Alan Pattullo: ‘Good old days’ at Dundee United’s agm have gone

Dark days at Tannadice are likely to be reflected in the mood at Dundee United's agm this morning. Picture: SNS.
Dark days at Tannadice are likely to be reflected in the mood at Dundee United's agm this morning. Picture: SNS.
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Dundee United have so many games to fit in at the moment – eight more before the end of next month – it’s hard to see how they have found time to schedule an agm.

But they have. While they might prefer not to have had to, they must – as required by company law. Indeed, the club might have wished they had the foresight to hold it a few weeks earlier. It has been far from good for a while at Tannadice. However, things have started to go seriously downhill recently.

It is against this background that new chairman Mike Martin must this morning cope with the unenviable task of opening the club’s latest agm. He has only been in the post since the beginning of this month after Stephen Thompson stepped down amid rising rancour in the stands. Cast as having a keen financial brain, Martin’s sense of timing is clearly not as sharp.

Gone are “the good old days”, as one United shareholder reflected yesterday, when the main business of the agm was conducted in “about five minutes’ flat – and then Johnston Grant said ‘let’s have a cup of tea’.” Things are unlikely to be quite as civil today. Martin’s re-appointment as director and that of two others, David Dorward and Jim Fyffe, are formalities. Afterwards they will seek to satisfy shareholders’ queries.

Martin has been handed something of a hospital pass. Despite only recently taking the chairman’s seat, he is viewed with some suspicion and suffers from guilt by association to Thompson, a friend. But he should expect some clemency. “He’s just in the door so can’t have too much blame laid at his feet,” said the same shareholder. “One tack to take might be to make a plea to supporters and supporters’ clubs to give him time to change things. I don’t know what else he can say.”

It has been suggested that today’s meeting falls during the bleakest time for the club since 1959, when they finished third last in the old Second Division, kept off bottom spot by Queen’s Park and Montrose. Granted things on the park have not reached such depths. But United could slip to fifth in the Championship – and crucially to outside the play-off places – were they to lose to Morton tomorrow.

It is understood Thompson, who still owns 52 per cent of the shares, won’t attend today’s agm. There’s no obligation for him to be there. He has not attended a game since resigning as chairman.

It is expected to be the first time a member of the Thompson family has not been present at an agm since Eddie finally attained his dream and bought the club in 2002. His daughter Justine, once earmarked to lead the club, has since stepped aside, her plans derailed by unimaginable tragedy. Shortly before Eddie passed away after a battle with cancer in 2008 she lost her husband Ken in a motorcycle accident.

Eddie’s widow Cath has an honorary position at the club as president. She surveys a crumbling kingdom that her husband bequeathed their children, whose relationship with one another has soured amid the struggles, and high emotion, of running a club. Included in accounts shareholders will be asked to approve today is a loss for the last financial year of £1 million. Current debt is around £1.5m. Justine attended last year’s agm and sat silently at the back of the room since she had already stepped down as a director. Like her brother, she has stopped attending games. Earlier this year she was reported to have sold all her shares to Martin, for whom sleep would surely not have come easily last night on the eve of fronting his first agm.

Only 17 attended last year. But this number is sure to be swollen in reaction to the current state of affairs. Supporters might have had their faith tested but this is a forum where shareholders have the right to hold people to account. It might be worth Martin pleading with Paul Sturrock to attend in a pacifying capacity.

It is thought to be as much for this reason, to boost supporters, that the club legend, pictured, has been invited to return, firstly as scout and then, when things took another turn for the worse following last week’s 3-2 home defeat by Queen of the South, as emergency coach.

Current manager Csaba Laszlo is viewed as a man on the brink but is thought to retain the support of Martin – if not the fans and, significantly, his own players. Harry Lewis, the United goalkeeper on loan from Southampton, made some eye-opening comments following United’s latest setback, a 1-0 defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Tuesday. He pointed out there was “no structure” to the team.

“They (the fans) don’t believe in us and they shouldn’t believe in us,” he added. “We have given them nothing to believe in.”

There are persistent rumours that both senior Dundee clubs might yet share a ground with Dundee City Council backing, as has long been claimed is the obvious solution to their respective financial problems. This is likely to be a subject addressed from the floor this morning.

But Dundee yesterday re-confirmed they are pushing ahead with their own plans to move from Dens Park to a new stadium at a site in Camperdown Park.

Managing director John Nelms has invited United or anyone else to become involved with the project – as tenants. “We don’t have a problem with anybody leasing the facility from us,” he said yesterday.

So even if Dundee exit Dens, football will still likely be played on this famous street for some time yet. That is unless Mr Martin intends to announce alternative plans this morning. Such deflection tactics, given the current circumstances, might not be a bad idea.