Our exploits in Aberdeen the previous day had whet our appetite for more Scottish football. With our tickets already purchased for Dundee United v Motherwell we could afford to take our time travelling down to the city famous for cakes, children’s comics and lap dancing clubs… according to an advertisement on the East Stand at Tannadice.
Another day in Scotland, another full English Breakfast to begin the day. It really was beginning to annoy me. I wanted to taste some local cuisine. Yes, I did have an endless supply of Irn-Bru in the back of the car with me, but I wanted to go further than that. We stopped off in the small coastal town of Arbroath at around midday in search of some food and drink.
The only cuisine we could find were “Arbroath smokies” which have protected geographical indication status. Basically, they’re pieces of haddock smoked in a special way. As much as I wanted to try one of these smokies, I’ll save that for when I visit Gayfield Park, home to Arbroath FC who currently reside in the Second Division of the Scottish Football League. Whilst the town’s football club had played the day before, there was some Sunday football action happening next to the coast, so we stopped there for a cup of tea before pressing on to Dundee.
We aimed to reach Tannadice at around 13:00 so that we could park as close to the ground as possible. The turnstiles weren’t yet open so to waste some time I bought a programme before strolling around the area to see if there was anything interesting knocking about.
Just down the road from Tannadice Park is Dens Park, home to rivals Dundee FC. The two stadiums are approximately 200 yards apart, making them the closest two senior grounds in Britain. Only the grounds of two clubs in Hungary are closer than Dundee’s in Europe as they both back on to each other.
The club was founded in 1909 as Dundee Hibernian, and the Tannadice Park ground is as old as the club.
We were sat in the lower tier of the George Fox Stand – one of the two stands built in the 1990’s. This one was finished in 1992 and named after the former chairman of the club. Opposite stood the Main Stand, which consists of the Jim McClean Fair Play Stand and Jerry Kerr Stand which both join on to each other. The Jim McClean Fair Play Stand was opened in 1997 as an extension to the Jerry Kerr Stand, replacing the Fair Play Enclosure which was originally funded by money gained from UEFA.
Behind the goal to the right was the West Stand, otherwise known as The Shed. I was told that this old stand is only used now when a bigger fixture is played and that only certain parts are still in use having once been the most popular stand at Tannadice.
To the left was the impressive and compact Eddie Thompson Stand, which was opened in 1994. Backing on to neighbouring allotments, the stand has quite a steep gradient and the more vocal ‘Arabs’ tend to sit in this part of the ground.
Dundee United fans are known as Arabs, apparently dating back to the early 1960’s when they had trouble with their pitch. Although the original story is disputed amongst fans, the most commonly accepted version of events is that during the 1962/63 season after many postponements the club took action against the adverse weather. With a snow covered pitch an ice melting device was brought in, but this in turn caused the pitch to become waterlogged. Desperate to play their match against Albion Rovers in January 1963 the club covered the pitch in sand and the match went ahead.
Away from sand covered pitches, the club have had a good history in Europe. They reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1984 and the UEFA Cup final in 1987. In getting to the UEFA Cup final they did the double over a Barcelona side which included the likes of Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes. United remain the only British side to achieve this feat in Europe.
These days, Dundee United are competing in the newly restructured Scottish Premiership having been founding members of the SPL in 1998.
Walking into the ground you are taken on to grey concourses that are clean and have televisions which challenge Atherton Collieries for the title of “Oldest television in football” – ours is 34 years old apparently. We could just about make out the score from the Forfar v Rangers match which was being shown live, while people queued up for the food which was on offer at extortionate prices. The pitch is below street level when stood in the George Fox Stand so when walking through the door into ground itself you walk down to your seats.
I loved the ground instantly. It was colourful, compact and tight. I can imagine the place having a fantastic atmosphere when a big match is on there. There was already a bloke in the seat next to me, so I got speaking to him. He seemed really pleasant and began talking to me about the club and what to expect. He said “I hope you’re not easily offended, there’s some awful language in this part of the ground!”. I thanked him for tipping me off and explained to him that I don’t mind the odd bit of choice language as long as it’s constructive.
As the ground began to fill up, I noticed that lots of people in our part of the ground seemed to be on first name terms with each other – including the bloke next to me who knew everybody. He must be a lovely bloke, a pillar of the community. Then the teams came out on to the pitch and it soon transpired that my neighbour had the loudest mouth I’d ever come across at a match and he swore like a nun with tourettes.
Every decision that went in Motherwell’s favour… he swore, every occasion that a Dundee player misplaced a pass… he swore. The man had turned from a walking depiction of calmness to a psychotic football fan in a matter on minutes. My favourite shout from him came in the second half when he totally lost his rag with the referee. He stood up and bellowed down at the pitch “Shut yer puss referee!”. It might be a common insult up in Dundee but I had never heard it before, and I haven’t since… apart from in the living room where my Dad will shout it occasionally as a joke.
Both sides were in good form heading into the match, with Motherwell looking for their fourth consecutive win, whilst Dundee had scored 11 times in four matches. Dundee were fifth, with Motherwell in third; just one point behind Celtic and four behind league leaders Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The side from Fir Park started well and came close to taking the lead after eight minutes when Iain Vigurs’ corner was met by Stephen McManus. The defender’s headed effort fell just wide of the post.
Henri Anier was the next player to go close for Motherwell after he burst through the Dundee defence. With an uninterrupted view of goal he snatched at his shot and it went flying over the crossbar. It came close to hitting an advertisement for “Taysides Premier Lap Dance” which can be found at Private Eyes Gentlemen’s Club. Other lap dancing venues are probably available.
Motherwell took the first half lead on the half hour mark through Arnier. The assist came from down the wing when Zaine Francis-Angol broke away down the left. Ryan Dow tried to dispossess the winger but he continued down the line, cutting inside John Rankin. The ball was then crossed into Arnier who took the ball down and slotted it into the bottom right hand corner past Radoslaw Cierzniak.
John Sutton came close to doubling Motherwell’s lead, but he couldn’t keep his header down after a great cross from Simon Ramsden.
It took until the 40 minute mark for United to have a go at their visitors with the lively Nadir Çiftçi setting up two chances in as many minutes. The first opportunity saw the former Portsmouth man set up Ryan Dow who volleyed his shot high and wide before Stuart Armstrong scuffed the ball wide after breaking free from Ramsden.
Half time arrived, and I asked the bloke next to me what he thought so far. He didn’t say a lot, surprisingly. He did however begin to tell me about the players who were on show for Dundee United, and it soon became evident that manager Jackie McNamara is keen to give youth a chance, as shown through the inclusion of Ryan Gauld and Andrew Robertson, aged 18 and 19 respectively and John Souttar (who became the first player younger than me that I’ve seen play professionally) aged 17.
For the second half I looked out for these three players and they look to be good prospects for the future. The home side were the better of the teams in this half as an enthralling 45 minutes of football unfolded in the sunshine at Tannadice Park.
The Terrors equalised on 53 minutes. John Rankin cut out a poor defensive clearance and played a long ball over the top to Çiftçi. He carried the ball to the edge of the box, cut inside and fired a low shot past Lee Hollis.
An early goal of the season contender arrived just three minutes later with Andrew Robertson getting his name on the scoresheet. The youngster picked the ball up on the edge of his own box and tore through the Motherwell midfield and defence before hammering the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
Keith Lasley came within inches of equalising for Motherwell when his curling free kick hit the left hand post. The match was evenly poised and the visitors boss Stuart McCall brought on James McFadden and Lionel Ainsworth, with immediate impact.
Ainsworth – making just his second appearance after arriving from Rotherham United – picked the ball up close to the half way line and hit it into the top corner from 30 yards out to bring the scores level on 76 minutes.
In response, Dundee withdrew the impressive Ryan Gauld to bring on Brian Graham and introduced David Goodwillie in place of Ryan Bow. It seemed like a bit of an odd decision, given Gauld was at the centre of a lot Dundee’s play, but Goodwillie was a sign of intent from the home camp.
With minutes remaining, Ainsworth hooked the ball into the area and Sutton headed just wide. Up at the other end Goodwillie missed an equally good opportunity and the match ended 2-2.
We took our time leaving the ground at the end and had time to reflect on what had been one of the best matches we’d seen in a long time. Dundee United earned a place in my heart. The ground, the fans, the young players. I loved everything about the club.
Leaving Dundee we drove down to Edinburgh where we stayed for the evening before going home early on Monday morning. The highlight of the trip was the Scottish Breakfast I had at Little Chef in Edinburgh which included the usuals along with lorne sausage and haggis. That’s right, I ended my Scottish trip eating haggis and washed it down with the remaining Irn-Bru which was in the car.
I will definitely be back at Tannadice one day, and I will be purchasing a Dundee United shirt at some stage in the near future. I wouldn’t claim to be an Arab, but I wouldn’t mind being one!
A big thanks to my Dad and Grandad for making the day enjoyable too!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 273 miles
- ADMISSION: £10 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3