IMAGINE the scene. Instead of being at home in Germany with your family, as is customary on the first day of the new year, you are flat out on your back in the mud in Dundee, the cheers of opposition fans echoing in your ears.
This is the ballad of Arvid Schenk. No Dundee goalkeeper has endured a Dundee derby experience quite like Schenk because no Dundee goalkeeper has ever conceded six goals against their rivals.
At the end, no player went near him, not even to comfort him, or shake his hand. Rarely has the loneliness of the goalkeeper seemed more profound. And all this on his debut for the club. “I felt nothing,” he says now. “I was numb.”
The bells at Hogmanay had barely stopped ringing before Schenk was forced to rummage around the back of his net after goal number one, scored 33 seconds into a match being televised live across the nation. Five other goals whistled past the hapless figure, by which time you began to fear whether Schenk would ever play football again, never mind turn out another time for Dundee.
So it’s pleasing on the eve of another derby to find him in Norway, on trial at another club. He never did make another Dundee appearance after that nightmare at Tannadice. In the words of that old joke, he distinguished himself by playing two games in the same afternoon – his first and last.
He laughs at that, a bit. A ghoulish extra detail was the location of his temporary lodgings at the time – “about 500 metres from Tannadice”. Before he could get home and lock the door behind him, there was still time to chance upon some Dundee United fans lingering in the street outside the ground. “Those were the hardest moments,” he says. “They made jokes. I know what it is like when you lose a derby. I played for St Pauli, whose great rivals are Hamburg. I know when you lose a derby what it means for half the town and what it means for the other half.”
What did I want to do with my goalkeeper’s jersey? I wanted to burn itArvid Schenk
But he isn’t now cowering under a table. He isn’t impossible to track down. He returns a call despite knowing full well it will mean having to revisit such a trying afternoon. Even at his current station in Norway – he won’t reveal his exact whereabouts for fear of jinxing his chances of winning a deal with an unnamed club – he is alert to the Scottish football fixture calendar.
Today is the first Dundee derby since that bleak start to 2015. It is another step in the healing process. He will be watching via a live stream on the internet. While it’s now over two months since he was released by the Dens Park club, he wishes he could show Dundee fans the real Arvid Schenk and secure some redemption. “Of course, I want to be there,” he says. “But my chance was that one time. I didn’t take it.
“That was my first chance to show for Dundee and what happened, happened – it was not so easy,” he adds. He pauses. “But I do not think I made a mistake for any of the goals.”
It might be stretching it to say he was completely blameless. However, repeat viewings of the goals confirm he was the victim of some outrageous misfortune. Even though they kicked off, Dundee managed to lose a goal inside a minute through a deflection.
Back in the game thanks to Greg Stewart’s equaliser, Dundee fell behind once more when Gary Mackay-Steven slung in a cross-cum-shot from the bye-line that looped over Schenk’s head. “He had an angel on his shoulder, I didn’t,” notes Schenk, poetically.
The four other strikes were decent enough hits and were aided by poor defending in front of Schenk, who could be praised for keeping the score down to six with one good save with his feet. “No one ever mentions that one,” he says. There is a rueful tone to his voice that crackles all the way down the phone line from Norway.
But there was one consolation; Schenk’s compatriot, friend and housemate Luka Tankulic’s late goal to make it 6-2 meant Dundee avoided falling to a record-equalling defeat at the hands of their city rivals.
Schenk now wonders whether one factor was being so unused to playing at that time of year. In Germany, there is a complete shutdown over the festive period. “You have three or four weeks holiday in Germany, so this was new for me,” he says. “But I went to bed at 11.30pm, it was a normal day. I was focused. Even if I thought I wasn’t going to play I still always have the same preparation. And I kept my phone off.”
He was given only 15 minutes warning that he would be starting, after Kyle Letheran broke down in the warm-up. “Bobby [Geddes, the Dundee goalkeeper coach] came to me and said ‘now is your chance, we can’t wait for the OK from Kyle’. Then things started going really fast. I felt like it was two minutes!
“I felt comfortable because the whole team and Bobby were really, really good to me. As a goalkeeper you have to wait for the chance; either someone is hurt or someone is red-carded. It is someone’s misfortune. But I had to forget that and think: ‘This is my moment’.”
In retrospect, the signs were far from encouraging. In his previous two under-20 outings, Schenk conceded 12 goals. Nevertheless, he says he felt “confident” at he thought of playing for the first team. Contrary to reports, it was not his first-ever senior game; he played for St Pauli in the cup in Germany, sitting on the bench for them in the Bundesliga.
But still, this was something different; a derby, a full house, live television cameras. Schenk knew his family had all gathered to watch back home in Germany, thrilled by the late team news. Even now, It’s heart-breaking to think of them breaking away from the action to undertake preferable chores such as doing the washing-up.
“Yes, they were watching,” Schenk confirms. “My girlfriend was in the stadium. But my family were with me, even though they were in Germany. They were proud. After the game they called me, and said: ‘what do you want us to say?’ I said: ‘say nothing. Everything is fine and I have to forget it, and play the next game’.”
Sadly for Schenk, he never got the opportunity to play that next game. Dundee took no chances. First-choice ’keeper Scott Bain was given an injection for a shoulder injury and was pressed into action against Ross County, while Schenk watched on from the bench. He was released a few weeks later.
In what the Guardian described as a “very modern football tale”, Schenk had turned up, played a game, then moved on. Often such temporary signings leave barely a trace. If only this was Schenk’s fate.
“I hoped for my own sake that I would play again,” he says. “But the gaffer said we had to change. He said my head was still full of the game.”
What did the likeable 25-year-old with the pencil-thin moustache learn from such a challenging experience? Just that it is the lot of a goalkeeper. “Maybe one day I can be a striker in the Sunday league, maybe that will be easier!” he says.
So what now remains of his three-month stint with Dundee, save for an unwanted piece of history and the dream he might one day return to right a wrong? He has kept his shirt from that afternoon. Or at least his mother, Helka, has kept it.
“She liked the colour, only the colour,” he says, with reference to the pink Dundee goalkeeper top now smeared by the mud of both Tannadice goalmouths. “What did I want to do with it? I wanted to burn it.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS