Derry Got Soul: There Is A Light (That Never Goes Out)

There Is a Light (That Never Goes Out)

The above team pic re-emerged on Twitter last week and, in 2018, begs to be critically evaluated through the medium of emojis:

That strip 💙

Donald Mackay’s flares ✌🏻

Iain Fleming’s hair ✊🏻

Frank Upton’s Gazelles 😎

Cammy Fraser only being 23 on the pic 😮

George McGeachie only being 21 🤭

Jim Shirra’s double chin 🍻

The other thing that stands out is that there were some cracking footballers pictured, players who would win promotion that season and lay the foundation for nine straight Premier Division terms. The 1980s was a much better decade for music, fashion and the Mushy Peas than most people realised at the time, with the Smiths, Lacoste and Keith Wright providing the antidote to Duran Duran, tartan jeans and Ross Jack. Three straight top-six finishes? A cup final (of which we will never again talk)? Four semis? Average crowds not far shy of 10,000? What you wouldn’t do for a bit of that action these days.

Us being quite good in the 80s did however coincide with a certain other mob enjoying their best ever period, something that perhaps made contemporary fans less appreciative than they should have been. It was by no means a bad time to be a Dundee fan, but it was a frustrating one.

How Soon Is Now?

I was first taken along to Dens in 1983, with my old man’s warning not to repeat any of the language I was about to hear in front of my mum (strangely this warning didn’t extend to teachers, policemen or others who were presumably fair game in the ‘fuck off you cunt’ stakes) ringing in my ears and for the next few years Dundee always seemed to be the verge of doing something, but never quite getting there.

A return to Europe was missed out on the last day of the season twice. Our best managers were enticed elsewhere. Great youngsters were brought through and rough diamonds were brought in but their time at Dens overlapped like Jim Smith filling in at full-back.

Ian Redford departed for Ibrox before that team pic was taken while Stewart McKimmie (1983), Iain Ferguson and Cammy Fraser (both 1984), Bobby Connor (1986), Ray Stephen and Colin Hendry (both 1987), Tosh McKinlay and John Brown (both 1988) and Tommy Coyne (1989) caused varying degrees of anguish for the Dundee support when they moved on. Jim Duffy’s career was (temporarily) ended by injury in 1987 but at least we would hold on to Keith Wright into the 90s.

Redford, McKimmie, McKinlay, Ferguson, Fraser, Brown, Connor, Coyne, Wright and Hendry would all win medals and/or caps after their time at Dens, leaving you to wonder what might have happened had we been able to hold on to them all a bit longer. The problem with playing counter-factual football is that it’s easy to ignore the laws of cause-and-effect. The signings of Bomber, Connor and Stuart Rafferty were funded by Rangers raiding Dens for Ferguson and Fraser. Likewise, the Cobra and Mongoose partnership only came into being after our bid to bring Fergie back from Ibrox was turned down.

That’s not to say us Dees don’t have some reason to curse the failure of the planets – or defence and attack in our case – to align though. The free-scoring side of 87-88, with Coyne at Wright at the top of their game, was hamstrung by a leaky backline after Duffy’s early-season injury while Colin Hendry, who would go on to captain his country and win the English Premier League, had been sold as a misfiring striker before his potential at centre-half was recognised.

Archie Knox once remarked that Dundee were three players short of a very good team but every time one of those jigsaw pieces was found, another gap would appear elsewhere in the puzzle. If it was this that led him leave Dens and return to Alex Ferguson’s right-hand side at Aberdeen, then his frustration was more than matched by the Dundee support. The decade’s optimism, which Archie had done more than anyone to engender, suffered a lingering, 18-month death from October 87 to March 89 when Duffy, Bomber, Tosh and Super Tommy were lost to us in turn. Relegation followed in 1990.

By the new decade, the descent into the madness for which Dundee has been renowned ever since had begun. Instead of becoming a team capable of regularly appearing at Hampden and competing in Europe, Angus Cook was trying to merge us with United.

That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More

The much-maligned Vince Mennie, often heralded as our worst of all time, had the misfortune to be a poor player in a good team. Vince was a far better player than many to have pulled on the Dark Blue since. His fate is similar in some ways to Dundee’s in that era. With Aberdeen and United enjoying periods of historic strength in addition to the Old Firm and a resurgent Hearts, not to mention a good St Mirren side, the 80s may have been the hardest decade in Scottish football history to make an impact. All the same, given the quality of players to have trodden the hallowed turf over that period, it can’t help feel like a missed opportunity.

The same, in poorer man’s terms, could be said of the past four-and-a-bit years. We were promoted to a renamed Premiership missing three of the country’s biggest five sides. United would drop out two seasons later. Inverness, Ross County and Championship Hibs won silverware before Celtic shat themselves over Rangers’ return and appointed a proper manager. We’ve managed a solitary top 6 finish, have barely troubled the latter stages of the cup competitions and seem locked in a perennial relegation fight, one we may well succumb to this season. The chance to open up a gap over United on and off the park that would impact on the fortunes of both for a generation has been squandered and at a time when our owners have provided their managers with what they admit is a top 6 budget each year. In relative terms, all this represents a far bigger missed opportunity than the 1980s.

Still, as today’s players are fond of saying, we go again. Or, as Morrissey put it before he went all EDL, there is a light and it never goes out…

Derry Got Soul: Let’s Go Round Again (2018 Derry version)

Our resident podcaster Grant has penned the first of a series of blogs for the site on our shite state of affairs. Grant Hill worships at the altar of Tommy Coyne and Keith Wright. He is also the author of two books – Clubbed to Death and AK-86: Two Shots in the Heart of Scottish Football. You can buy both for the very reasonable price of £10 by emailing Grant.

Let’s Go Round Again (2018 Derry version)

There is a quote routinely credited to former Dundee full-back Albert Einstein that perfectly sums up the situation facing his old club.

Einstein, freed by the Dark Blues after falling foul of the club’s strict rules surrounding hair length, is said to have defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Having appointed 20 managers in less than four decades and racking up almost as many administrations as cup finals in that time, Dundee’s modern history demonstrates that eat sleep sack repeat is no recipe for success.

But just as Gordon Brown’s claim to have ended boom-and-bust proved as premature as a virgin enveloped by Beyoncé, John Nelms’ pledge to eradicate hire-and-fire looks some way off for the minute.

Despite the obvious need to bring stability to the club, the peg Neil McCann’s perennially on-trend cardie hangs upon could hardly be any more shoogly following an unconvincing first season and a calamitous start to this one. Whenever a manager gets his jotters, the football commentariat, who have likely paid very little attention to the events leading up to the sacking, bristle at panic-merchant fans and the short-termism of directors. To which the obvious response is to respectfully tell them to fuck right off because they haven’t had to watch the shite the fans have. Unless you’ve seen your side pumped 3-0 at home by Ayr in a game that Mark fucking Kerr strolled your opinion is invalid.

The brilliant Bands FC project recently used Dundee’s crest as the inspirations for the Average White Band’ badge in recognition of the US-conquering funksters’ roots in the City of Discovery. One of AWB’s best-known records is Let’s Go Round Again. The pairing seems inspired as it looks like we may need to do just that again shortly.

 

Soul Searching

Analysts will tell you that the most successful teams are the ones who make the fewest managerial changes but the obvious caveat here is that managers at these clubs tend to be doing better than most, hence there being less need to replace them. As Dundee know more than any other club in Scotland, the cost of failure – in this instance relegation – is huge. Are the chances that persisting with an obviously struggling gaffer will lead to long-term improvement great enough to take that risk?

Of those to have managed Dundee over the past 40 years, only Donald Mackay, Archie Knox, Jocky Scott mk I and Jim Duffy mk I have left of their own volition. The rest were moved on one way or another. How many went on to achieve success that gave you reason to think they should just have been given more time? Would playing hide-and-seek up Campy have eventually payed off for Dave Smith? Was taking 7 from Airdrie just a bump in the road towards greatness under Alan Kernaghan? Or were we right to jettison them only to get it wrong when it came to appointing a replacement?

If Duffy II-Kerno and Jocky III-Chisholm taught us anything it’s that ‘any cunt would be better than that cunt’ is possibly the worst shout in football. Sacking Paul Hartley was the right thing to do. Replacing him with a novice with great taste in knitwear but a questionable temperament is looking a worse decision by the game. Yeah, we clearly need to stop switching managers but getting the right one in the first place is key to that.

Pick Up The Pieces

‘I’d rather see us play good football and lose than win ugly’ is another cliché trotted out by fans who haven’t quite thought through its implications. Neil McCann has certainly insisted his team play the ‘right way’ but, other than in increasingly rare patches, it hasn’t worked. As a result, we are actually worse to watch than the supposedly anti-football teams in our league who aren’t afraid to go direct, play the percentages and let their opponents know they are in a game. Losing ugly is the worst of both worlds.

Going back to that quote attributed to Einstein, what does it say about McCann that he keeps trying to play from the back and expect different results? Instead of creating a Derryfull of converts screaming ‘on the kerpit! keep it on the kerpit! Fucking kerpit futba, Dundee!’ the faithful are gripped with fear every time Meekings or Kusunga get the ball played to their feet.

No-one would love McCann to deliver a pus-shutter of a result at this Ibrox than me but the odds are longer than Alan Dinnie’s Mayor of Nairobi (allegedly). After that it’s Hibs at Dens. Even if he was to suddenly embrace pragmatism, it might be too late. To extend the Average White Band metaphor (is it a metaphor? I’ve had a long day), it looks like our board may have to Pick Up The Pieces once again. If so, we can only hope they get the hard part right this time.