Saturday 3rd January 2009 ko 15.00
Scottish League Division One
DUNDEE 1 (Paton 67)
DUMFERMLINE ATHLETIC 0
Back in the day I used to have use of a holiday cottage in a Highlands village called Insch, near Aviemore. Looking back it was an rustic place, it had internet but no phone, central heating or gas. We used to have to decommission the place when we we left! But it did allow ample opportunity to visit no end of Highland League grounds! But Christmas 2009 did give me a problem.
It was the coldest New Year I have ever experienced. The temperature never rose above -5c and spent most of the week I spent there well below -10c! The result was that games at Lossiemouth and Elgin City were lost to frozen pitches and I needed to get creative to get in any game at all. My thinking was to make for the nearest ground that had undersoil heating.
It’s long been a rule of the Scottish top flight that some form of pitch protection must be in place. Normally that’s in the form of underpitch heating, but once a club is relegated out of the top flight, there’s no guarantee that the heating with both work or be used. I actually phoned Dundee FC to check before working on the then-wife to convince her that a freezing Dundee was exactly where she wanted to be that Saturday afternoon.
That bit wasn’t as difficult as local comedian Frankie Boyle would have you believe. We’d visited Scott of the Antarctic’s ship the RSS Discovery in dry dock here on a previous holiday. This time she went to the DC Thomson museum, and I’m sure had a dandy time.
Of course Dundee’s two professional clubs’ ground are virtually adjacent to each other. But here’s the odd bit, I parked up south-west of Dens Park and as I half climbed, and half shivvered up Mains Road and into Sandeman Street I hardly gained any sense of Tannadice’s presence.
But Dens Park is a must visit due to one man, Archibald Leitch. His 1920 plans for the redevelopment of the ground involved massive earthworks to level the ground, no small task as I’d discovered climbing up Mains Road. That created a massive bank on one side of the pitch, and Leitch designed a frankly amazing main stand the other side- that was opened in 1921.
The most obvious feature is the kink in its middle, an idea that had seen favour as a means of improving sightlines, mostly notably by Leitch with the Nuttall Street Stand- now demolished – at Blackburn Rovers in 1907. Leitch’s thinking was practical too, as with Ewood Park it was a lot easier to build a stand whose lines mirrored the route of the street behind. There was even space to add a greyhound track on two separate spells. And what a stand it is, at one point there was even an Opera Bar- it really is a classic of the Leitch genre.
The stand did create an irony. Leitch was hired by Dundee chairman Willie McIntosh but by 1921 the costs involved left the club so strapped for cash that McIntosh was forced to go cap in hand to the city’s jute merchants for additional funding. He got the money, but the men in suits forced him out of the club as a result. In a state of high dudgeon he walked roughly 150 yards down Sandeman Street to Dundee Hibernian, an became one of a group of businessmen who saved the club in 1923 and changed their name to Dundee United. You could argue that Archibald Leitch was indirectly responsible for the success of Dundee FC’s greatest rivals.
Opposite the stand you can see whats’s left of the vast terrace created by the earthworks, these days seats have been added and a “Cowshed”-type stand roof provided, but the fans lingering during second half stoppage time hinted as previous glories. With the temperature never rising above -2c spending time in the concourses was not only a pleasure but a neat means of avoiding frostbite! Dens may have heating under the pitch but that didn’t raise the temperatures in the stands!
Behind the goals are two modern cantilevered stands. One is named after Bob Shankly (elder brother to Bill) who managed the club to its one championship in 1961-2 and to the semi-finals of the European Cup where they lost to eventual winners AC Milan.
The ground is pleasing mix of old and new and I must admit I did wonder whether to buy a seat for the Shankly side so as to me able to photograph the Leitch stand better than I did. It’s a dilemma anywhere there’s a classic stand but I tend to take the view that such things need to be experienced rather than merely observed.
Perhaps if I’d known Jocky Scott had been managing Dundee in advance then maybe I’d have settled for observing the stand rather than the game. I’d seen enough of his Notts County teams at the turn of the millennium to know that his philosophy is “If they don’t score they won’t beat you.”
It wasn’t likely to be a fast flowing classic and as poor as it was to watch in the freezing cold I’m sure Scott would correctly claim that the ends justified the means. The issue as a fan is when your half-time tea is cold when you return to your seat you hope to be entertained as a means of staving off hypothermia!
I clumped my way back on treacherous pavements in front of tenement buildings to my car. It took two attempts to clear the engine management light as the motor complained about the cold. I collected the wife from a supermarket cafe, so at least one of us was warm. She remembered to ask was the game was like, and I waxed lyrical for a few seconds knowing that she really wasn’t interested. As we silently headed north I allowed myself an inward smile as I realised my response hadn’t actually referenced the game at all!
Perhaps that alone that is reason enough to visit Dens, one of the great Scottish football grounds.