THE idea of a football team changing at their own ground and then simply walking up the street, through the intermingling mass of their own supporters and those of their derby rivals, is something exceptional to Thomas Konrad.
The summer signing will get his first taste of the unique elements of the Dundee head-to-head tomorrow when the city’s footballing foes line-up for the first of two encounters in the space of the week. The Premiership contest won’t be the first derby he has been involved in but he says the Tayside version is likely to be a vastly different to his past experiences.
“I am looking forward to it, it is a big game,” said the German defender. “We have a couple of games against United within a few days so that will also be good.
“I had a derby for Karlsruhe against Stuttgart. It is not the same as Dundee because the two teams are from different cities, so this derby is special. Karlsruhe and Stuttgart are big rivals but the cities are 60 kilometres apart.
“There were 30,000 fans at a friendly game but there is not really a friendly atmosphere between the teams. It was like a war because there were so many police in and around the stadium and there was also a police helicopter hovering over the stadium. It was quite intimidating. The fans really don’t like one another. Outside of the stadium they were all fighting and beating each other up. It wouldn’t be possible for us to walk up the street for that game like they do in Dundee. If we tried that in the Karlsruhe derby then the players would get attacked because there is always a line of police separating the two sets of supporters.”
That sense of venom and foreboding may not poison the match between two teams who share a city and the same street, but the rivalry is still intense when it comes to the match itself and the need for superiority. Konrad may be relatively new to the city but the fans of both teams have made that abundantly clear to the 24-year-old and his countryman and current flat-mate, striker Luka Tankulic.
“When the referee whistles it will be the same as every other game but we know it is really special for everybody in Dundee and everybody is talking about it. I get messages on Facebook every day that we must beat the Arabs. Everybody is talking about the game.”
Dundee’s form at the start of this season – their first back in to the top flight after a couple of years operating in a lower realm from their main rivals – has been consistent. They remain unbeaten and the results include a draw against Celtic, which underlines their capacity to punch above their weight on their own turf. But they would need a win to overtake United and, in recent history, victories over their neighbours have not been easy to come by, with league separation and on-field ability preventing them from securing a triumph in the past decade.
“Ten years is a long time, says Konrad, who has managed to get eight competitive appearances for the dark blues under his belt since he joined the club towards the end of July. “If we could beat them over the next two games then I know that would be just perfect for our fans,” he said.
And, as part of a defence that gifted few goals, he is full of belief. “It has been a good start. We are still unbeaten, we have lost only three goals so we are confident going into the game. United have also started very well so we will see. I know their striker Nadir Ciftci [is suspended] and I have watched them a few times on television but I am not interested in their team, only Dundee.”
With a playful smile, the German, who has a two-year contract at Dens Park, couldn’t resist a sly reference to the one major blot on the United copybook thus far this term, the 6-1 hammering at Celtic Park. “I have seen all the goals and the Dundee United v Celtic game. I watched the entire 90 minutes with my team-mates.
“Everything had been very good. I am living with Luka and it is good. The fans are all friendly and they come up and tell me well done or they just want to say nice things about us.” And he is revelling in the closeness to the fans on and off the pitch.
“In Germany, the fans aren’t so close to the pitch but it is great at Dens and the atmosphere at the Celtic game was really good. It was amazing and I am sure it will be the same again on Sunday.”