Michael Alexander spoke to the author of a new book that celebrates the highs and lows of Dundee United fans’ away days.
Smiling happy faces radiate optimistic joy amid a sea of tangerine football tops, scarves and banners.
At the centre of the carnival-like celebrations, a bald, sunglasses wearing tangerine and black clad supporter is in full flow with his arms held aloft – the energy, passion and emotion of the partying fans more than evident ahead of a crucial, high profile, end of season game.
It’s the kind of happy-ending imagery that Dundee journalist and lifelong third generation Dundee United supporter Steve Finan hopes will be experienced by fellow Arabs in coming weeks when the Tannadice club goes into the play-offs seeking a return to Scottish football’s lucrative top flight.
But while Steve, 56, is cautiously optimistic about United’s chances of “heading back to where we belong” after a difficult three years in the Championship, it’s the tangerine dreams of thousands of United supporters over the last six decades that are at the heart of his new book Arabs Away.
Charting United’s trajectory from 1960 through the Jerry Kerr and Jim McLean years, to the trophy wins of the 1970s, 80s, 90s and the “great party” of the 2010 Scottish Cup, the book features 230 photographs of Dundee United supporters on their travels. Most of them are previously unpublished.
It captures the highs and lows of fans’ emotions over the years.
But it’s a largely uplifting read which includes several never before soon photos from a 35 mm ‘spool’ of United’s first title win celebrations in 1983.
Steve, a DC Thomson & Co Ltd journalist for almost 40 years who is now Heritage Books editor, said: “It’s very plainly and simply pictures of Dundee United supporters on their way to, at, and coming back from games.
“I feel every club in Britain should have a book like this because football belongs to the supporters.
“Whenever you see a report of a great football game, it’s the players, it’s the managers, it’s their opinions you see.
“But it’s the supporters who are the most important people at the club.”
Steve, whose favourite ever away game was Dundee United’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup , said it had been a difficult process whittling down the pictures to use from DC Thomson’s archives.
However, it had also been a fascinating one and, as a United fan, it had been a joy to look for familiar faces in the crowds.
“It is very much an ordinary foot soldier supporter kind of book,” he added.
“I put Lorraine Kelly in it because she’s a celebrity. She’s a United supporter.
“But she’s the only one. And that’s the reason I chose Hooly for the front (the well-known Dundee United fan and former singer with punk band The Cundeez Bill Hoolachan, from Menzieshill).
“He’s a man of the people – an ordinary foot soldier.
“He was famously pictured crying when United got relegated in 2016 at Dens.
“The camera focused in on him and he’s shedding a tear because he’s United at heart.”
Steve, who bought his first Tannadice season ticket in 1973/74, said the best thing about ‘away days’ is that it’s “an all-day event spent with mates”.
United supporters have certainly experienced their fair share of sadness and disappointments over the years – especially on end of season cup trips back from Glasgow – and Steve has not shied away from using pics of fans with their heads bowed.
But largely it’s about the “good times” and for people to look through and say “I ken him, I ken her…”.
“There’s people in it everybody will know in Dundee,” he said. “Breeks for instance that owns Grouchos. Hooly.
“But you’ll recognise others – the barman from the Cutty, the taxi driver that picks you up at night – they are all Dundee faces, Dundee boys.”
Being an Arab, Steve admits he might be biased about the culture surrounding United supporters.
But he definitely thinks there’s an “optimism and a togetherness” amongst the Tannadice faithful that “sees the fans through.”
“It’s forged through bad times,” he added, “but we’ve had the good times that really really bind people together.
“Once you’ve celebrated and had a night like 2010 – the cup final – where every car on the journey back has a scarf or flag out of the window; where there’s guys shouting, singing along while the cars are driving alongside each other – when you get back to Dundee and the whole place is tangerine.
“It’s fantastic. It’s like the whole city comes into flower at one time. A tangerine flower that blooms.
“It’s fantastic to celebrate with your mates and your townspeople. It’s these kind of moments that are reflected in the book.”
*Arabs Away by Steve Finan launches at a ticket only event in the headquarters of DC Thomson & Co Ltd, Dundee, on the evening of Thursday May 9 where Steve will be joined by football pundit Jim Spence, weel kent fan Hooly – and football writer Tam Duthie. The book is available now from the DC Thomson shop.