Doon Derby milestone shines stark light on Dundee decline as Rangers return to Dens for perhaps last-ever time amid 'unprecedented' anger
As one fan quipped online, who needs enemies if that’s how you treat a pal. With the club still seemingly intent on a move elsewhere, the old ground has been getting the football its neglect over recent years has deserved.
It didn’t have to be this way. It certainly wasn’t the expectation on a memorable night six years ago when Dundee United were relegated at Dens Park following a 2-1 defeat at the hands of their rivals.
For Dundee fans of a certain age, that is as good as it has been. That night was meant to signify a pushing of the reset button. It was identified as a longed-for opportunity to reclaim some of the ground lost over the decades when a new order was established in the city. The balance of power appeared to be in the process of shifting again.
Fast forward six years and the Dark Blues, a club seemingly addicted to dysfunction, are the ones in turmoil. Exactly 100 league games have now been played at Dens Park since the so-called Doon Derby.
A dive into those results gives the Dundee faithful little cause for optimism ahead of this afternoon’s visit from champions Rangers, a repeat of the fixture that last week drew close to a record home low crowd to a stadium where so much uncertainty currently exists.
Of that century of home league fixtures, Dundee have won just thirty – under a third. This includes a season when Dundee finished second in the Championship behind Hearts and were promoted via the play-offs.
Nearly half - 47- of the games have been lost. Multi-goal defeats to Aberdeen (0-7), Ross County (0-5) and, most recently, Livingston (0-4) stand out as being particularly hard to bear for the long-suffering support, who expect their team to be competitive on their own ground at the very least.
Over and above this is the sorry cup record. Nine of the last 12 major cup exits have occurred at home, including last weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Rangers in the last eight of the Scottish Cup. The circumstances as much as the manner of this defeat represented a tipping point as far as many fans are concerned."There's now unprecedented anger at the way the club is being run," says Norrie Price, the secretary of the Dee4Life Trust.
Members of the fans’ body were last week canvassed for their views on the current owners' performance. They were invited to describe their current feelings from four options: very happy, content, unhappy or deeply worried.
Managing director John Nelms sparked anger with his absence from last weekend’s clash with Rangers – as well as the previous crucial league encounter with St Mirren (another defeat) – because he was in Italy, ostensibly on a work trip.
Photos of him at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico for the Six Nations rugby clash between Italy and Scotland did little to quell the dismay, particularly since he had set the ticket price for the Rangers cup clash at a premium level of £30 before jetting off. Around 1200 home fans duly saw Mark McGhee’s struggling side fail to register a shot on target.
Judging from the comments collated by Price, fans are switching off in droves and are voting with their feet, despite – in some cases – an association with the club stretching back decades. Expected to sit in facilities that might not have altered much since their youth, many feel disrespected and increasingly alienated.
“I know of one fan in his 80s who until recently was going to away games but has stopped going to Dens,” wrote one respondent. “He has supported the club for over 70 years but is not planning to renew his season ticket. I am seriously considering the same. I am deeply worried about the future of a club I have supported for nearly 65 years.” He or she wasn’t alone.
“Around 95 per cent of the replies put themselves in the deeply worried category,” reveals Price.
Meanwhile, Nelms is pushing on with a new stadium at Camperdown Park on land he and United States-based owner Tim Keyes bought five years ago.
A project consultants' meeting took place last Wednesday although in keeping with Nelms' preferred method of operating, no new developments - if there are any - have been communicated to fans. The spectre of ground-sharing looms should Dens Park be sold for housing before the intended new stadium is complete. Dens itself is still owned by John Bennett, a former Dundee United director.
"The main worry is the stadium,” says Price. “We could lose the club if that goes wrong. We need to know whether the new stadium is viable, particularly in the post-pandemic world when construction costs have increased markedly. We are simply demanding clarity.”
Although not evident from the sparsely populated stands last Sunday, fans are mobilising again. They are not prepared to see Dundee’s existence threatened having already rescued the club from financial oblivion on two occasions in the last 20 years.
Price, whose first game at Dens Park was in 1962-63 when Dundee reached the semi-finals of the European Cup, has a colourful way of describing how it feels to be ghosted by the current regime.
Three letters outlining various concerns were sent to the club at the end of last year. The first missive was at least acknowledged but there has been no reply of any substance since. Although a season ticket was thrown in his direction during last month’s defeat to Livingston, Nelms seems oblivious to the gathering furore.
Price fears Dundee being left high and dry. “The continued absence of communication reminds me of younger days when a girlfriend might become increasingly distant …and then you’d very quickly find yourself dumped,” he says.
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