many more in his early days at Dens.

He said: “My first memory of going to Dens Park was when I was eight-years-old, so that would be 1956. I went with my grandfather who had been supporting Dundee way before then.

“My grandfather would take me to the Provie Road end but I was in the Main Stand for the big European games and that’s where I go now, too.  That stand has barely changed since!

“I have a lot of memories about the 1962 team, I was at Muirton for the league win. I think about half a million people say they were but I certainly was!

“That team was outstanding and there was hardly ever any space anywhere in the stands in those days.

Pylon installed at the stadium in 1959.
Pylon being erected at the stadium in 1959.

“The TC Keay and Provie Road ends were open then of course, not the stands like they are now and there was an incredible atmosphere at Dens.

“My favourite player was Charlie Cooke, he was something else. He was later on after the European games and was only around for a couple of years but he was my favourite.

“There have been plenty of good memories for me at Dens Park. Goodness knows what it will be like next season but I hope there are more to come.”


The Main Stand at Dens, unique in its angled shape, will next year look back over a century of Dundee goals, moans and celebrations.

Built in 1921 by Archibald Leitch, whose other works include Old Trafford, Anfield, Goodison, Highbury, Hampden, Ibrox and Tynecastle among many more, the ‘bend’ in the middle was designed to ensure a great viewing angle whether watching from the middle or the ends of the stands.

Just 22 years after almost being wound up, Dundee were making their presence in Scottish football felt.

Price added: “The building of the stand in 1921 was such an ambitious move. That showed from being almost liquidated 20 years previously and given a reprieve from the league to building one of the best stands in the country.”

Thirty-two years later and the Main Stand, along with the other three sides were filled to the brim.

A record 43,024 fans piled into the stadium to see a Scottish Cup second-round tie between the Dark Blues and Rangers.

The Glasgow side would win 2-0 that day and go on to lift the cup as well as the ‘A’ Division title, as it was known then.

Crowds flock to Dens in 1953.
Crowds flock to Dens in 1953.

The massive crowds would return again in the early 60s as the greatest Dundee team of all time celebrated their league success in 1962 with a European adventure.

Twenty-five thousand saw a Gilzean hat-trick as Bob Shankly’s Dark Blues thumped FC Cologne 8-1, 32,000 saw another treble from Gilzean in a 4-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon and then just under 40,000 were there to see Alan Cousin and Gordon Smith see off Belgians Anderlecht in the quarter-final.

Among those 40,000 was a young Norrie Price. He recalls: “I was there for what would be one of the top half-dozen attendances in what was only my second time at Dens at the age of 12.

“Anderlecht with just short of 40,000 people at Dens Park was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

“Anderlecht were a fabulous team as well, had just beaten Real Madrid. For the first 15 minutes it was just non-stop Anderlecht passing. Under the floodlights they had this white and mauve strip and played fabulous football. I was thinking ‘gosh, Dundee can’t get a hold of the ball!’

“The experienced players helped and in the second half turned the game.

“It was a fantastic atmosphere, electric. You could see puffs of smoke coming from supporters all over the ground whether the breath in the night air or cigarettes. There were lights all around the ground.

“Big crowds have a life of their own and it absolutely hooked me forever.

“First of all, just going to the game. It had been talked about for weeks. The newspapers were fantastic, had been talking about the game for ages and there were real souvenirs made.

“Even now I have fabulous memories of all the build-up.”

Gilzean would net nine times in that European run to the last four, stopped only by AC Milan, and scored a record 169 goals for Dundee.

“Gilzean was my favourite,” added Price.

The great Alan Gilzean.
The great Alan Gilzean.

“We used to pretend to be all the different players, Andy Penman, Alan Cousin, Alan Gilzean. Everyone wanted to be Gilzean because he scored the goals.

“He had a tremendous burst of pace and would often be on the halfway line with teams trying to play offside.

“It was a great team and the interchanging of passing was great to behold. You look at that era and there were so many heroes. Today the best teams have maybe three or four the kids like to pick out but it doesn’t happen so much now.

“That night against Anderlecht it was Smith that made the difference, he transferred the ball from one foot to the other and wandered past the full-back and put it across for Penman. It was a goal out of nothing.”


The Ibrox disaster of 1971 saw regulations brought in and the days of huge crowds were over. Bench seats were installed which brought the capacity down from more than 40,000 to 31,000.

Further improvements in fan safety saw that reduced even further during the 70s.

Then 24,446 packed out the new-look Dens Park in December 1980 as the eyes of the entire country were focused on the home of Dundee Football Club.

For the second time in two years, the Scottish League Cup would be decided at Dens. This time the Dark Blues would be playing after rivals Dundee United had defeated Aberdeen in a replay of the 1979-80 final the year before.

The Tangerines were back to defend their trophy in what would be an all-Dundee affair, even referee Bob Valentine was local.

Former Dark Blues inside forward Jim McLean, who turned out 120 times for the club, was in charge of United and leading them to their own glory days.

Dundee were very much the underdogs, battling for promotion to the Premier Division, with United enjoying European football for the fourth-straight season.

A first-half goal from Davie Dodds was added to by Paul Sturrock’s second-half brace as the Tangerines ran out 3-0 winners and lifted the cup at the home of their rivals.

Come the end of the campaign, it would be more cheerful for home fans at Dens Park with promotion secured at East Stirling thanks to an Eric Sinclair goal.

Dundee historian Kenny Ross remembers that time as he began his love affair with the club.

He said: “One of my early memories was in the run up to promotion in 1980/81.

“I didn’t get to go to the League Cup Final in 1980 at Dens, we couldn’t get tickets. My dad queued up but the shutters went up and we ended up watching it from the top of the Law with hundreds of others, from both sides, with the car radios on. It was packed up there. It was amazing.

Seats are installed in 1980.
Seats are installed in 1980.

“Later that season, I remember going to a game against Berwick Rangers in March and being in the Stand Enclosure swinging my legs on the barriers! I think it finished 0-0 which tells you why I was doing that.

“Myself and my dad then moved to the Provost Road end and watched games from the Bobby Cox until I started doing some of the media stuff for the club where I’m now at the back of the Main Stand.”

He added: “There were 24,000 at that cup final. The last time the gates were shut were for a Skol Cup quarter-final, again against United, in 1987 where 19,724 watched. The queues were horrendous that night before the gates closed.

“The day Hearts lost the league at Dens in 1986 was just under 20,000 and there were 29,016 in the ground when United won the league three years earlier.

“The last time it was sold out was for the Championship win in 2014 – that was a total sell-out against Dumbarton.”


The next major changes came at the tail end of the 20th century with promotion to the top flight in 1998 dependant on the redevelopment of Dens Park.

Up came two near-identical stands at either end of the ground in record time, just 82 days, to meet the SPL’s required seating capacity.

The Bob Shankly and Bobby Cox stands popped up and Dens Park as we recognise it today emerged into the new century.

Along with the new millennium came glitz and glamour with the Bonetti revolution.

Club stalwarts like Barry Smith and Gavin Rae were joined by Argentine great Caniggia and the likes of Georgi Nemsadze, Fabian Caballero and Juan Sara to boost the average home gate to 8,000.

Fans would also see a Champions League winner in Fabrizio Ravanelli and English Premier League star Temuri Ketsbaia turn out in dark blue at Dens Park before administration hit.

Supporters once more stepped in to help save the club in 2010 through another administration, just like they did 111 years before.

Dens Park in its current guise.
Dens Park in its current guise.

Fast forward seven years and owners Tim Keyes and John Nelms revealed plans for a new stadium to take Dundee from Dens Park to a new home at Camperdown Park.

Initial hopes were that would be ready for the start of the 2020/21 campaign but funding issues and a global pandemic have delayed the first spade in the ground at ‘New Campy’, the fans’ name for the potential new ground.

Whenever that might arrive to replace Dens, fans will continue to flock to their club’s home of 121 years.

However, the next home match, a League Cup clash with Forfar on October 6, will be a competitive match like no other at the old ground.

Depending on government guidelines at the time when the new season starts, there could be no fans there for a competitive fixture. At the very least there will be social distancing measures in place to combat spread of coronavirus.

The days of 43,000 at Dens Park may be gone but that won’t stop thousands still wanting to get their fix of football from the Main Stand, South Enclosure, Bobby Cox or Bob Shankly.

“It’s almost a marker for your year, when the first game at Dens is,” Price added.

“We were looking forward to the better weather and the play-offs earlier this year but they didn’t happen. Reality kicked in and everyone was aware how dangerous a situation it is for everyone now.

“When you see football elsewhere kicking off, you do feel left out. This situation shows just how much we take for granted.”

Andrew Nelson’s departure from Dundee this summer heralds the end of a chapter in the Dens Park club’s history

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