As a terrible season for Dundee United draws to a close, fans and businesses tell Michael Alexander why they fear the city could suffer financially – but why they are confident the club will bounce back.
Dundee is a city on the up.
From the £80.1 million V&A Dundee set to open in 2018 at the heart of the £1 billion waterfront regeneration, to being named the UK’s first UNESCO City of Design.
From the setting up of direct international flights between Dundee and Amsterdam, to the forthcoming Dundee Design Festival, there’s so much for the city to be optimistic about as it strives to create more jobs, generate civic pride and transform the city region as a tourism destination.
Yet speak to beleaguered supporters of Dundee United Football Club, and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a dark cloud hanging over the city.
The final game of the season on Saturday May 14 against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park officially marks relegation from the Premiership after 20 years in the top flight – and there could be wider negative economic repercussions for the city, say some businesses and fans.
It is of course not the first time one of Dundee’s senior football clubs has plummeted into the lower leagues.
Let’s not forget that since United were last relegated in 1995 – bouncing back after one season in the old First Division – their Sandeman Street neighbours Dundee FC – or the ‘Wee Team’ as United fans like to call them – have spent 11 of those seasons in the lower league, fuelling years of good humoured ‘One team in Dundee’ football banter from the Arabs.
Dundee fans, of course, had the last laugh 12 days ago when Dundee United were condemned to lower league football after losing the derby at Dens – the final nail in an unprecedently poor season.
But the rapid nature of United’s fall from grace this season and the possibility of smaller crowds as the club adjusts to life in the Championship have raised concerns that not only will the club suffer from lower takings, but so will pubs and businesses close to the ground.
Dundee United season ticket holder Scott Townsend, 27, is proprietor of three Dundee pubs including the Stobswell Bar and The Last Tram in Lochee. He doesn’t think those businesses will be affected. But it’s his most recent acquisition – The Snug Bar – one of Dundee’s best known football pubs just a short walk from Tannadice and Dens parks, which he believes will suffer most.
The Snug, famous for its outside lamps in the shape of footballs, has been a popular watering hole for football fans for generations, with fans of both Dundee teams known to frequent it.
But having confirmed The Snug as a ‘United’ pub last year through development of the Kopel lounge – named after the late Tannadice legend Frank Kopel – and with United memorabilia adorning the walls, he fears relegation will “obviously have a negative effect” on his business.
“In particular the loss of the big games like the derbies will have an effect, “he says.
“The game at Dens was a sad day and it hasn’t really sunk in yet. But hopefully the United fans will still get behind the team, come in for a pint and they’ll get back up next year.
“There will be a negative impact. But I’m hoping to attract more of the away fans when they are playing Dundee at Dens to try and compensate.”
The Troll Inn on Arklay Street is the closest pub to Tannadice. And when The Courier visits on Thursday afternoon, 75-year-old ‘Grumpy Jack’, a retired butcher, is extolling the days in the 1950s when he used to watch both Dundee and Dundee United before turning his allegiances to the Tannadice side. He hasn’t been to a game for years.
But having monitored United’s “terrible” downfall this season, and despite him thinking the appointment of Ray McKinnon as manager on Thursday is a “good move”, he has no intentions of stepping foot in Tannadice again.
“I wouldn’t give them the money!” he says defiantly, gesticulating in the direction of the ground.
“Offer me £200 and I might go!” he laughs. “But I’d rather spend it in the bookies! I hope they give McKinnon a chance. I reckon it’ll take him a couple of years to blend a team and get back up.”
The Balmore on Dura Street is another pub popular with United supporters on match days.
It’s quieter on Thursday afternoons. But lifelong United fan Frank Moran, 74, a retired Dundee City Council caretaker who is sitting in the corner enjoying a cheeky bottle of Budweiser, is happy to talk football. He thinks it is “inevitable” relegation will lead to an economic downturn for the area.
“I think this pub will be especially effected,“ he says, “because every week we have had a big game on in Dundee. The pubs are filled before and after the match. A few Dundee fans do come in as well, but the Balmore is more of a United pub than a Dundee pub. And if fewer people go to the games, then they won’t drop in for a pint and trade will suffer.”
Frank, who remembers United being promoted from the old Second Division in 1959/60 and was there for the league cup, league title and the big European nights under Jim McLean in the 1970s/80s, believes United chairman Stephen Thompson “carries 95% of the blame” for what has happened at the club. “If you ask me he should get the hell out of the place,” he adds.
But Frank has a positive message for United and the city.
“Appointing Ray McKinnon is a good move and he should be given a chance,” he says.
“Time will tell of course. But I’m very confident that even at half strength United can run away with the league next season.”
Arabs everywhere will toast Frank on that!