April 28 1962 is a date etched forever in the memory of Dundee FC fans.
For that was the day their team became heroes when they ran out 3-0 winners against St Johnstone to clinch the Scottish League Championship at Muirton Park.
Great were the celebrations, both at Muirton Park and in the city of Dundee that night, but what were the key milestones on Dundee’s road to championship glory?
Norrie Price, author of Up Wi’ the Bonnets!, has chosen five matches from the 1961/62 campaign, including a 5-1 away win against Rangers and the penultimate game of the season against St Mirren, which set the Dens Park men up for that tense finale.
October 7 1961: Dundee 5-3 Kilmarnock
Dundee had already won four of their first five league games but this result would lay down a marker.
Willie Waddell’s Killie had finished league runners-up in the past two seasons and were neck and neck with Dundee and Rangers at the top of the table.
In a roller coaster of a game, the Dark Blues recovered from an early setback to lead 2-1.
But just on half-time, Brian McIlroy fired home an angled shot to level the scores.
That didn’t appear to upset Dundee and with Gordon Smith supplying the craft and finesse, they ran riot in the second half.
Alan Gilzean made it 3-2 with a great header from an Alex Hamilton free-kick, with Andy Penman adding another two for his hat-trick before Killie grabbed a late consolation.
It was a hugely entertaining game for the Dens Park fans who were to see plenty more flowing football that season.
According to The Scottish Sunday Express: “Smith, playing like an inside forward from the wing position, flicked and chipped his way back to the greatness of his glory years. And how the others responded.”
November 11 1961: Rangers 1-5 Dundee
The game had been in doubt due to thick fog around the ground and many supporters’ buses were turned away.
But an hour before kick-off the fog lifted sufficiently to allow the game to proceed, albeit before a crowd of 38,000, which was much lower than expected.
The Ibrox quintet of Eric Caldow, Jim Baxter, Alex Scott, Ralph Brand and Davy Wilson had played in Scotland’s 2-0 win over Wales a few days earlier, a game in which Dundee’s Alex Hamilton and Ian Ure had gained their first full Scotland caps.
But there was little weariness in evidence as Rangers ended the first-half in the ascendency.
This was to change as two goals in two minutes by Alan Gilzean soon after the restart changed things entirely and the Dark Blues went up the gears.
The movement and interchanging of the Dundee forwards was a delight to the eye and the predatory Gilzean brought his total to four before Andy Penman completed Dundee’s day with a fifth near the end.
“This Dundee side was brilliant” extolled The Courier headline in a report that described their eighth successive win, one which left them seven points clear of the Govan giants and five above second-placed Kilmarnock.
The prolific Alan Gilzean was the name on everyone’s lips with journalist Tommy Gallacher highlighting his anticipation, positioning and lethal finishing.
Ian Ure, too, was immense. But this was no one-man show and the writer rightly hailed the whole team as heroes while also reserving special praise for Alan Cousin.
Meanwhile, in the Dundee edition of the People’s Journal, sportswriter Gordon Gray claimed: “Dundee can win the title.”
November 18 1961: Dundee 5-4 Raith
Incredibly, this was the third time in six weeks Dundee had gone ‘nap’ – and another five were shortly to follow, against Airdrie.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time, a Gilzean double gave Dundee the lead before Raith stunned the Dark Blues with three goals in five minutes to go 4-2 ahead.
On 69 minutes, Bobby Wishart brought the house down with a thunderbolt shot to reduce the deficit.
But the most thrilling spell came in the final 10 minutes when Dundee threw everything into a final effort.
Twice there were desperate goal-line clearances but on 88 minutes there was huge relief when Bobby Seith cracked in an unstoppable shot from 30 yards.
Two minutes later, to an almost Hampden-like roar, Gordon Smith fired home the winner before being engulfed by his ecstatic team-mates!
April 9 1962: Dundee United 1-2 Dundee
This was the spring holiday Monday and by then Dundee had overcome their slump and were right back in the hunt.
Only three games remained and many saw it as make or break in the title race.
Defeat for Dundee and a Rangers victory away to Celtic would surely spell the end for the Dark Blues, who would fall three points behind.
Dundee had served up some scintillating football in their earlier 4-1 derby win at Dens Park.
That was near the start of their great run and helped build belief.
Now, though, United had nothing to lose and there was huge pressure on Shankly’s side.
In 15 minutes Jim Irvine beat Pat Liney with a low shot to put the home side ahead.
After a slow start Dundee battled their way back and, just a minute from the interval, Gilzean took a short pass and hammered in a long-range ‘dipper’ that found its way beneath the diving Ugolini.
For much of the second half the Dens defence had to cope with incessant pressure, though there were near things at either end.
The rain-soaked crowd were howling their heads off and the players seemed to be just as excited.
Then, pandemonium with four minutes left as Gilzean grabbed the winner. The big inside-man took a stabbed pass from Wishart with his back to the United goal.
He flicked the ball between his legs, beating centre-half Doug Smith in the process, then cracked a tremendous 25-yard drive with his right foot into Ugolini’s top left-hand corner.
It had been a spine-tingler of a game with The Courier headlines reflecting this: “Now It’s Neck and Neck!” and “Gilt-edged winner to a searing battle at Tannadice”.
Now there were just two games left. Dundee had to meet St Mirren at home and St Johnstone away, while Rangers faced Aberdeen away and Kilmarnock at Ibrox.
But with the Light Blues holding a vastly superior goal average, which was worth an extra point, Dundee had to hope for another slip by Rangers.
April 25 1962: Dundee 2-0 St Mirren
Dundee had to endure a nerve-wracking 16-day wait due to the Scotland versus England international then the Scottish Cup Final, which St Mirren lost 2-0 to Rangers.
Having earlier knocked Dundee out of the cup and taken a point from them at Love Street, the Paisley side were now among a clutch of sides battling relegation.
With the stakes so high, it was a jittery first half before an expectant 20,000 crowd that Wednesday night at Dens Park.
Three minutes from the interval Dundee got the elusive goal. Cox robbed Beck and the Dens skipper carried it forward before passing to Alan Gilzean.
Quickly he switched inside to Alan Cousin and the big man smacked it home from the 18-yard line.
After the restart, Dundee stormed the Saints goal but gradually fell back into more of a defensive pattern.
Just 12 minutes remained and there was potential tragedy for Dundee when referee Willie Syme awarded Saints a penalty for a handling offence.
The Dundee players protested bitterly and Jim Clunie took the kick amid a storm of jeers and boos.
But Pat Liney pulled off the save of his life. As the ball soared towards his top right-hand corner, the keeper miraculously clawed it down and the whole of Dens Park erupted with delight.
And with only seven minutes left on the clock and the result in the balance, Cousin prodded the ball to Andy Penman and the inside man fired past Williamson from 20 yards out.
The final whistle was the signal for a pitch invasion and the players had to battle their way to the dressing-room.
Pat Liney, who had made that wonderful penalty save at a vital time in the game, had to be rescued by four policemen and escorted to the pavilion.
Meanwhile, Aberdeen defeated Rangers 1-0 at Pittodrie, which prompted a tremendous roar from the Dens crowd.
Dundee were two points ahead again and needed only one point at Perth on Saturday.
What does it take to win a championship?
Good fortune had played its part.
Over the course of the season, Dundee had been relatively injury free.
The postponement of three games at the turn of the year against St Johnstone, Aberdeen and United – from which Dundee ultimately took full points – was a blessing in disguise, while it might also have been to their advantage that the fog-threatened Ibrox match went ahead with a smaller crowd and with Rangers including five players who had played just a few days earlier.
Dundee United and Aberdeen did Dundee a turn by halting the apparently relentless Rangers advance.
Dundee were also blessed with great players – the masterful Gordon Smith, goalscorer supreme Alan Gilzean and Scottish internationals Alex Hamilton and Ian Ure.
Cousin, Cox and Robertson were the glue that held Dundee together.
Along with Bobby Seith and Bobby Wishart, the masterful Gordon Smith brought class and composure to an existing core of outstanding footballers.
Poring over DC Thomson’s extensive archives, he repeatedly comes across as being Dundee’s most influential player.
A team must have its share of luck to win a championship.
Bob Shankly’s side had all the ingredients for their championship success. Astute management, teamwork and the ability to defend capably as well as find the back of the net. Dundee also had that vital blend of youth and experience.
Ability alone was never going to be enough to finish above high-flying Rangers.
Determination in the face of adversity was crucial and when it mattered most Dundee displayed just that.
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