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Haste ye back, Dundee United

Dejection for Dundee United's Mark Durnan contrasts with celebration for Dundee's players.
Dejection for Dundee United's Mark Durnan contrasts with celebration for Dundee's players.

This may not offer much consolation to the stricken ones from the other side of the Grand Canyon variously known as Sandeman Street and Tannadice Street but I don’t like to see Dundee United cast in the role of the Liberal Democrats of Scottish Football.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed last Monday night at Dens Park as much as the next man, woman and child in the Bobby Cox stand.

Not just the result, nor even the delicious stoppage-time nature of the result but also (it must be admitted) the particular significance of the result and (it also must be admitted) the relish that characterised the prerequisite tribal chants and rituals that are an essential part of such highly-prized moments.

I have, after all, heard something very similar emanating from the other end of the ground from time to time over the years and payback time is payback time and there is nothing anyone can do about that.

Someone asked me a few days after the event if I had come back down to Earth yet and I said no, that would only happen at the beginning of next season when I looked around and saw that United were nowhere to be seen on the fixture list.

Dumbarton-bound

Instead, they would be playing in such crucibles of Scottish football as Dumfries or Dumbarton, all of which I remember well and with no great affection.

The truth is that all of us on both sides of the Great Divide love the derby games. There is nothing like them in Scottish football.

Old Firm games, with their raw and raucous undercurrent of bigotry, are ill-mannered and feeble by comparison, an altogether lower caste of the game.

The very fact that before a Dundee derby the players of the away team walk from their own ground, thereby subjecting themselves to the thoughtful scrutiny of the opposing fans, is a tradition that speaks to the essential camaraderie of the occasion.

No other local derby is this local. It does not align along sectarian fault-lines. It grinds no axes.

It divides families – fathers and mothers against sons and daughters, husbands against wives, brother and sister against sister and brother.

It is free of social and geographical boundaries. There is no accounting for which camp you stumble into; something happens to you somewhere along the way during your formative years and you look in the mirror one day and your face is either dark blue or tangerine – and there is no going back.

My own family is a case in point, although admittedly it has a unique slant to it.

My grandfather was famously the goalkeeper of the Scottish Cup winning side of 1910 but his young brother was (much less famously but still…) the goalkeeper of Dundee United a few years later.

Imagine what kind of conflicts that unleashed among my father and his five brothers and sisters.

Deep down, I suspect that what we all want to see is two healthy sides in the top half of the premiership, contending for all the Scottish game’s top honours, giving the game’s Glasgow mafia a run for their money, rolling over Aberdeen and St Johnstone and generally spreading the word abroad in the land that Dundee is a tough proposition for anyone to come and play football, on both sides of the street.

There is an edge to the football season when there are four league derbies a year and the worth of a season ticket is somehow devalued when there are none.

It isn’t nice to watch the club across the street being systematically stripped of its assets, casting off players and manager and backroom staff.

We remember it well on this side of the street, we remember for example when we had to borrow a player from Lochee United.

We remember too that Dundee United fans put money in the buckets at Dens during the dark days of administration and that too is characteristic of the relationship between the clubs.

We all have friends and often kin on the other side of the street.

Almost inevitably, it will get worse for United before it gets better, because that’s almost always how it works.

But you hang in there because the alternative is unthinkable and you bounce back because the alternative to that is also unthinkable.

Reinvention

A characteristic of Dundee as a city is its capacity to reinvent itself.

Think of the nadir of during the 1970s and look at us now, a centre of excellence in medical science, the arts and computer games, for heaven’s sake.

And at a time when the newspaper industry is facing its own difficulties all over the country, you are reading the Regional Newspaper of the Year.

So get well soon Dundee United and haste ye back, because we will miss you in the interim.

But just don’t expect any of us to say that out loud.

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