Ken Gall explains why fans are fuming at the press response to the recently proposed merger of the two Dundee clubs
When Peter Marr – nightclub owner and chairman of Dundee FC – raised the possibility of his club merging with neighbours Dundee United, there was, unsurprisingly, uproar among the fans of both clubs. Slightly more surprisingly, there was also a flurry of favourable comment in the Scottish press.
To most fans in the city of Dundee, the reason for Marr’s proposal seemed clear enough. Dundee, facing relegation if they fail to comply with the Scottish Premier League’s rules on stadia and possible financial calamity if they did, had eyed up their comparatively asset-rich neighbours 150 yards down the road and come to the seemingly all-too-logical conclusion that one team in the city would be better than two.
However, the attitude of the Scottish footballing press to this barely thought-through proposal – based, apparently, on a 57 per cent approval rating in a highly dubious phone poll conducted by a local newspaper on what was obviously a slow news day – was staggering in its complacency and all too indicative of the undercooked thinking and reporting that typifies the Old Firm-obsessed Scottish media.
Even allowing for the nosebleeds and double vision that must have accompanied the efforts of the hacks to write about football in Dundee, most of the articles bore all the hallmarks of resulting from a few leisurely half-hour typing sessions to fill substantial spaces in the various papers. “Merge or submerge” suggested Darryl Broadfoot in the Herald – and that was very much the theme played out by all the other papers.
The Scotsman seemed to imply that the deal was a fait accompli, and that all that remained was the waving of tear-stained hankies as we said goodbye to nearly a century of rivalry. To its credit, the Scotsman did include an anti-merger piece by Mike Watson, the former Labour MP and author of Dundee United’s official history, whose views surely must have matched the vast majority of supporters’ of both clubs.
The Scotsman also took the opportunity to name a “Joint Dundee” starting XI, made up of current players from both sides; a side which, it was suggested, would provide the serious challenge to the Old Firm that was currently missing from the city of Dundee. The presence in that XI of Dundee’s Willie Falconer, how‑ever, seemed to blow that theory clean out of the water.
Even the old warhorse, Doug Baillie of the Sunday Post – a paper owned by the Dundee-based DC Thomson Ltd and the last true defender of all things tartan and traditional in Scotland – suggested that “merge or die” was the only sensible course for the clubs.
However, the most risible piece of them all came from the lugubrious James Traynor, once a respected broadsheet writer for the Herald and now a shock-horror merchant at the Daily Record. “It stands to reason,” wrote Traynor, “that the new body should be stronger.” What? Why should the combination of the playing staffs of two mediocre football clubs provide anything other than a larger mediocre football club?
Traynor’s main point of contention seemed to be that in this era of multi-million-pound expenditure by the Old Firm, true competition in Scottish football could be reproduced only by the sort of super-club proposed by Marr. The question of whether the notion of competition and sporting achievement in Scottish football has been anything other than destroyed by David Murray’s annual spending of £20-30 million to win the Scottish championship remains unasked and unanswered by the hacks, who know on which side their bread is buttered and to whom they owe the shirts on their backs.
Like most fans of both clubs, I want to see my club do well. If Dundee United are successful, I will be delighted. If they are relegated and spend years in the wilderness, so be it. I am not so much in need of the “success” or “progress” referred to by Traynor and other writers as to want to sacrifice something that has been a big part of my family for 40 years. Traynor may deem such sentiment to be an example of the “traditional feelings and loyalties” of fans which “sometimes can be a drawback” as he spelt out in his article. I would suggest that without the “loyalties” of fans in Dundee, there would not be two clubs in the city to merge.
And then we come to Traynor’s most absurd comment of all – that “petty prejudices and maybe even old grudges must be discarded”. This, in a newspaper whose entire football coverage is geared towards pandering to fans of the Old Firm, a large constituency of whom exhibit palpably the worst examples of “petty prejudices” and “old grudges” in Scottish life.
I fear that Traynor and his colleagues should, in future, return to commenting on matters where their footing is more sure – namely the interminable contractual wrangles of Celtic’s Mark Viduka and the alleged affiliations and “petty prejudices” of Andy Goram, one of the least appealing characters to have emerged in Scottish football in my lifetime.
In the 25 years that I have been watching Dundee United, I have seen the club win all the Scottish domestic trophies, as well as reaching the UEFA Cup final and a European Cup semi-final. My father’s generation grew up with a Dundee side boasting the likes of Alan Gilzean and Charlie Cooke, which was undoubtedly one of the best sides in in the early 1960s.
Nostalgia can be limiting, but the histories of each club are important to those who care for football in Dundee. Those people want both clubs to have a future, and they deserve more from the Scottish footballing press than a handful of half-hearted efforts at journalism from people who really ought to know better.
From WSC 146 April 1999. What was happening this month