From the archive: Dundee United clinch first league title

Davie Dodds, a mascot bear and a bottle of beer following Dundee United's league-clinching win at Dens Park. Picture: Denis Straughan
Davie Dodds, a mascot bear and a bottle of beer following Dundee United's league-clinching win at Dens Park. Picture: Denis Straughan
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DUNDEE United manager Jim McLean argued at the weekend that his club’s “miracle” success in winning their first-ever League championship in 79 years was good for the game in Scotland because “it should spur other clubs to be more ambitious”.

Dundee 1, Dundee United 2

The Scotsman, 16 May, 1983

United, like Aberdeen, have proved that astute management at boardroom as well as playing level will ultimately bring success. The Tannadice club, having gradually emerged from footballing obscurity, will take a well-deserved place in next season’s European Cup.

United’s secret, if they have one, can be traced to straightforward virtues – pride, discipline, hard work and self-belief. Perhaps the last quality was most difficult to develop for both the essentially shy man who manages the club and his unassuming players.

But develop it United did, for only a club with a good conceit of themselves could have gone to both Pittodrie and Celtic Park in the closing phase of the season and registered victories on which Saturday’s triumph was based.

Of course Dundee United looked nervous for long stretches against Dundee at Dens. Faced with the awesome prospect of winning the domestic game’s biggest prize, the players would have needed to be more machine than men not to feel the pressure. The important thing was they still did enough to win and even showed the style of champions in an opening salvo which a colleague from the south said echoed the teamwork of Liverpool at their best.

As McLean reflected afterwards during a champagne celebration at Tannadice: “The players have won this League the hard way. After we had been knocked out of Europe there was nothing left for us if we hadn’t gone to Aberdeen and won. Then we proved we were as good as Celtic by going there and winning too.”

In the wider context of what victory meant to the club, McLean added: “It is a miracle Dundee United winning the championship. I always believed we could win cups and do well in knock-out competitions in Europe. But at the beginning of the season I didn’t think we had the depth of pool to lift the title.”

Putting down the one glass of bubbly which was allowed to cross his lips (McLean is a teetotaller), the United manager went over to the wall chart in his office bearing the names of the individuals who made the championship possible. Running his finger down from McAlpine to Dodds, he said: “It is incredible, but 12 players won the title. Some of them have been asked to play 66 matches – and done it. The League is the most difficult competition of all to win. I believe we can get better, but there is a need for more players. I’ll definitely be trying to strengthen the pool.”

One of the Premier Division’s fiercest critics, McLean was honest enough to acknowledge that the top ten had been the making of United. “If clubs want to be successful in Europe and people like ourselves want to contribute players to the national teams, then we need the Premier Division.

“It has made Dundee United. But you have to ask if the price paid for Dundee United’s success, the struggle that has faced such as Hearts, Hibs and Dundee, has been too great.”

As to the future, McLean said: “I feel there are no players available in the price bracket in which we have to operate that will improve the team, so I intend to channel our resources into a furtherance of the policy that has stood us in such good stead in the past.”

He indicated that the money available to him – around £50,000 – would be devoted to extending the youth policy, perhaps even to the extent of appointing another full-time coach.

It was hard to believe on Saturday that for years most of the stories written about United concerned local apathy towards their efforts. Dens Park was full 30 minutes before the kick-off, and tangerine and black-clad youngsters draped themselves on the roofs of surrounding buildings in order to get a better view.

What they saw was United begin arrogantly and effectively. Narey won a ball deep in midfield after four minutes and switched it to Sturrock. He released Milne, who glided past a couple of challenges before spotting goalkeeper Kelly move off his line. The forward’s precise, floated chip travelled 20 yards to the net and United were on their way.

Eamonn Bannon, in eager, aggressive mood early on, seeking everywhere for the ball, took the 11th-minute penalty kick after Narey had been brought down. Kelly redeemed his earlier blunder with a good save to the right – but Bannon was quicker to follow up than Dundee’s defenders, tucking away the rebound with his left foot.

Dodds’s finish from Bannon’s cross in the 28th minute hit the underside of the bar and looked over the line from where I was sitting. A goal wasn’t awarded, however, and the complexion of the match changed a few seconds later when Ian Ferguson drilled a hard, right-foot shot away from McAlpine.

It transpired that the Tangerines’ purple patch was over and after looking like being on the end of a hiding, Dundee recovered to come within a whisker of an equaliser when Kidd neglected to put away a header in the 65th minute.

With Sturrock off injured and Holt added to the midfield, United stonewalled their way through the final phase, unaware how close Aberdeen and Celtic were to catching them should there be any slip-ups. Having come this far, though, United were not about to blow it at the last. The reassurance from the terraces was that they were champions.

Dundee: Kelly, Glennie, McKimmie, Fraser, Smith, MacDonald, Ferguson, McGeachie, Sinclair, Stephen, Kidd.

Dundee United: McAlpine, Stark, Malpas, Gough, Hegarty, Narey, Bannon, Milne, Kirkwood, Sturrock, Dodds.

Attendance: 29,106