Paul Hartley appointed with club top of league
10 February ~ Dundee are often viewed as Scotland's most unstable under-achievers. So it seemed typical of them to sack manager John Brown last Monday while joint-top of the SPFL Championship. In the same week Premiership neighbours Dundee United cleared their bank debt, maintaining four decades of on- and off-field superiority. However, replacing Brown with Paul Hartley – Scotland's most highly rated young manager – signifies Dundee's desire to escape more than just their image. With Rangers on their way to the second tier for 2014-15, anyone looking to get out should do so now.
Retaining a hardcore support of 4,000 at their partially redeveloped Dens Park stadium, only six Scottish clubs are bigger than Dundee. And only two have suffered more recent and spectacular financial meltdowns: as things stand, Rangers will be promoted and Hearts relegated to the Championship long before May. Before Saturday's matches, Falkirk were top of the table on goal difference from Dundee, whose visitors, Hamilton Academical, lay one point behind in third. Hartley's winning debut and Falkirk's loss in Dumfries will appear to have justified the Dees' 14th managerial change in 20 years. Dundee were watched by more than saw United host St Mirren in the Scottish Cup on Sunday.
Brown, sacked after a run of three winless games, almost saved Dundee's top-flight status when appointed late last season. Yet, despite a memorable stint at the club in his playing career, his managerial tenure at Dens was instantly doomed. Chief executive Scot Gardiner appointed Brown without formal interview or rival candidates. Dundee had only found themselves in the 2012-13 top flight as last-minute replacements for the liquidated Rangers. Many Dundonians felt Brown's predecessor Barry Smith – who played with Dundee through their first administration in 2003 and had just managed them out of their second – had been abysmally treated. But it's been like this at Dundee since the 1970s.
Scottish champions for the only time in 1962, they reached the semi-finals of both the European Cup and the 1968 Fairs Cup. Their rivalry with Dundee United was akin to Celtic's with Partick Thistle, or Falkirk's with East Stirlingshire – a derby in name only. Yet when Jim McLean left their backroom staff to become manager those few yards across the road at Tannadice in 1971, the power began shifting. United won two League Cups and clinched their sole Scottish championship, in 1983, at Dundee' Dens Park. They went on to reach the European Cup semi final, then were UEFA Cup runners-up in 1986-87.
Dundee's attempt to reverse this tide involved regular boardroom upheavals, the nadir being a flirtation in 1999 with Italian fraudster Giovanni di Stefano, a man who had offered his bogus legal services to Harold Shipman and Saddam Hussein. Current chairman Bill Colvin has welcomed American backers recently rejected by St Mirren but Hartley represents a more forward-looking investment. Known for expansive football and modern preparation techniques, he took part-time Alloa Athletic from the fourth tier to the second in consecutive seasons. Moreover, having played for Scotland under Walter Smith and in the Champions League for Celtic under Gordon Strachan, Hartley represents Dundee's determination to finally reconnect with the big time. Alex Anderson