A 6-4 aggregate victory over Monaco didn’t stop Jim McLean from hitting his Dundee United players with a fine for a lack of entertainment!
But these were the extremely high standards set by McLean that would take United to unimaginable heights at home and abroad during the 1980s.
A lack of entertainment?
That could hardly be levelled at United as they started the 1981-82 season unbeaten.
Here was a team that had scored 21 goals in eight games including opening-day success against Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen in the Premier League.
Not everyone was pleased, however.
A notoriously hard task-master, McLean said United’s unbeaten start “was not entirely to my satisfaction, results apart”.
Long-simmering tensions boiled over after defeat away to Morton on September 5 and McLean lost the rag before the Dundee derby at Tannadice.
“No, there is still no way that the players have convinced me that they are ‘winners’ every time they go out, and a continuation of that inconsistency in attitude will win us nothing at all,” he said.
“The side has been getting into the bad habit of falling back into a negative shell at stages in games, with the midfield division the main culprits.
“That simply has to stop.
“But while criticising and stating that honours will not come with the present inconsistency in performance, allow me to point out that the side is certainly good enough to add to our honours list.”
Ralph Milne and Billy Kirkwood replaced Willie Pettigrew and Derek Stark and United got back on track and won 5-2 against newly promoted Dundee.
It was the perfect preparation for the midweek Uefa Cup first round match against Monaco where United embarrassed the aristocrats in the principality.
Oscar-winner David Niven, Prince Rainier of Monaco and his wife Grace Kelly were among the 7,609 crowd that watched United win the first leg 5-2.
France manager Michael Hidalgo was another sorry spectator as United went two up in 20 minutes following early goals from Billy Kirkwood and Davie Dodds.
Monaco pulled one back after the interval before Eamonn Bannon scored two penalties and Dodds got his second to put United 5-1 up with a minute to go.
Hamish McAlpine then misjudged a cross and turned the ball into his own net, although the goal did little to relieve the gloom among the Monaco supporters.
McLean said victory was secured “through adopting the right attitude for the occasion” but United slipped up when they returned to domestic duties.
A 2-1 defeat to Airdrie in the league, however, was followed by a 5-0 League Cup quarter-final victory against Hamilton to put United through 9-0 on aggregate.
United were then given more time to prepare for the second leg against Monaco when the league match against Rangers was postponed following heavy rain.
The 5-2 first leg lead prompted a pre-match call from McLean for “no slackness” and “an early goal to completely kill the tie then hopefully entertainment”.
Prince Rainier and Princess Grace stayed with friends in Meigle before travelling to Tannadice on September 30 in a silver limousine with a police escort.
The royal couple watched the match from McLean’s office, and United took their foot off the gas by following up the 5-2 first leg win with a 2-1 defeat.
United were rocked to the core by two quick goals early in the second half, which made the score 5-4 on aggregate after 59 minutes.
Things continued to go astray for the home side and it took a goal from substitute Ralph Milne eight minutes from time to relieve the tension and send United through.
McLean held a post-mortem and fined several of his players, despite going through against a side that would go on to win the French title.
“We had just over 12,000 fans at the game, the majority there to see United playing well and getting another win,” he said.
“But we let them down badly, and it is not good enough.
“I have a job to do, and a duty to the fans who come to these games to be entertained, but we just sat back and allowed Monaco to play.
“I am bitterly disappointed about the way we played, almost as badly as I was after Rangers beat us in the Scottish Cup final replay when we did the same.
“The game is played in two parts – when you have the ball and when the opposition have it.
“When you have it, you must try to keep possession, not give it away as we did on Wednesday night.
“When you have it, you must hustle and bustle them, and stop them from playing.
“We did not do this – and not for the first time this season.
“It was the same against Morton and Airdrie and it is the same players who are letting us down all the time.
“The players must have the right attitude.
“If they get the message from my actions, then it will be a cheap lesson for them.
“They have simply got to learn you cannot play well all the time, and that when you are not playing well it means you have got to work 10 times harder.
“It is their duty to the club, and to the fans, and the sooner it comes home to them, the better.”
Broadcaster and journalist Craig Millar said the Monaco game was not the first time that McLean would financially punish his players for not being entertaining enough.
“A few months earlier, at Tannadice, United had demolished a Motherwell team led by the former Scotland boss Ally MacLeod,” said Craig.
“I covered this Scottish Cup tie for The Sporting Post.
“The 6-1 scoreline was emphatic but the manner in which it was achieved seemed to me to be the absolute epitome of entertainment, as opposed to lacking it.
“Davie Dodds, Ralph Milne, Paul Sturrock, Eamonn Bannon and Billy Kirkwood were marauders who terrorised the Steelmen.
“At half time, United were 4-1 ahead, and yet, after the opening 45 minutes the manager strode along the track to the dressing room looking typically grim faced.
“In the second half, even Dave Narey burst forward from the back to score from 35 yards and also produced a lung-bursting left wing run to the byline to fire a cross into the Motherwell six-yard box.
“It was archetypal swashbuckling football.”
Craig recalled how BBC commentator Archie Macpherson was so impressed he declared that “if anyone had paid double to see this game, it still would have been cheap”.
“Imagine our surprise and disbelief that when Jim addressed the press afterwards the main thrust of his thoughts was that United had been insufficiently entertaining and bonus money would be withheld!” said Craig.
“The headlines in the Sunday papers next day were full of it.
“But in all seriousness, I wondered if he actually meant it.
“This was Jim McLean through and through.
“Never seeming happy even with a good result.
“Never satisfied, always striving for more.”
The Monaco game at Tannadice would later provide the inspiration for the late Michael Marra, who composed a song to mark Hamish McAlpine’s testimonial in 1983.
On a live album recorded at the Bonar Hall, Marra explained how a Dundee fan came to write a song about Dundee United’s legendary goalkeeper.
He was asked to do so by the late United midfielder Ralph Milne, whom he met in a pub.
Milne thought it would be nice if McAlpine had something composed in his honour since his testimonial year was coming up.
Marra said: “Anyway, Dundee United were playing against Monaco, and present among us, the people of Dundee, in the grandstand, was the wonderful Hollywood star Grace Kelly.
“She was there with her man, I can never remember his name.
“Anyway, she was wearing a white turban – which is unusual in Dundee – but unfortunately she was sitting behind an advertising hoarding which proclaimed ‘Taylor Brothers Coal’.
“It was what we cry incongruous.
“I had no camera so I went home and made this song.”
It would be her last visit to Britain before her tragic death a year later.
Big-haired 70s pop legend Leo Sayer later fell in love with the song and was just as intrigued by the goalkeeper who had inspired it.
He recorded his own version in the studio with Marra and even turned up in Dundee to ask locals if McAlpine was just like he was portrayed in the song.
Following its discovery, Sayer allowed his version of the forgotten song to be used on a United fundraising album that was released back in 2005.
The album raised money for youth and community projects at Tannadice and United fans have never forgotten Sayer’s generosity.
“It’s a wonderful example of worlds colliding and beautiful poetry,” he said.
“And the chorus, ‘Hamish kicks young men’s dreams into a burning flame’ – what a line!”
Back in 1981/82 United would go on to defeat Borussia Monchengladbach 5-2 on aggregate in the second round following the victory against Monaco.
They defeated KFC Winterslag from Belgium 5-0 on aggregate to reach the quarter-final before going out to Radnicki Nis of Yugoslavia.