Happy New Year all. This is my first post of 2015 and I hope and intend that it marks the start of a productive blogging year. 2015 got off to a very happy start for me when my brother and I went to the Dundee derby on New Year’s Day (I’m the handsome one pictured above).
We nearly didn’t make it though. My brother was tasked with getting us tickets and as December wore on he kept insisting that yes ‘today, I’ll definitely sort it out.’ When the day of his ‘sorting it’ finally arrived the match had already sold out. He texted me in panic: ‘em, I’ve been a bit of a plonker about the derby tickets, they’re now sold out. I’ve enquired about hospitality tickets and sent a pleading email.’
A plonker indeed. In his defence, his wife had just given birth to their first child (my beautiful nephew) a few weeks before so he did have one or two other things to concern himself with. His email to the Dundee United ticket office informed them that both he and I used to be season ticket holders but having both moved away from Scotland we now very rarely get to games. He also informed them that I was travelling all the way from Malaysia.
20 minutes later his phone rang. It was the ticket office offering him two tickets that had been returned. Merry Christmas and relief all round.
With tickets secured we arrived at Tannadice at 11.30 am on New Year’s Day to pick them up ahead of the 12.15 pm kick-off. It was a wet and windy day in Dundee but mercifully not quite as cold as we’d been expecting. In the days before there had been some tentative discussion of investing in long johns but in the end they remained unpurchased as we manfully opted to do without them. Asked how I would ward off the cold, I suggested that I’d pursue a regime of vigorous rubbing as required.
Such a regime turned out not to be needed as we basked in the warmth of a great performance by our side in a quite remarkable game. No sooner had we sat down than we were back on our feet to celebrate the opening goal as Stuart Armstrong gave us the lead after about 40 seconds. He didn’t know too much about it, the ball deflecting in off his back from an Erskine volley. Dundee’s goalkeeper, Schenk, was making his debut and his first task was to pick the ball out of the net.
After scoring so early United then sat back and became rather complacent. Dundee recovered well and by 10 or 15 minutes into the game they had become the more dominant of the two sides. Much of their attacking threat was being carried by Harkins a man of some considerable skill and some equally considerable heft. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a professional footballer look so unathletic. The question of ‘who ate all the pies’ went unasked since the answer was so obvious.
Dundee deservedly equalised on 24 minutes when Stewart curled a magnificent free kick into the top corner. We United fans, who had hitherto been in excellent voice, fell rather quiet. The equaliser had also upset our pre-match predictions: I had predicted that we would win 2-0; my brother, almost always more confident than me in such matters, had gone for 3-0.
It took a mere three minutes for us to find our voices again however as Mackay-Steven restored our lead with a dipping curling effort from out wide on the right. At the time I wasn’t sure if he had meant to shoot or was just aiming a cross towards the far post and I’m not much clearer after watching the highlights of the match and seeing several replays of the goal. I’m sure he’ll claim he meant it and I’m not going to argue.
Four minutes later it was 3-1 as Erskine cut inside from the right and finished low into the far corner. All our attacks were coming down our right wing at this stage and Dundee’s left back, Dyer, was living up to his name. I was amazed that his manager didn’t invite him to take an early bath at half-time.
There was still time for another goal before half-time and again it came from the same area as Mackay-Steven ran on to a great through ball from Armstrong before applying a cool finish. Schenk in the Dundee goal picked the ball out of his net for the fourth time in the first half of his debut for the club. Happy New Year!
I suspect it was a slightly different message that Dundee manager Paul Hartley had for his players at the interval. The early stages of the second half were more even and it wasn’t until the 64th minute that we scored again: Fojut rose highest to nod home from a corner. This was the cue for many Dundee fans to make their exit. “Why on earth are you still here?” (or words to that effect) we politely enquired of those that remained.
It was a question they were probably asking themselves by the 83rd minute when young Charlie Telfer casually stroked in a 6th for us. Those Dundee fans that did remain to the bitter end were at least rewarded with a 90th minute consolation, cleverly converted by Tankulic.
The ref took pity on the visitors and played just a minute of stoppage time before blowing the final whistle. We rejoiced and silently thanked whoever it was who had returned their tickets. It doesn’t get much better than being there for a 6-2 derby victory to start the new year. Paul Hartley trudged off dejectedly while United boss Jackie McNamara strolled down the touchline beaming and offered a pumped fist above his head as he disappeared down the tunnel.
Hartley and McNamara were two of the most composed and elegant Scottish players from the mid-1990s until they both retired about four years ago. Now as young bosses managing in the top flight (Hartley is 38 and McNamara is 41) they are instilling similar qualities in their teams. Both sides tried to play decent football in what were quite difficult weather conditions and succeeded to a commendable extent.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding Scottish football at the moment and some of it is understandable but I came away from Tannadice feeling positive about the future. The game in Scotland is in good hands with the likes of Hartley and McNamara (and of course Gordon Strachan with the national team) and hopefully there’s a lot to look forward to in the rest of 2015.