Nearly 20 years after he led Dundee United to their first Scottish Cup win, Ivan Golac is still able to command an audience in the city where he made history. The Serb can also still be relied upon to ruffle feathers.
On a day glorious enough to encourage the flowers in Camperdown Park to begin to bloom, Golac relished the opportunity to continue settling some old scores ahead of a first Scottish Cup Dundee derby since 1991. Remarkably, Golac had yet to breeze into the city the last time the sides met in this competition. United defeated Dundee 3-1 at Tannadice on their way to another Scottish Cup final loss, their sixth under Jim McLean.
This fact hasn’t been lost on Golac, who remains bitter at the way he was discharged by United, just nine months after the historic day when United finally put their Hampden ghost to rest, courtesy of Craig Brewster’s tap-in against Rangers. The aftermath of the win did not go as expected. United were drawn into a relegation battle and Golac was sacked in March 1995. He remains dismayed by the decision, blame for which Golac places squarely at the door of McLean, who he once described as having a face “like thunder” after his successor took just one season to do something he had failed to achieve in more than 20.
Golac’s latest appearance in Dundee was for promotional reasons ahead of Sunday’s televised derby clash at Dens Park, and he was joined by other figures from this particular fixture’s past, including Dave Bowman. Golac took the opportunity to speak with his former midfielder about what-might-have-been. “I told him we would have won a lot of things and done a lot of big things,” said Golac, now 62.
“Sadly, one man was stronger than the whole board,” he added. “This was the biggest problem. I am very difficult to handle in a sense. I was always myself, as a player and throughout my life. I respect everybody but I am responsible for my job. The board, however, was too weak. One man wanted someone he could handle. And I was the loser. But the losers were also the supporters and the club.”
Upon stepping down as manager, McLean occupied himself as chairman, which meant the odd couple had to try and co-exist. The contrast between the austere former joiner and the hippyish Golac, who claimed to have learnt English from listening to Rolling Stones records, could not have been more marked. When Golac then lifted the Scottish Cup at the first time of asking, many observed that the relationship between them grew more strained. Even now, the Serb does not spare McLean, accusing him of under-achievement at United, and censuring the Press for helping establish the ‘myth’ that McLean was a miracle-worker.
Golac is not someone who you expect would resort to “logic” when seeking to support an argument. However, this is what he claims to have used when calculating that a manager should win three trophies in a five-year spell at United, something he says he was on the way to achieving at Tannadice.
“If someone stays ten years, then it should be doubled,” he added. “Twenty years? Goodness me. We are cheating each other all the time, and the Press helped in that.” Someone then ventured that McLean’s record, which included a last four appearance in the European Cup and a Scottish championship title, was “pretty special” for a small club.
“This is not a small club,” replied Golac. “Who did you have to beat? Rangers? In 20 years, how many times did he win the final? None. Let’s be serious. Twenty years, goodness me. And you have an open hand, you can bring in anyone. Anyone who stays five years should win three trophies.
“Even smaller clubs than United used to win European titles; Steaua Bucharest won the European title [in 1986]. Sir Alex Ferguson won two league titles with Aberdeen? That is enough. He was not at Aberdeen for 20 years, was he?”
Entertaining though Golac undoubtedly is, it has to be remembered that McLean wasn’t present to answer back, which is a pity, since it would have rivalled this weekend’s Dundee derby for the title of must-see event in the city.
Now in retirement in Broughty Ferry, McLean is a more becalmed presence these days. However, stories still emerge of him being provoked into a lather, the most recent occasion coming after a local newspaper had the temerity to refer to him as ‘wee Jim’. “But I am 5ft 8 and-a-half inches,” he complained in a phone call to said sports desk.
Golac can’t let bygones be bygones either. What would you have achieved had you remained at United for 20 years, he was asked?
“Plenty,” he replied. “If you are a manager at a club like Dundee United, obviously Celtic and Rangers dominated, as did Aberdeen, but United were very close to the top. With the team we had and the young players, I would not have been happy unless we had won ten trophies in such a period of time, and when I say trophies I mean the Scottish FA Cup and the title.
“The League Cup is just a cup of coffee.”
No longer the owner of a chocolate factory in Belgrade, Golac divides his time coaching football in places as diverse as Macedonia and Nigeria. He is fond of recalling the past, and remembers hosting what he proudly describes as the “world’s shortest press conference” after a 3-0 win at Ibrox.
“Everything you promised you delivered,” a reporter conceded. “You’d better listen next time,” replied Golac, before walking out.
“A merciful god lets you go your own way and always fulfils all your dreams and wishes, if you’re honest and truthful,” Golac advised, as he recalled the incident. Rarely can those sitting at the coffee counter in Dundee’s Overgate shopping centre have been blessed with the chance to eavesdrop on such gloriously batty wisdom.