Football: Fan's Eye View; No 191:Dundee

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The Independent Online
It has become fashionable in certain circles to adopt small clubs from afar; the more obscure the better. We have seen Stenhousemuir supporters' clubs in Norway, and Cowdenbeath affiliations in the south of England.

All very trendy, but hardly hard-core devotion, particularly when the devotee is twice removed from his habitat. In this respect, the reality of many years of fanatical support for a relatively small club can be much more painful, particularly if the said small club used to be large, and well respected. My affliction is for Dundee Football Club, from the smallest city in Europe to send two different clubs to European Cup semi- finals, albeit 20 years apart.

Paradoxically, our local rivals Dundee United used to be no more than a pinprick on the football globe, but they have grown in parallel to the seemingly terminal decline of the Dark Blues. Yet this is no bigoted rivalry on the scale of Rangers/ Celtic or Hearts/Hibs; the Scotsman called it, "rivalry without rancour" - we're a special race us Dundonians.

I had a civilised upbringing. Every Saturday (excepting the visits of drunken hordes from Rangers or Celtic) from the age of around five, I was lifted by my father over the turnstiles at either Dens or Tannadice. This was in the late 1950s when Dundee were stylish aristocrats and United paupers.

In the early 1950s, Dundee had paid a British record fee to bring Billy Steele from Derby County. However, from then on in it was sell, sell, sell.

So Bill Brown went to Spurs and Jimmy Gabriel to Everton long before I was out of short trousers. Nevertheless, the conveyer belt of talent rolled on and Dundee duly did what they had been threatening to do for 68 years: they won the Scottish League in 1961-62. The legendary Alan Gilzean scored 54 goals that season and the Dees marched into the European Cup, trouncing Cologne 8-1, Sporting Lisbon 4-0 and Anderlecht 4-1 away, before being cheated out of their birthright by the cynical Milan.

So, of course, Gilzean went to Spurs, Ian Ure to Arsenal and Andy Penman to Rangers. Charlie Cooke was bought from Aberdeen and sold for a marginal profit to Chelsea. Crowds plummeted from averages near 20,000 to half that figure and, despite a League Cup success and a few more European forays, the trend was distinctly downward.

Dundee fans have always been a critical bunch, although the club's directors have never given them anything less than maximum reason to grumble. At last year's League Cup final, I heard one of the few remaining regulars berating a once-a-season critic; the language was typically Dundonian.

"Em no haen' you call Dundee pish. Eh ken Dundee are pish, but me and him I'll be at St Mirren next week, you'll no, so shut yir puss."

These days from a dear old relic of a stadium, an average of 3,500 watch League games from bench seats, many yards from the pitch, although any number you want will still turn out to party - 17,000 for last year's final.

Moreover, it is late autumn and Dundee again sit atop the First Division. However, Dundee are always top of the League before the turn of the year, but never in May, when promotions are settled.

Still, hope springs eternal and I will continue to travel the 290 miles from my home in Wigan to Dens, daydreaming intermittently of winning the Lottery and personally restoring the team and stadium to former glories. "C'way the Dee. "