Dundee United - Tangerine Dreams | @Alexecky

As part of a series of Scottish football history articles written for us by radio presenter Alex Horsburgh, today he charts the progress of the club from Scotland's City of Discovery, who changed their fortunes, and their colours, in the late 1960s after years as 'also rans' in the British game...


Dundee United are back in the big time north of the border as winners of the Scottish Championship, albeit by a vote amongst Scotland's 42 senior clubs, that carried a motion by the SPFL to finish the 2019/20 season early due to the current pandemic and promote the champions of the three Scottish leagues outside the Premiership.



75 per cent of the teams had to call for an early finish and promotion of the winners of the Championship, League 1 and 2. This happened and it meant United joined Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers as promoted teams, while Partick Thistle went down to League 1 as bottom team in the Championship, with Stranraer relegated to League 2 as bottom team in League 1. The Premiership in Scotland is likely to be decided on April 23 after a meeting with UEFA.

Dundee United were formed as Dundee Hibs in the early 20th century before changing their name to Dundee United in 1923, in an attempt to be more inclusive in the city, but until the mid 1960s United played second fiddle to their dark blue neighbours across the road at Dens Park: Dundee FC.

As Celtic are the Glasgow club that represent a strong tie-in with Scotland's Irish immigrant population from the 19th Century, and Hibernian are the Edinburgh equivalent, Dundee United were, in part, formed by Irish immigrants in the Scottish city famed for Jute, Jam and Journalism.

Dundee United played in a black and white strip right up until the late 1960s, but a series of US tours towards the end of that decade saw United adopt their tour kit of tangerine and black (worn to bring a touch of razzmatazz to American fans) as their strip for the Scottish League.

United even changed their name to 'Dallas Tornado' for the benefit of American audiences when they crossed the pond. Whilst games against Aberdeen on the US tours would see the Dons become 'Washington Whips' to give the host nation the illusion both sides were born in the USA. Pipe smoking United manager Jerry Kerr was the man who transplanted the new colours to the Tannadice club at home as they also started to appear in European tournament the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. They most memorably beat Barcelona home and away in two famous ties in the 1960s, before amazingly repeating the feat in the 1980s in the UEFA Cup.


Jim McLean replaced Kerr in the early 1970s as boss, and the rest is history as the former Dundee FC player took the then-unfashionable neighbours to their first Scottish Cup final in 1974 (lost 3-0 to Celtic), their first Scottish League title in 1983, as well as a European Cup semi-final v Roma in 1984, where United lost out on a chance to face Liverpool in an all-British final in Rome after losing 3-2 on aggregate.

United finally won the Scottish Cup under manager Ivan Golac, a former Southampton player, in 1994 with a 1-0 Hampden victory over Rangers after losing finals in 1974, 81, 85, 87, 88 and 1991 with Jim McLean in charge. Celtic denied them three times, Rangers once and St Mirren and  Motherwell also kept United waiting for that first national cup. McLean did lead United to a 3-0 win over deadly rivals Dundee in the late 1970s in a League Cup final that was kept in Dundee, with Dens Park winning the coin toss to host the final.

There was also a 1987 UEFA Cup final v IFK Gothenburg under McLean but United lost 2-1 on aggregate although Barcelona were defeated home and away on the run to the final in a never to be forgotten era for the one time Scottish Division Two club.

So close to a UEFA Cup! (Dundee Courier - Thursday 21 May 1987)

United can also claim a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford against Manchester Utd in a pre-Fergie 1980s UEFA Cup tie (Ron Atkinson in charge of Man U), and it was only an OG that gave the English Giants a 3-2 victory in the second leg at Tannadice.

Such was United's dominance over their Dundee rivals in the 1980s, that the dark blue half of the city even considered changing their name to Dundee City FC as English based TV football programmes started to refer to Dundee United as just 'Dundee'. This was much to the consternation of the Dens Park club, who ruled the local roost until around about the time the Beatles split up, and were just one game away from being the first Scottish club in the European Cup final in 1963 (lost to AC Milan over two legs in a semi final) in a match v Benfica that would have seen Dundee FC as the first (and to date only) Scottish club side to play at the home of English football.

United's new-found fame South of the border in the '80s wasn't always without embarrassment, however, despite everyone from Saint and Greavsie to Football Focus happily featuring the rise and rise of McLean and co. Apart from continual references to the club as 'Dundee' there was also a famous moment when an English TV sports reporter broadcasting UK wide seemed to place United in Serie A as he referred to the club's beloved Tannadice as 'Tana-deechy'!

United also clinched their 1982/83 Premier League title at Dens Park, with a win over Dundee and the balance of power in the city has weighed heavily in United's favour since the days of Jim McLean's iron rod rule at Tannadice.

From telling players to turn off lights at Tannadice to save on electric bills, to insisting players stayed as close to their United stadium base as possible, to punching a journalist who asked a question McLean banned before their TV interview (this incident largely ended his association with the club), the little DUFC general was an obsessive, prickly but much loved figure at the club and in recent times fans have done much to make sure positive tributes to the man are everlasting through statues, tribute nights and even art shows.

Dundee United heroic manager, Jim McLean

Every decade since the 1950s has seen a time when the merging of the senior Dundee football clubs has been suggested, but never embraced. To be honest in 2020 there is more chance of the famous comic The Beano (produced in the city) sacking Dennis The Menace than dark blue and Tangerine coming together - It would be a rubbish kit anyway!

Now under American ownership United are led by manager Robbie Neilson currently and when things finally get back to normal the Tangerine Terrors (to give them their nickname in full), will be back amongst the Old Firm etc in the top division in Scotland with hopes of recreating those daring days of the 1980s in the third decade of the 21st century.



A magnificent 7 of the McLean era

Hamish McAlpine

Always a favourite amongst English sports reporters because of his quintessential Scottish name, the goalkeeper was a fans favourite and first pick by Jim McLean from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. Hamish might have been the Scotland goalkeeper, but for Alan Rough and United fans, they were always baffled as to why McAlpine didn't feature in Scotland set-ups.

Maurice Malpas

Droll in interviews but spectacular on the field of play, the Fife-born defender/midfielder was another integral part of United in the 1980s, with a no nonsense aprroach that endeared him to manager McLean and fans alike. Another United player that would surely have starred for a decent club side south of the border but there was no way McLean was letting any of his stars go without a fight, and he might have even fought any player who had wanted to go when United were at the peak of their powers seeing off the like of Barcelona, Borrusia Moenchengladbach, Roma and the Old Firm at Tannadice.

Paul Hegarty

United captain and Scottish international who was a stalwart of the late 1970s and 1980s side. Played against Maradona in his first UK trip in the 1970s as Argentina beat Scotland 3-1 at Hampden in '79. Also scored against Man Utd at Old Trafford as the Terrors gave as good as they got in a 2-2 UEFA Cup draw. Hegarty was once a target for Spurs while at his peak at United but the deal fell through.



Paul Sturrock

Mercurial talent who started for Scotland and should maybe have featured more in the 1980s for the international side. Later became United manager and had a series of clubs in the lower leagues in England as boss, including Plymouth Argyle and Southend. Nicknamed 'Luggy' Sturrock was one of the Scottish League's best ever players in the 20th century.

David Narey 

Netted one of Scotland's best ever international goals in the 1982 Spain World Cup when he gave the Scots a 1-0 lead v Brazil in their second match of the tournament, with a rifled first time shot that the BBC TV football pundit Jimmy Hill called a 'toe poke' (much to the annoyance of the Tartan Army).
Gordon Strachan later said the goal only served to 'annoy the Brazilians' who ended up winning 4-1.

John Clark

Tough-tackling and uncompromising defender who scored in the Nou Camp v Barcelona as Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes fired blanks on a night when United followed up a 1-0 win v Barca at Tannadice with a 2-1 victory in Spain in the UEFA Cup to win 3-1 on aggregate.

Kevin Gallacher 

Made in Dundee (United) by the McLean school of coaching, this major talent also ended up playing in England for a Blackburn Rovers side in the top flight and netted the goal that beat Barca at Tannadice in 1987.

He shocked Celtic with a brilliant opening goal in the 1988 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden, but the memorable strike wasn't the winner as the hoops came back to win 2-1 in their centenary year to claim the league and Cup double.


This piece was kindly written and given to @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh - you can follow him on Twitter: @Alexecky

©The Football History Boys, 2020
(All images borrowed by TFHB and not owned by us, British Newspaper Archive used for newspaper sources)

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