The problem at Dens Park is one of stewardship.
Those responsible for the club have a threefold duty – towards Dundee FC, its ground and its supporters. And their stewardship is worth little or nothing if their first priority is anything other than the wellbeing of those entities.
As things stand, and speaking as one of the supporters in question, the wellbeing is not being addressed at all.
That the team is underperforming is self-evident.
That the ground is shoddy and unwelcoming after decades of unchecked decay is beyond dispute.
And it is clear in every utterance, even the printable ones, that supporters feel disrespected.
In this newspaper’s coverage over the past week or two, Dundee FC managing director John Nelms has talked up his desire to provide “a jewel” for the city in the form of a new stadium at Camperdown.
But that jewel is a development concept, in which the wellbeing of Dundee Football Club is swamped by a fistful of other enterprises, none of which the city is crying out for.
None fit comfortably alongside the wellbeing of the football club. And none address the central issue: the football club is crying out for good stewardship.
‘Ground-sharing is a path to footballing wilderness’
I think the glaringly obvious solution of redeveloping Dens in a way that avoids ground-sharing is too mundane for the present ownership.
For them, the grand gesture seems to matter more than good stewardship.
— The Courier Sport (@thecouriersport) April 2, 2022
Their own reputations appear to take priority over the football club’s reputation.
There appears to be a strategy on the table in which Dens is first bought back then sold for housing before the first sod is cut at Camperdown, at which point a ground-sharing arrangement kicks in.
But this is an arrangement of unknown duration and with an as-yet-undetermined host.
You can choose from a list that might include (and in no particular order of preference) Dundee United, St Johnstone, Arbroath, Brechin City, Forfar Athletic, Lochee United, Lochee Park.
Depends on the budget really.
But ground-sharing is a path that leads directly to the footballing wilderness.
It weakens the commitment of the players and it robs the supporters of their identity.
A double-edge sword of more or less limitless wrecking capabilities.
Camperdown timescale isn’t achievable
No one who takes the Camperdown development even half-seriously also believes it can be delivered in two years.
You can see Kevin McCloud’s arched eyebrows and the knowing look to camera if you tried to sell him that timescale on Grand Designs.
If it takes three or four years, which seems much more likely, then there is a distinct chance that by the time the Dundee FC development is built, the stadium will be a potential 15,000-seat concert venue without a football club.
— The Courier Sport (@thecouriersport) March 31, 2022
So that means three or four years of ground-sharing (in the highly unlikely event that any club would agree to such a preposterous arrangement).
Or playing on at Dens with little or no investment in ground or playing staff while the costs of Camperdown rise and rise. As these thing do.
All of this would erode the team’s ability to field a competitive side, even in the Championship, much as it would erode the numbers coming through the turnstyles.
The unthinkable yet plausible result of all that is that the very existence of Dundee Football Club is sacrificed for a vanity project that nobody wanted.
Dundee don’t need a new stadium.
They need good stewardship that will stop the rot on the existing one.
They need a stadium modestly reconceived around the existing pitch and the Bobby Cox and Bob Shankly stands.
That’s a process which can start now and which will put the needs of players and supporters before the quite possibly unworkable pipe dream of ill-advised owners and unspecified financial backers.
This is about more than football
Anyone with anything to do with Dens Park – and Tannadice for that matter, because for all our match day differences we speak the same language, face the same predicaments from time to time and share similar ambitions – will tell you that football clubs like ours are as much about social identity as they are about football.
They are about a sense of place, about community history, about continuity.
They are about all our yesterdays and all our tomorrows, as well as what happens between Saturday afternoon and the end of the season.
Good stewardship means attending to those qualities too. But it eludes me how these can be attended to in a green field of cash cows.
My grandfather Bob Crumley – still Dundee’s only cup-winning goalkeeper 112 years after the event – would be turning in his grave.
Except that despite having been subjected to a family myth that he was buried in a pauper’s grave with no mourners, I discovered just a few years ago that he was cremated and the 500 mourners included the Lord Provost and the entire Dundee team of the day.
That’s what a crematorium is for. Mourning and celebrating lives lived, not for balancing the books of a developer’s green belt ego trip.
Good stewardship, that’s Dens Park’s problem.