Sean Dillon doesn’t blame the supporters who stood outside Tannadice last Sunday protesting about the mess the club is in. He would rather they did not feel the need but he says that the people who pay their money to attend games are entitled to an opinion. And it’s not as though he was unaware of their view.
From the grumbles in the stands on match days, to difficult conversations with punters in the street as he is doing the family shopping or out with the kids, there has been no escape. But there has also been no shying away from the confrontations.
“I have no problem with people giving their opinions, you take the good with the bad and that’s the way it is,” the defender said. “It’s not as if people are coming at you with a hammer in their hand, but they’re angry. But I respect them and what they’ve got to say because nobody wants the club to be where it is.”
Around 200 fans gathered outside Tannadice to express their unhappiness at the way the club is headed and demand answers from chairman Stephen Thompson, who has since put the club up for sale. Such scenes have also led to manager Mixu Paatelainen describing the atmosphere at the club as “toxic”. Dillon accepts there is a massive cloud hanging over the Tayside club who, eight points adrift with games running out, could actually be doomed to relegation by neighbours and rivals Dundee, in tomorrow night’s derby. But he says that the squad have to accept a chunk of the blame and therefore face up to any criticism.
“It wasn’t nice being inside Tannadice [after the 3-1 home defeat by Hamilton] knowing there were protests going on outside. But if the fans feel they need to do that then nobody can criticise them. They pay their money and are the most important people the club have.
“Of course, you don’t want it to be like that. You want to walk out and see happy people after a game. I was actually out late on Sunday, I usually am one of the last out, that wasn’t me avoiding anyone, so it was over by that time. But I know how people are feeling, it’s not what anyone wants, and I wouldn’t shy away from speaking to people because I understand what they’re going through. I have been lucky for a long time here, you come out and have a bit of craic with people about the game. You have good days and bad days, but you always came out to face people.”
After European football and cup runs and silverware, the current plight is as tough as it has been for the Irishman during his time at the club. “It is noticeable that there is a lot more negativity around than there used to be. But that comes from being bottom of the league and we are the ones on the park who can put that right. It has been up to us to do enough from our side to make things more positive.”
That is unlikely to be enough to stave off the drop but he says the players have to postpone that for as long as possible and find a way to move away from the doom and gloom that has engulfed the team since the departure of key players like Stuart Armstrong, left, and Gary Mackay-Steven, bottom left, in February last year, followed by scorer Nadir Ciftci.
It kickstarted a terrible run of results, with just three wins in the remainder of that campaign, followed by a meagre nine in all competitions so far this term.
Dillon accepts that the club has struggled to move on since those mid-season sales. “Possibly social media plays a bigger part now, there’s more space for fans to have their say and put forward opinions. But it’s possible that more was made of it than there should have been.
“But that’s down to people’s opinions, one fan will think that it was right for them to move on and others will say they should have stayed. There will always be counter arguments to every point people make. We couldn’t beat St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup final with the team we had and all those lads were there but when Gary and Stuart left people thought it was a disaster.
“Was there too much made of it? I’m not 100 per cent about that, I’m really not sure because as a player you just have to focus on who you are with.
“I have been here a while and almost every transfer window we have lost players. Was it the timing? Was it what happened before it? Was it the games after it? Personally, I’ve seen so many good players come and go from the club and thankfully we’ve been able to continue on. So it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for why things have gone badly.
“As players you can’t get too down about things and you can’t get too high about things. So all we’ve been focused on is preparing for Monday’s game. It’s a derby and we have to be at our best.
“We haven’t been at our best enough this season and when we have it hasn’t been for long enough. On Monday we are desperate to win the game, the three points are the most important thing but it’s for the fans as well.
“I wouldn’t say they’ll be happy if we win on Monday because regardless of what happens we’ll still be bottom of the league. But it would be something for them.”