Seturday last wis an unco black dey fir Tayside. It bore witness tae the burial, efter lang an humiliatin illness, o a pillar o the community: Dundee United. A funerary caravan shawd itsel oan the road sooth tae Hampden Park, heidin fir the Scottish Cup semi final wi Hibernian.
They shud hae brocht mair support. Whit wid ance hae been an airmy o Arabs ten thoosan strang hud been whittled awa tae a hardy few. United hae held the gree in the City o Discovery fir mony a lang year. Thi’d skelped Dundee in the derby, an gied the champions Celtic a bluidy neb at Tannadice in the league. A few year syne thi’d brocht the siller o the Scottish Cup tae the streets o thir city.
Sic heroics were shuirly deserving o mair? Mair bleary ee’d chiels keekin oot fae supporters coach windaes, toom-heidit fae drink taen early. Mair fowk gingin alane ir in twas and threes oan the train, thir crabbit pusses trippin thum as they bicker aboot wha’s tae blame. Deservin o mair thin this wee puckle o die-hards comin tae see thir team awa efter aa the years. In daith, ye ken wha yir pals are. Shorn o the glory hunters, an the fowk wha’d taen aa they could thole aaready, United’s pals were gey few.
Hampden hud aa the atmosphere o a glen efter a clearance. The sparse United support gey near tyned thirsels amang the acres o toom seats. The Hibs end wis hoachin, but no gingin as radge as it micht hae been. The Hibees kent thir team wis oan a puir rin o form. Baith sets o support kent that ane o the Auld Firm wid meet thum in the final. They wir pleyin fir the richt tae be de-breeked oan the national tele bi ane ir ithir o the Glesgae teams. Scunner.
The Celtic-Rangers semi final wis the neist day, an the Glasgae press wis mair concerned wi that sectarian shoutin match thin oor wee gemme. Thi’d predictit a dour, unbonnie affair fir this ane. An jings, they wernae wrang.
Kick aff. Richt fae the stert Hibs pleyed lik a decent team. A decent team wha couldnae mind whaur the goal wis. They hud a gleg ee fir a pass, an thir movement aff the ba wis sherp. Lik ilka team that hud cam up agin United this season, Hibs looked braw by comparison. United couldnae hae looked mair lik a wheen o tattie-bogles gin ye pit a plank up thir dowps an a corbie oan thir heids. Ower an again Hibs pit the ba aroon an aboot thum wi nae sae muckle as a flailin elbuck fae a United player tae slaw thir progress. Yet a lang leet o Hibs pleyers couldnae dae mair thin blooter strikes directly intae thum.
Sic wis Hibs’ sorry state thit United’s striker Billy McKay een hud twa opportunities tae score hissel! Twice he wis left alane wi the ba tae breenge at Hibernian’s debutant keeper. Twice he sklaffed it stracht intae the lad’s gut. United were the dregs Hibernian just couldnae see awa. They een guffed a penalty ower the bar in normal time.
Mixu Paatelainen, the United manager, brocht on a puckle o subs, ettlin tae bring a bolt o lichtenin tae his corpse o a team. It didnae wark. Ye kin shoogle a body aa ye lik. Gin its deid, it’ll no be wakin up.
Neither team hud a goal in thum, so the gemme dragged itsel intae extra time. The anely figure in tangerine still movin wis a muckle, braid backit French chiel cryed Guy Demel. Fae the minit he wis subbied-oan he shawd professionalism, talent an endeavour. He swat, he focht, he did aa the fleein aboot his auld legs wid let him. But he didnae spik a wurd tae onybidy. Mibbie he doesnae ken them, bein fae France. Mibbie he kent they widnae listen. Either wey, he seemed tae be oan his tod oot there, pittin in tackles, daein his bit.
Extra time passed baith teams bi, an then it wis oan tae penalties. The first twa United pleyers tint thir chance o redemption an missed thir kicks. Guy Demel swaggered up tae the spot, hammered in a convincing, professional conversion, then swaggered awa again. ‘Ken this’, his swagger said, ‘white’er is gaen oan here isnae ma faut.’ He wisnae wrang. Though he probably thocht it in French.
The Hibernian goalie wis a sicht tae see. He wis a big, boukit-bellied Irish man, wi flabby airms an the pus o an angelic bairn. Gin he’d telt ye he wis a professional fitba pleyer, ye widnae hae creditit it. Fir aa his size he fairly flung his body richt and left, duntin imprints o his ample bahookie intae the Hampden turf wi each landin. His saves stapped ane then anithir o United’s penalties. This unlikely sportin giant won the gemme fir Hibernian.
Gin the match stertit like a wake fir United fans, it certainly feinished like ane. Grief biled up intae seethin anger in the tangerine pairt o the terraces. United fans stertin fechtin amang thirsels lik a muckle drunken, greivin faimly. Hard wurds suin cowped intae a rammy o fleein neives, an fir a bitty the bad auld days o Scottish fitba wir back at Hampden. The polis took an age tae get intae the thrang o argy-bargyin fans, bi which time the damage wis duin.
The clash that nicht in howf an hame wis baith wild an soor. Paul Paton, the captain an ae-time savior o the club had skelped some boy in the pus, some said. The club owner hud aa bit signed a deal tae affload the club ance they wir relegatit, said anithir.
The last twa-three year hus seen Dundee cast aff its auld image o a toon on the broo. The cooncil biggin thit aye scarred the centre is awa, an hauf the schemes hae bin dinged doon wi dynamite. The city’s fund its smeddum. But richt at the hert o this rebirth wis the Tangerine Dream up the brae at Tannadice. Thoosans wir pourin oot ay tenements ir comin in fae the hills tae see United on a Seturday, tae see the young lads pley wi style an flair. Noo aa that’s awa, an United are aboot tae be relegatit. Will we see echt thoosan fowk stow-oot the V&A insteid? Will Lorraine Kelly, United’s celebrity fan, bide in the stauns fir the fower gemmes agin Morton neist year? Will the clash anent haein ae single Dundee City team re-emerge? Naebody kens fir certain whit the future hauds. But noo it seems that thon licht o hope aye growin brichter in the lift ower Tannadice hus been an incomin meteor aa alang.
Alistair Heather is a student o Historie, French an Gaelic atween Geneva an Aiberdeen Universities.
[Editor’s note fae Billy Kay. As the Scots editor belangin the tangerine side o the muckle divide in Dundee, can I say that I’m still eident for the aforesaid corp tae be gien galvanic electric shock treatment in the foarm o a win ower Hamilton at the weekenn. ‘Mon the Terrors.]