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Jim McLean: The ‘lost’ interview with the legendary Dundee United manager

The legendary Jim McLean.
The legendary Jim McLean.

Football legend Jim McLean revealed his biggest regret as Dundee United manager in a ‘lost’ interview which was never published.

McLean, who died on Saturday at the age of 83, said he should have spent more time with his wife Doris and their sons, Gary and Colin, during his 22 years in charge.

In a wide-ranging interview, McLean spoke about some of the memorable games he was involved in and his biggest disappointment during his time at Tannadice.

Tangerine and Black

Pat Kelly – author of the book Dundee United Who’s Who – sat down with McLean for the chat in 2000 for the club’s official Tangerine and Black magazine.

McLean was chairman of Dundee United at the time but he stepped down from the boardroom just days later after an altercation with BBC sports reporter John Barnes.

The interview was never published.

Jim McLean with his wife Doris and sons Colin and Gary in 1970.

Pat said: “I asked him about the good and bad times at Tannadice Park and we spoke about some of the many memorable games that he was involved in.

“He said of all the games he had seen as manager of Dundee United, one of his own personal favourites was the game against Monaco in the UEFA Cup.

“It was a very momentous occasion for Jim and the fans alike as Dundee United won the first leg 5-2 away from home in September 1981.”

United put in a royal performance to embarrass the aristocrats and went through 6-3 on aggregate following a return leg watched by Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly.

Pat said: “Another game which brought back more memories for McLean was the win over Barcelona and the excitement that was generated by the supporters at that game.

“And of course how could he have forgotten those glory nights in 1987 when Dundee United met Gothenburg in the UEFA Cup Final?

“The result was disappointing but to see a European final played at Tannadice Park was something to treasure forever.

“Of the countless games that Jim had seen as manager, one of his biggest disappointments was his failure to bring the Scottish Cup to Tannadice.

“Jim told me during the interview that he had many regrets in life.

“The main one was not spending enough time with Doris and his boys.”

The thoughts of Jim McLean

McLean admitted football had changed a lot since his days in management especially the Bosman ruling which was a power change from clubs to players.

He spoke about problems with basic skills and attitude among players in the modern game and felt most players were only interested in money.

Jim McLean in the dugout during the 1979 League Cup Final win against Aberdeen.

“Some would not even bother turning up for training if they thought they would get away with it and still pick up their wages each week,” said McLean.

“The day a young ambitious player would have played for nothing and enjoyment is long gone.

“The same applies to international duties.

“Most players in the early days would have gladly played for their country for nothing.

“To be good enough to put on the international jersey from their country of origin was the career highlight in my opinion.

“Don’t get me wrong everyone is entitled to a fair wage for a hard day’s work but the demands made in today’s modern game are taking their toll on the football industry.

“My only hope is we get back to a level where wage demands can be met by the clubs concerned without crippling them.”

Dealing with the media

McLean said he did not miss being a manager especially when the Scottish weather takes it toll on training facilities.

McLean did not miss the Scottish weather.

He said he certainly did not miss dealing with the media either.

“It was always very difficult to stop the speculation stories that came out of the papers which were mostly untrue,” he said.

“It certainly had an impact on certain players and their performances when stories linking them with big money transfers appeared in the newspapers.

McLean being interviewed by Ian St John following United’s victory over Barcelona in 1987.

“Most of the time the stories were untrue and had a negative effect on player and club alike.

“I do miss the coaching part of the game especially with the young kids.

“I think the SPL will need to spend more money on the development of young talent in Scotland.

“Fans need to be entertained and most are short changed at the moment.”

How to be a great professional

During the interview McLean also passed on some words of wisdom to young players coming through the system.

McLean with Paul Hegarty, Richard Gough, Paul Sturrock, Eamonn Bannon, and Dave Narey who all went on to play for Scotland.

“It’s wonderful to be paid for something you love doing,” he said.

“Sadly too many professional players fail to realise that in the modern game sacrifices have got to be made.

“There is far more to achieve as a professional player than kicking a ball about for 90 minutes.

“On and off the park players must be professional in all things.

“Training, professionalism, commitment and hard work are the most important part of the game.

“Great Dundee United players like Paul Sturrock, Davie Dodds and Dave Narey all worked hard on and off the park.

“That is what made them great professionals in every sense of the word.”

The Scottish Cup

McLean also spoke of the disappointment of failing to win the Scottish Cup during his 22 years in the dugout at Dundee United.

McLean won the league with United but the Scottish Cup was the one which got away.

“That was the trophy that always seemed to elude me!” he said.

“I really wished that I had brought that trophy to Tannadice Park.”

He said another disappointment was watching young players who were talented and gifted failing to make it to the top because of a lack of hard work and dedication.

“At the end of the day if you want to achieve something in life you have to work hard for it,” he said.

Jute, jam, journalism and Jim McLean

The legendary Tannadice boss led Dundee United to the Premier League title in 1983, the European Cup semi-final in 1984 and the UEFA Cup Final in 1987.

At the height of United’s success in the 1980s, one English commentator even described Dundee as the ‘city of the four Js’ – jute, jam, journalism and Jim McLean.

McLean pictured in his office in 1988.

Born in Larkhall in 1937, McLean played for Hamilton, Clyde, Dundee and Kilmarnock before taking a coaching role at Dens in 1970.

He took up the manager’s job at Tannadice in 1971 and reached the 1974 Scottish Cup final, where his team lost 3-0 to Jock Stein’s all-conquering Celtic side.

McLean and United’s first major honour was in December 1979, when they beat Aberdeen 3-0 in a replay in the League Cup Final at Dens.

The following season they kept the trophy, this time seeing off city rivals Dundee 3-0, again at Dens.

The Dark Blues’ own pitch was the setting for an even bigger achievement in 1983 when they beat Dundee 2-1 on the final day of the season to win the Premier League.

After taking the club to unimaginable heights on the park, McLean stepped down as manager in 1993 when he moved upstairs.

The magic of Jim McLean

Pat said: “Not long before this interview I told Jim that one of the club’s biggest fan’s had only a wee while left to live due to his terminal cancer.

Jim McLean’s generosity and kindness was evident when he visited a dying United fan.

“Jim said: ‘Do you know where he lives Pat?’

“I said: ‘Yes, he lives in the Hilltown’.

“At that point Jim said: ‘Let’s go and pay him a visit’.

“We turned up at the old gentleman’s door and spent around an hour in his company.

“The man kept saying every few minutes: ‘I can’t believe Jim McLean is sitting in my house!’

“But that was a side of Jim McLean that no one ever saw.

“He was a genuine kind man that only wanted the best out of his players.

“Jim McLean was the ultimate professional and we will never see his likes again.”