Baggy Trousers

My Primary 3 class picture unexpectedly appeared in the Courier’s Craigie column last week. Given that Craigie is effectively a Werthers Originals advert committed to print, this was a blow to someone about to turn 40 and pondering the significance of that milestone. Aside from that, the photograph proved two things:

  1. My head was visible from space from a tender age; and
  2. It is extremely hard for Dundee, or any other team for that matter, to hold on to fans into adulthood.

Hillside

One Step Beyond

Of the 36 kids in my class, the footballing allegiances can (from memory) be broken down as follows: 9 Dundee (yaaaas!), 7 United (fucking boooooo!), 2 Rangers (boooooo!) and 1 St Johnstone (meh).

Within a year of the picture being taken, one of our number had moved to Edinburgh and the last time I saw him was when we were both lifted onto the track to relieve crushing during the League Cup semi-final v Aberdeen at Tannadice. Given the club’s travails in the intervening three decades I fear his support won’t have endured the physical separation. Junior football claimed a classmate of mine in his late teens while another simply drifted away a few years later. Another couple who followed the righteous path have lived away from Dundee for most of their lives now. Facebook suggests that one guy remains an occasional attendee at Dens while a girl from our class takes her kids up from time to time.

That leaves my best mate and I as the only week in, week out regulars from the nine of us. The calculation is crude and you will always pick up a few followers along the way but I don’t think four-and-a-half child supporters being needed to produce one adult season ticket-holder is far of the mark. My class at Hillside Primary (RIP) was possibly an outlier as far as Derry representation goes as well – a mate reckons there were only five or six Dundee supporters in his entire year at Lawside. Twenty years on, he is probably the only season ticket holder out of the 150 or so kids.

The high rate of attrition between childhood and adulthood is hardly surprising given the many and varied challenges to holding on to supporters. Aside from factors such as performances, prices and scheduling that clubs have at least some control over, personal circumstances also conspire against them. The extent to which attending football matches is a priority varies from individual to individual, but for almost all of us work, finances or family commitments will come first at some point. I’ve got Dundee-supporting family and friends scattered across four continents as well as ones without two buttons to rub together. Several fans of my vintage have sadly passed away while others have been lost to drink, drugs or HMP.

Tomorrow’s Just Another Day

It is notoriously difficult to re-engage football fans once they get out of the way of attending matches regularly but the bigger challenge is to capture their attention in the first place. The choice of alternative ways for children to spend their time has never been wider so the need for clubs to work proactively to recruit young supporters has never been higher. It isn’t enough to sit back and wait for kids to demand their parents take them on a pilgrimage to Dens having heard about the exploits of Jack Hamilton and Craig Curran in the playground.

The three seasons we just spent in the league above United represent a massive missed opportunity to cement our place as the city’s top team, and our failure to capture the local youth market in the face of a much diminished opposition is as galling as our on-field shortcomings. Look at pictures of kids training camps, community groups etc in the Tully and you still largely see more tangerine than dark blue (though Liverpool and Real Madrid would appear to be the biggest two clubs in the city these days). Just last week my son’s nursery sent out a letter saying an outfit called the ‘Tiny Tangerines’, who ironically boast oversized political hack Brian Taylor as a patron, will be coming to do some coaching each week. Groups associated with United are represented at every community festival in Dundee while we are nowhere to be seen. The wee man has been registered as a Junior Dee since his first season ticket was bought when he was 11 hours old. Dundee have managed to get a card to him on time about four times out of the nine birthdays and Christmases that have followed.

How have United managed to be so much better at engaging with kids than us at a time when they have been facing severe budgetary pressure post-relegation? Now that we have also surrendered our Premiership status the situation seems unlikely to improve from our perspective. There are people within Dens working incredibly hard with meagre resources but, from the outside, there would appear to be little strategic vision as to how the club, Community Trust, Supporters’ Association and other organisations can work collaboratively to improve the offering to potential supporters and ultimately grow our fanbase.

At a time when we face a fairly catastrophic drop in season ticket holders it’s worth remembering that for each of those stumping up, many others have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. Then think about how under-investment might impact on the amount of four-and-a-halves to draw from in the future and you very quickly conclude that a demographic timebomb could be around the corner.

He’s on the Phone

According to my mobile, my screen time was up 11% last week, for an average of 3 hours 31 minutes a day. By the time the new gaffer was finally unveiled, my daily phone use was probably rivalling that of the Fortinite-obsessed, YouTube-addicted, porn-addled, legal high-buying teenager of tabloid legend.

The time I spend staring at a screen is a constant source of annoyance to my wife, who simply doesn’t understand the effect that supporting a team almost permanently steeped in crisis has on an individual. Given the pain Dundee have inflicted over the decades I’m perfectly comfortable blaming them for any personal failings I might have (see also chronic consolatory masturbation).

 

Fans forums and Twitter are up there with the very worst innovations of the modern age. It’s not good for the soul to see just how much of an arsehole a significant proportion of your side’s fanbase is. But when the manager’s coat is on a shoogly peg, or the axe has fallen and thoughts turn to a replacement, or the transfer window has opened, they are essential hubs for rumour, gossip and wildly random info about foreign coaches possibly in town for an interview at Dens but more likely visiting the V&A.

Each new name in the hat brings a fresh visit to Wikipedia. Newspaper sites are combed. Alerts are set up. Odds are religiously checked with online bookies. Then there’s WhatsApp. I’m in four separate Derry group chats, all of which have been abuzz with talk of McIntyre, McPake, Weighorst, Robertson, Adams and assorted others recently. That’s before you even consider correspondence with dozens of other Dundee supporting individuals – many of whom you don’t really know – fishing for info or desperate to share what they heard from a taxi driver.

Several new messages pinged several times when I was in the shower last Sunday. “That’s it! They’ve appointed Mombaerts!” I excitedly told myself as I ran to retrieve the phone, dripping wet and bollock naked. Turned out it was only my Dad struggling to work the mobile he’s owned for the past decade and sending the same message (“I no want mcpak . Good win th men”) multiple times. Gutted.

You’re in a Bad Way

With all this going on, how is anyone meant to put their phone down and pay any attention to their family? Books lie unread. Box sets are abandoned. The conjugal needs of partners are neglected. Work suffers. The UK economy’s productivity slump may entirely be down to followers of permashambles football clubs checking managerial stats on soccerbase when they should be performing menial administrative tasks. Apparently there was some election last week. I was too busy scouring lists of Weighorst, Goodwin and McPake’s former team mates and managers for clues as to who they might appoint as their assistant to care.

The nature of football fans mean your focus is not entirely on your own team either. My battery was full at the start of the play-off second leg. By 6pm it had less life in it than a United penalty.

Schadenfreude works both ways and DABs have hardly been slow to express their glee since it became clear that James McPake was going to be the new Dundee manager. Uninspiring? Yes. Not what fans might have expected when John Nelms talked about ex-international bosses being among the 100-plus applicants? Definitely. McPake certainly wouldn’t have been my choice but he is not without attributes and, for better or worse, he is the Dundee manager now so we have little choice but to get behind him.

Will he go on to make Derry-minded critics and gloating arabs eat their words, which due to the wonders of modern technology have been screenshotted dozens of times just in case? Only time will tell. For now, I’m just excited about the prospect of spending less time glued to my phone.

Late in the Day

When you go into injury time a point up on the teams above you but finish it a point further behind then it’s tempting to conclude that some higher power wants you relegated at all costs.

Barring a miracle of Piers Morgan-not-being-a-fanny-about-something proportions, Dundee are down and the six points dropped in stoppage time since the end of January is a major factor in their demise. Our tendency to boot ourselves in the Ian McCalls at the very last moment has been as unerring as it is painful.

Hollow Little Reign

If only Dieng hadn’t sliced the ball straight to an opponent in the 91st minute at Hamilton.

If only Miller had put his laces through that penalty in the 94th minute v Killie.

If only Woods had put the ball into touch rather than attempting a blind, round-the-corner pass in the 96th minute against Celtic.

If only Horsfield had made some kind of attempt to stop the cross in the 95th minute at Motherwell.

Auntie, balls, uncle etc. The fact of the matter is that we didn’t do any of these things. Was that down to confidence? Judgement? Fitness? Nerve? Will to win? Ability? A bit of all of the above? Whatever we lack, St Mirren and Hamilton have more of and each point they bite and scratch their way to takes us closer to the abyss.

With these late collapses contributing to a record so appalling that it threatens to rehabilitate his predecessor, we are surely now in the time-added-on part of the Jim McIntyre era. In fairness, he inherited an absolute mess from Neil McCann and the timing and circumstances of his appointment caused issues from the outset. Trying to overhaul an entire squad in four weeks was a monumental task but he could hardly have wished for better backing from the club’s owners as he attempted to do it. Two mini-revivals seem a long time ago now.

In delivering what amounted to a pre-emptive vote of confidence in his manager prior to the Aberdeen game last month, John Nelms insisted “the data shows he is the best person to lead Dundee”. Those words have proved an albatross round his neck since because, whatever way you look at it – bottom of the league, nine defeats in a row, a record-low win rate – the data is not kind to either the Dundee gaffer or the Managing Director who quoted it in his defence.

 

I Should Coco

This week’s club statement, designed to address recent press stories, social media rumours and letters from fan groups, deviated from the Nelms’ widely derided pre-Aberdeen programme notes. Three defeats on, faith in the manager seems to have waned at boardroom level. Not only was McIntyre not referred to by name, there was no talk of him being the man for the job. Instead, results had been “beyond disappointing” and the manager “is judged on the players he brings in, the tactics he employs…we have high expectations of him.” If you were Jim McIntyre reading that you would hardly be inclined to consolidate into your current workplace pension.

The other substantial part of the statement (unless, of course, pie provenance of pies or beer festivals are dealbreakers for you) was confirmation that FPS remain committed to the club for the foreseeable future. You don’t need to be particularly enamoured with the owners of our club or the way it is run to realise that the ‘Nelms Out’ shouts growing in prominence of late are counter-productive.

The reality of our situation is that Nelms’ close friend and business partner Tim Keyes is subsidising hefty losses each year in the Premiership, where income is much, much higher than where we are headed. Our plight is not solely the fault of McIntyre, McCann or any other individual but the accumulation of years of bad decision-making. FPS must ultimately shoulder responsibility for where we find ourselves but the tap being turned off suddenly would not only cripple our chances of escaping the Fundesliga any time soon but prove an existential threat to the club.

We need our owners to learn from their mistakes and for changes in the way the club is run to take place. In the absence of any alternatives, what we don’t need to do is chase away a group who may have got much wrong but who have done so in the pursuit of what we all want.

As one of the most traumatic campaigns in the club’s history creeps towards the full time whistle, humility and pragmatism is needed on all sides, not another self-inflicted hammer blow.