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Never-before-seen photos of Dundee United fans in Gothenburg in 1987

Dundee United Gothenburg 1987
Alastair Stephen has unearthed a treasure trove of United photographs from the 1987 UEFA Cup Final.

Never-before-seen photographs of Dundee United supporters at the UEFA Cup Final in Gothenburg in 1987 can today be shown for the first time.

The snapshots mark a pivotal moment in Dundee United’s history when they nearly pulled off the impossible and conquered Europe.

It was United’s first, and so far only, major European final.

United defeated European giants Barcelona on glory run

Jim McLean’s side conquered Lens, Universitatea Craiova, Hajduk Split, and European giants Barcelona and Borussia Moenchengladbach in earlier rounds.

IFK Gothenburg lay in wait in the two-legged final.

Alastair Stephen from Falkland attended the first leg in Sweden on May 6 1987 and discovered the slides in his attic during a clear-out.

Alastair is a retired photographer and the slides have now been digitised to provide a nostalgic reminder of United’s remarkable brush with glory.

“I’m originally from Dundee and my dad was a United fan and he started to take me to the games during the Jerry Kerr era”, he said.

“When I was 18 I went hitch-hiking to Amsterdam to visit a friend and I got a lift from a photographer.

“He turned out to be Holland’s top fashion photographer and offered me a job!

“Up to that point I had no interest in photography but I spent a year as his assistant.

“I returned home and went to Napier College in Edinburgh to study photography.

“I was just starting out as a photographer when I went to Gothenburg.

“I had never taken my camera to a match before but I think I knew this would be something special and wanted to document the occasion.

“I went on a charter flight from Glasgow with the United fans which left first thing in the morning and flew back after the match.”

The Tannadice faithful brought colour to Gothenburg

Around 3,000 United fans went to Gothenburg by land, sea and air.

The Tannadice faithful proceeded to show the Swedes how to enjoy themselves as they filled the city centre with colour and song.

The locals were astonished by the lengths the fans had gone to get to a city which was described by former United winger Lennart Wing as “too dear, even for the Swedes”.

Some admitted to having taken out bank loans of over £500 to finance the trip.

Others, who could only afford the trip plus a few decent meals, were willing to stay 50km out of town and drink water for two days to see their heroes in action.

One young lad, who had been unemployed for two years, arrived in the Scandinavian port with £12.50 in his pocket – enough for two burgers and a bus to the game.

Alastair said: “The atmosphere was incredible and everyone was having a good time.

“I took various shots of United fans both outside and inside the ground.”

United lost the toss and were facing the sun and a strong wind.

Goalkeeper Billy Thomson suffered a badly torn ear which required several stitches after diving at the feet of Lennart Nilsson after just five minutes.

Dundee United Gothenburg 1987

A first-half Stefan Pettersson strike separated the sides after the first leg in front of 50,000 noisy Swedes.

“I put the slides away when I got home,” said Alastair.

“I never looked at them for 20-30 years.

Dundee United Gothenburg 1987

“I always knew I had the slides but they have been in the attic gathering dust and I came across them during a lockdown clearance.”

United side were ‘shaving blind with a cut-throat razor’

Tickets were priced at £10 and £20 for the second leg.

Dundee United Gothenburg 1987

A fourth Scottish Cup Final defeat against St Mirren was hardly the best preparation but that did little to dampen the spirits of the home fans.

The Swedes were not to be under-estimated though, having won the trophy only five years earlier.

The Courier reported the morning after: “Starting one down against a top European club even at home is the equivalent of shaving blind with a cut-throat razor”.

The ultimate destination of the trophy might well have been different had a save by the visiting keeper with his face from a Billy Kirkwood effort after five minutes not denied United a leveller.

Crucially, a Lennart Nilsson strike on 22 minutes doubled IFK Gothenburg’s advantage, meaning United required three goals to lift the trophy.

They mustered one, a powerful John Clark effort from the edge of the box on the hour mark, but, regrettably, no more.

“When Ferguson sent a low cross from the right, Clark twirled inside Tord Holmgren like a ballet dancer and left-footed a great shot past Wernerson.

“All of a sudden there was hope,” reported The Courier.

Ultimately, however, that May 20 game was just one too many for United in the most draining of seasons.

Jim McLean said after the match: “The problem was that we asked players to peak twice for the two cup finals in a matter of days and that crucified us.

“At the end of the day, the result is what it is and they honestly were too good for what my players had left to give.”

United supporters were the pride of Scotland in defeat

Hundreds of fans continued to occupy the middle of the Shed end of the ground at the final whistle, refusing to leave before McLean came to talk to them.

The same supporters then greeted the United players as heroes as they left the ground.

What made the response extra special, though, was that the applause and cheers continued as the Swedish players went on a lap of honour around the pitch.

Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson wrote a letter to McLean praising the Dundee United supporters after Gothenburg brought the trophy home.

What made a specially positive impression on me, which is the reason for my writing this letter, was the generosity and warmth shown by your spectators all through this match.”

The rapturous ovation given by the thousands of home spectators to the victorious Swedes after the match earned United fans the fitting prize of the UEFA Fair Play Award, commemorated to this day by one of the Tannadice stands.

McLean said: “In my opinion, this is a thoroughly deserved award and a great boost to our fans but an equally important one to Scottish supporters in general.

“Of course money is important, but the biggest factor is the encouragement of our fans and that night against Gothenburg in May was the greatest display of support that I’ve ever seen.”

Dundee United Gothenburg 1987

Memories are also kept alive by a huge flag bearing United’s name and badge alongside their own that gets unfurled on a regular basis by the IFK fans at home matches.

United’s historic glory run saw them play 70 games during 1986-87, compete in five tournaments, and reach three finals.

The UEFA Cup, Scottish Cup, League Cup and championship all eluded United, leaving just the Forfarshire Cup as the only silverware after a 5-0 win against Montrose.