Death of Dave Smith - last Dundee manager to beat Celtic at Dens Park and only one to quote Browning on Sportscene

Dave Smith’s spell as Dundee manager amounted to just 24 league games, but it proved a memorable chapter in the Dens Park club’s history.

Admittedly, not necessarily for the right reasons. These games included three against Dundee United, all of which were lost.

When Smith resigned in January 1989 after just 219 days in charge it was the Premier League’s then shortest-ever managerial reign.

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Some contend there was no way back for him after he applauded Dundee’s rivals from the park after a 3-0 defeat by Jim McLean’s side in the first derby of the 1988-89 season.

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Smith’s explanation that he appreciated good football was never likely to sit well with Dundee supporters. The manager, who replaced the Aberdeen-bound Jocky Scott, had taken to informing fans of his team selection over the Dens Park Tannoy before games.

The amiable Smith, who has died in Devon at the age of 88, was no stranger to Dundee. Although he spent his entire playing career in England, he grew up in the city and was a Dundee supporter.

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He left Scotland aged 16 to sign for Burnley, then a top team in England. Five broken legs prevented him fulfilling his potential as a full-back. However, he was on the coaching staff when Newcastle lifted the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969 and when Arsenal won the league and cup double two years later. As manager, Smith won promotion with Mansfield, Southend and Plymouth Argyle, leading the last-named club into the old Second Division, now the Championship.

Dubbed the Ciderman, he was voted Argyle’s second-greatest manager in a poll in 2019, behind Dundee United legend Paul Sturrock.

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Dave Smith was in charge of Dundee for just 219 days in the 1988/89 season but led the side to two memorable wins over Celtic

His move home to Dundee in June 1988 was helped by a pre-existing friendship with then chairman Angus Cook. “I have always wanted to take charge at Dens Park,” Smith, then 54, said.

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He was mindful of what had gone on across the road at Tannadice. “Jim McLean has done a wonderful job in the past 14 years for United,” he said. “I’d like to do the same in a shorter time or I could be on my bike back to England.”

There were undoubtedly some good moments, including a first league win over Aberdeen since the opening day of the newly-established Premier Division in 1975. This was the last of just five league victories. They were nearly all notable ones. A 1-0 victory over Celtic stands to this day as Dundee’s last home success over the Parkhead side.

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Tommy Coyne scored the winner past the on-loan Alan Rough – which remains a good pub quiz question. Who kept goal for Celtic the last time they were beaten at Dens Park?

But it’s an away win over Celtic that could be why Smith is best remembered by fans. Dundee trailed 2-0 early on. But three quick goals from Stephen Frail, Graham Harvey and Stuart Rafferty saw the hosts jeered off at half-time. Dundee held out for the 3-2 win.

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The well-read Smith, asked by host Dougie Donnelly later that night if he could provide a suitable literary flourish to mark the occasion, became the first and probably last manager to quote Robert Browning on Sportscene.

He chose lines from the poem Andrea del Sarto: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp/Or what’s a heaven for?”

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