The concept of the ‘sufferah’ is deeply embedded in Jamaican culture, just as it is in the psyche of Dundee supporters. Granted, our worldview hasn’t been shaped by slavery, colonialism and economic oppression but that doesn’t mean our Scottish Cup record isn’t lamentable. And we don’t even have any decent reggae to show for it.
Another Scottish Cup campaign is upon us, the 97th since Sailor Hunter sunk Clyde to ensure the Dark Blues lifted the trophy for the first and only time to date. We’ve only made the final four times since then and the past 109 years have swung between hard luck and humiliation, with a healthy dose of heartbreak thrown in for good measure.
So when a Twitter poll asked Dundee fans to choose either a hypothetical Scottish Cup win accompanied by certain relegation or a humiliating exit this Saturday in exchange for Premiership survival there was only ever going to be one winner. Wasn’t there?
Independence supporters, Remainers and Democrats have all had their faith in democracy severely tested over the past few years but none of these reverses came close to the sheer ‘the fuck?’ness of the 2019 Derry referendum. Inexplicably, at the last count, 67% had prioritised avoiding relegation. Eh? We get relegated and promoted all the time. It’s what we do. Winning the Scottish, on the other hand, is very much not something we do.
Many Rivers to Cross
I decided to start recording my life in Scottish Cup campaigns a few years ago, a depressing task that sees me detail the stage and manner of exit for each year since I was born (yes, I am that sad). This act of masochism probably springs from the damage that supporting Dundee has wreaked upon my mind and therefore completes a vicious circle of mental self-harm. The spreadsheet of doom is dusted off annually as hope springs each January, only to be updated with the latest tale of woe and packed away for another year depressingly quickly.
Despite intensive lobbying from manufacturers of anti-depressants keen to increase their market share in the DD postcode area, I won’t share the full document here, but there are a few low points worth highlighting:
- 1980. Third round. DABs 5 Dundee 1
I’m obviously too young to remember it, but United tanking us 5-1 in our first Scottish Cup game after I was born pretty much set the tone for the following 39 years. Any hopes my old man might have harboured about the arrival of a son bringing about a change of luck were sadly misplaced.
- 1987. Semi final. DABs 3 Dundee 2
I was right behind those John Brown free-kicks that screamed towards the top corner only for Billy Thompson to claw them away. This was also the first of five consecutive exits to United. How is that even possible? Either mathematicians have been lying about probability all this time or the balls were hotter than Vince Mennie’s after a night at De Stihls when the draws were being made.
- 1992. Fourth round replay. Dundee 0 Falkirk 1
Fuck you, David Syme. Fuck you, Sky TV.
- 2000. Fourth round replay. Ayr United 1 Dundee 1 (7-6 on pens)
FML before FML was a thing.
- 2002. Fourth round replay. Dundee 1 Partick Thistle 2
A team featuring Speroni, Ketsbaia, Rae, Carranza, Sara and Caballero bossed by Martin Hardie, Danny Lennon and Gerry Britton despite knowing that a very winnable QF with Ayr was in the offing. Fan fucking Zhiy getting sent off didn’t help but at least the Beijing Megastore worked out.
- 2003. Final. Dundee 0 Rangers 1
Anyone who comes out with shite like “ah, but we had some day out, “great experience” or “at least we got there” should receive a life ban, magic circle and several chicken runs.
- 2006. Semi final. Gretna 3 Dundee 0
The last straw for a lot of fans, who either haven’t been seen at Dens since or embarked upon a lengthy sabbatical afterwards. On a personal level, I woke up the next day wearing a coat, jumper, t-shirt and nothing else and haven’t seriously drunk Guinness since.
- 2007. Third round replay. Queen of the South 2 Dundee 2 (4-2 on pens)
Extra time and penalties meant a delayed journey home from Dumfries, hungover and depressed with the temperature dial on the bus stuck at ‘Saharan’. I think we finally made it to the Myrekirk circle around 7am and I received a verbal warning for pulling a sickie a few hours later.
- 2010. Quarter final. Dundee 1 Raith Rovers 2
The Man City of The North crashing out to a Gregory Tade-inspired Raith at home as the season began disintegrating before our eyes.
- 2016. Quarter final. Rangers 4 Dundee 0
All over after 20 seconds, leaving many male fans to empathise with their partners. Not me, obviously, but the rest of you.
- 2017. Fourth round (now the stage big boys enter)
John Sutton ripping us apart and Paul Hartley sending Duffy and Williams on to save our season.
Three Little Birds
This year’s Scottish Cup is possibly the least anticipated of past four decades for Dundee fans. Even in the dark Fundesliga days, clichés about one-off games, the luck of the draw and the form book going out the window bounced around our heads as we daydreamed our way to Hampden. But this year? Beaten down by 17 defeats from 26 games, the last outing being a dire performance even by the standards of 2018/19 and an uninspiring transfer window, we collectively have The Fear. This is hardly helped by Queen of the South having previous for being season-ending bastards and our squad having been stripped bare as Jim McIntyre attempts to empty the utter shite bequeathed to him by Neil McCann and build something at least approaching a bottom-six side. It’s no wonder that a lot of fans have been tempted by the dirty money possibilities of Queens being priced at 4/1 for Saturday.
But still, football is about dreams and dread will begin to give way to wildly misplaced optimism come Saturday. And that’s why I can’t believe 67% would make the bargain they did. As was noted in the comments that followed the poll, would you really prefer to scrape to 10th in league in front of less than 5000 fans then head home for a cup of tea than lift a cup at Hampden in front of four times that number, earn the biggest hangover of your life and create a memory that stays with you until your dying day?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that if you had asked Hibs fans to choose between promotion and a Scottish Cup win at the start of 2015/16 then more than a few would have chosen the former. But how many of them were charging across the Hampden turf thinking, “sure I feel exuberant right now but I know I’ll wake up tomorrow gutted about not getting to play Hamilton and Ross County next season”? Slaying their Scottish Cup hoodoo has revitalised Hibs as a club and their crowds rose as a result, despite staying down. Financial stability is the reason most fans gave for voting for survival but the money Hibs made from winning the cup paid for their way out of the wilderness.
Dundee have been relegated five times in my lifetime and I’ve been to hundreds of games outwith the top flight. The likelihood is that even if we somehow scrape to safety this year I’ll bear witness to the drop again at some point in the not too distant future. Am I as likely to see us win the Scottish Cup though? It’s a no-brainer for me.
Either way, not having to update the spreadsheet for at least another month would be a welcome short-term boost. Surely that isn’t beyond us…