No fans, no Fergie as Dundee United prepare to host a final farewell to legendary manager Jim McLean, whose presence will forever be felt at Tannadice
Understandably, the McLean family wish for the event to be private. Such is the acclaim for McLean it is hard to guarantee those wishing to pay their last respects would not turn up to line the streets, something undesired in the current climate.
It is particularly heart-rending to imagine what the scenes might have been like at this afternoon’s game against St Johnstone had the situation been anything like normal.
The ground would have been packed, that’s certain. Arabs from across the land, from across the globe, would want to be there for a last great send-off to the man credited with building the modern-day version of their club.
There would have been a large tifo display with McLean’s image fluttering down from the top tier of the Eddie Thompson stand – slightly ironic, given their strained relationship.
And the old Shed end – now rebranded as the Carling Stand - would have been jumping, for old times’ sake. This, of course, was the home end during McLean’s days. It still retains so much spirit of the times, from the low roof, which once promoted Taypools, to its strange, “TSB” corners.
It’s the area you see exploding when Kevin Gallacher’s cross-cum-shot loops in against Barcelona in 1987, likewise when Davie Dodds poked one in during a ding-dong battle against Manchester United in 1984. Re-watching footage of those games, it’s hard to believe people were once free – and happy – to be packed together so tightly.
There should have been a procession of past players paying tribute today. Sir Alex Ferguson, who considered Jim McLean to be his greatest adversary, might even have missed Manchester United’s FA Cup clash with Watford to come to Dundee.
Despite the absence of supporters, a superb 80-page tribute programme has been produced, more than a 1000 of which have already been sold, with some proceeds going to Alzheimer Scotland. A smattering of former players with strange titles like “player transition coach” provide a link to McLean’s days but it’s a very different club. Micky Mellon is the latest in a long line of successors to McLean – 17 by my reckoning.
He provided a thoughtful answer when asked if the players walking by the remarkable McLean tribute on the gates outside Tannadice will draw extra inspiration ahead of today’s game, Dundee United’s first at home since the former manager’s death was announced on Boxing Day evening.
“The club should always have a tribute to Jim McLean,” he said. “It should always have Jim McLean about it. It shouldn’t just be about this moment.”
A deserted, even eerie, Tannadice, will be the scene of an official tribute this afternoon, with fans asked to film themselves clapping in their homes in the 83rd minute, the year, of course, when McLean led his side to Scottish title glory.
However, Mellon is right, McLean will be an enduring presence long after fans are allowed back in, and not only in the form of a statue waiting to be winched into position.
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