Tannadice treasure trove sheds light on Jim McLean’s glory years at Dundee United

Halfway up a flight of stairs at Tannadice, within an area not much bigger than the six-yard box of the pitch outside, currently exists a treasure trove.

Jim McLean pictured in 2011 after a stand at Tannadice is named after him. Picture: Kenny Smith/SNS
Jim McLean pictured in 2011 after a stand at Tannadice is named after him. Picture: Kenny Smith/SNS

Ostensibly a tribute to Jim McLean, under whose stewardship Dundee United won their first major trophy 40 years ago next month, it’s this and so much more.

Interest is piqued by a number 
of items in an exhibition 
lovingly curated by members of the Dundee United Business Club. McLean’s blazer from the 1982 World Cup is one. The actual team lines from the 1974 Scottish Cup final, United’s first, against Celtic, is another.

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McLean’s desire for all his players to live in the area was clearly already having an effect. While more common in those days, it’s still notable that eight of the starting XI have Dundee, Broughty 
Ferry or Monfieth addresses.

A poster from 1972 advertising a disastrous tour of Nigeria by United – “Scotland’s Leading Division 1 Club Side” – has been retrieved. As has the Courier match report from when United finally broke their trophy duck against Aberdeen in the 1979-80 League Cup final, containing the intro: “Dundee United, taunted and jibed as the team who have never won anything, provided their critics with the only real answer last night when they won their first major trophy in the club’s history – and they did it in style.”

The 3-0 replay win over Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen team was the start of what became known as the New Firm rivalry.

The programme from what proved such a landmark occasion is laughably amateurish. The replay was hastily scheduled for Wednesday, at Dens Park, after a 0-0 draw at Hampden the previous Saturday. But the Scottish Football League might still have produced something better than the photocopied pamphlet, one of which is on display.

Still, the Dundee United fans wouldn’t have minded if the teams were printed on the back of a bus ticket. It is sacred parchment to them and remains highly collectable. I caught up with Tom Cairns, the chairman of the Dundee 
United Business Club, when I popped in a couple of weeks ago. “I first came here as a laddie of 11 in the 1961-62 season. Dundee won the league that year, but we played away fine,” he recalled.

“However, at no time did I imagine us ever winning anything. I
came home that night having won something substantial and got a phone call from a Dundee supporter congratulating me at about 11pm. I said, ‘I could die happy tomorrow’… 12th December, the bucketing rain… You could see something building: It was a magical night.” In some ways the achievement means more to him than the Scottish title win a few years later.

United had signed Willie 
Pettigrew, who scored twice in the replay, earlier in the season, then Eamonn Bannon arrived from Chelsea in October. They proved the last pieces in a jigsaw assembled with typical astuteness by McLean.

“I remember thinking after a 3-0 win at Aberdeen in which 
Bannon scored a few weeks before the Dens game: ‘where’s the weak link?’ There was not one,” recalled Cairns.

Arabs will need to be quick – as will non-Arabs, the exhibition is highly recommended for supporters of all teams, including Dundee. It runs for only another three Wednesday afternoons at Tannadice, between 1pm and 3.30pm.