JUST over 20 years ago, when Dundee last looked forward to what they hoped would be a final-day title coronation, several newspapers noted the poor crowd in attendance.
Whatever the outcome this afternoon, this is one criticism that cannot be made. In truth, when Dundee faced Montrose and afterwards lifted the First Division title in 1991-92, it was already a done deal – second-placed Partick Thistle needed to win their final game by a huge margin in order to overtake them, and in the event, Dundee earned the trophy despite losing 2-1 to Montrose.
But more than one sports writer noted the crowd figure in their reports, which numbered just under 7,000. This, it was felt, was not what was expected from a Premier Division team-in waiting.
Perhaps this experience is why Dundee officials felt that around 8,000 was a realistic estimate for this afternoon’s clash against Dumbarton, which Dundee again hope will end with a championship party.
However, even longtime staff members at the club were pleasantly surprised by a surge in ticket sales at the start of this week, which prompted Dundee to release a statement as early as Wednesday afternoon to confirm this afternoon’s clash was already sold out.
“We experienced an unprecedented and continued demand for tickets since the weekend, and therefore for the first time in a number of years, all four stands of Dens Park Stadium will be full of home supporters,” it read.
Over 10,000 supporters will be inside the ground today, including Tim Keyes, one of the club’s investors, who has flown in from Texas for the match. Gordon Strachan, the Scotland manager and former Dundee player, is also expected to attend.
Trepidation has seemingly not persuaded supporters to stay away, although there is plenty of reason for nerves and anxiety to be present.
The Dens Park club’s supporters will know that if they can hear the whirring of helicopter blades overhead, then it is likely that they have sealed the victory which secures the title – even a draw is likely to be enough.
Hamilton Accies are the ones now hoping for a slip-up, and are poised to pounce from two points behind. They entertain Morton this afternoon, while Falkirk, a point behind Accies, are at home to Alloa Athletic. Everything and anything can still happen.
This time last week, it was Dundee who were hoping against hope, as they cursed a defeat by Morton on the previous weekend which left them trailing leaders Hamilton. Reflecting a season in which no team has looked comfortable in possession of top place, Hamilton vacated the summit after falling 4-1 at Dumbarton, who can again become kingmakers at Dens today.
“The different emotions throughout this campaign have been incredible. I have never known one like it,” said Dundee midfielder Jim McAlister yesterday. “One week we have been sky high and then the next, like when we lost to Morton, we are thinking: ‘Have we thrown it away?’
“But it is back in our hands now which is the important thing and we are at home. We would have taken this situation at the start of the season. The last two times we have played Dumbarton, they have made it very difficult for us, especially the game down there, so we will have to be on our toes as they will be coming here looking to spoil the party.
“It will be difficult to treat it like a normal game,” he conceded, although Dundee manager Paul Hartley has spent this week trying to ensure they do just that – treat it as a normal game.
“It’s important the players play the game, not the occasion,” Hartley said yesterday. “They just have to concentrate on doing what they’re good at and what has got them to this position. The fans can be a massive help and they will obviously get right behind the boys.”
Helping the team’s cause was a good luck message from one legendary figure which was received last night, and then relayed to the fans via the club’s website. Alan Gilzean, Dundee’s record league scorer, phoned the club from his home in Somerset in order to send his best wishes.
Will such positive thoughts be enough? Dundee can perhaps take heart from when Gilzean fired Dundee to their one and only Scottish league title, in 1962. Needing only a draw on the last day, Dundee swept St Johnstone aside 3-0. Skipper Gavin Rae can get his hands on the same trophy with the right result this afternoon against Ian Murray’s visitors.
It is a better omen than knowledge of the date on which today’s game falls. On the 3 May 1986 a team needing only a draw to clinch the title faltered at Dens Park, as every Hearts fan knows. It is a reminder that nothing is certain until the final ball has been kicked – or, in this case, until the helicopter has landed.