Life and career of Dundee United legend Jim McLean to inspire new play

© DC ThomsonFormer United manager Jim McLean, opening the Jim McLean Fair Play Stand, at Tannadice.
Former United manager Jim McLean, opening the Jim McLean Fair Play Stand, at Tannadice.

Legendary Dundee United boss Jim McLean will be the subject of a new play marking 80 years of one of the city’s best-loved cultural institutions.

The tribute, billed as “funny, moving, and surprisingly honest”, is scheduled to open next February at the Dundee Rep, which is currently celebrating eight decades at the heart of the city’s cultural scene.

The play is inspired by the life and career of the famously strong-willed manager, who turned his Dundee United team into a leading force in European football but also drew criticism for his management style.

Smile, a nod to the dour image often attributed to McLean, is expected to focus on how his personal and private life affected his public persona. The 81-year-old has suffered ill health in recent years but remains an adored figure by many United fans.

© DC Thomson
Jim McLean is a Dundee United legend.

Andrew Panton, Dundee Rep’s artistic director, told The Scotland on Sunday: “We have been talking to (McLean’s wife) Doris and the McLean family for about 18 months now about what the play might be and how it might work.

“She was cautious at first, as you might expect. We wanted to create a very balanced picture of Jim McLean.

“It became very clear early on that there are two sides to him – the public figure and also the private figure and family man. That’s what we will be exploring.

“It will be a story that you think you know and you will know some of it, but hopefully you will get a different insight into who he was when he went home, sat on the couch and chatted to Doris, who will be represented in the play.

© DC Thomson
SEASON 1982/1983<br />Dundee United’s manager, Jim McLean sits proudly with the Premier Division trophy which United won this season

“We haven’t cast it yet, but there will be two actors, one to play Jim and the other to play all the other characters.

“We know what he did professionally and we know that some of it was divisive and controversial, but what was going on behind the scenes? His story is absolutely fascinating.

“It’s not a story about football. It’s a story about a man and how he interacted with football… I really hope people who might not normally go to the theatre might take a chance on it.”

© Supplied
Jim McLean is abused by AS Roma players after Dundee United 3-2 on aggregate to the Italian side in the semi final of the 1984 European Cup

Smile is written by Phil Duffer, perhaps best known for his work on Scottish football comedy show Only An Excuse, and directed by Scot Squad actor Sally Reid.

It is likely to cover McLean’s championship-winning exploits and European triumphs, while also recalling the bust-ups with players, the club’s gradual decline under his reign and perhaps even an infamous altercation with a BBC journalist.

Dundee Rep stated the play will “reveal for the first time the complexities and contradictions, the highs and the lows, and the triumphs and regrets of this totally unique individual.”

It said the play will “celebrate the memories of a difficult yet inspirational man, ultimately revealing a Jim McLean you never knew.”