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Thirst for nostalgia helped inspire new book about Dundee FC’s quest for European Cup glory

Graeme Strachan with his recently released new book
Graeme Strachan with his recently released new book

Sixty years after Dundee FC’s pursuit of European football glory, Michael Alexander speaks to author Graeme Strachan about the brawls, bribes and broken dreams of Dundee FC’s 1962-63 European Cup run.

Dundee FC’s opening league game against Partick Thistle on July 30 sees the Dark Blues re-adjusting to their first season back in the second tier of Scottish football after being relegated from the Premiership.

Sixty years ago, however, the Dens Park side were embarking upon an incredible run that took them tantalisingly close to the European Cup Final at Wembley.

The remarkable story of how Dundee FC almost became the first British team to win the European Cup in 1963 is told in a recently released book by Dundee journalist Graeme Strachan.

Remarkable run

Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup lifts the lid on how Bob Shankly’s team came close to achieving the historical immortality enjoyed by Jock Stein’s Celtic and Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United.

Highlights include how a dodgy ref sank Dundee’s Wembley dream and a detailed account of their dramatic 1962/3 campaign at home and abroad.

It recalls how Dundee’s Alan Gilzean, Ian Ure and Gordon Smith joined Ferenc Puskas, Eusebio and Jose Altafini at the top table of European footballers.

Dundee v Cologne souvenir from 1963.

The cast of characters includes Bob and Bill Shankly, Cassius Clay, Jimmy Greaves, Alf Ramsey and Walter Winterbottom.

The book charts how manager Bob Shankly refused to study European opponents and relied on ‘tips’ from helpful locals.

And it’s all set against a backdrop of contemporary events in Dundee and Scotland including construction of the new Tay Road Bridge, demolition of Dundee’s old city centre, the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1962/63 and Dr Beeching’s railway axe.

What inspired the book?

The book’s author, who grew up in Dundee’s Fintry estate, has been interested in nostalgia from an early age – especially football nostalgia.

A former pupil of Fintry Primary School, Linlathen High School and Braeview Academy, the 41-year-old grew up in the 1980s and would always be drawn to looking through old football annuals in second-hand shops.

Dundee v Cologne programme from 1963

“Back in the day when the BBC or STV covered a cup final, the coverage would start at midday and I used to love watching all these old games being shown as part of the build-up,” he says.

“I became a great studier of football and that’s probably where my research instincts were born – it’s given me a great knowledge of the game and I think that’s why I really enjoy shining a light on the past.”

Cultural influences

Obsessed with football, Graeme was influenced by his parents’ musical and cultural tastes to some extent.

However, when Graeme joined DC Thomson & Co Ltd as a reporter with The Courier and Evening Telegraph newspapers in 1999 following an HNC from Dundee College in professional writing, that’s when the opportunities arose to pursue his interests more.

Journalism didn’t just teach him about the city’s sporting past, but the city’s past, its events – good and bad – its places, its people and its characters.

Graeme Strachan with his 2019 Dundee FC book.

Finding himself at the coalface of journalism during an incredible era in Dundee FC’s history when football megastars Claudio Caniggia and Fabrizio Ravanelli arrived at Dens Park, Graeme released his debut book The Bird and the Feather: Caniggia and Ravanelli’s Dundee Adventures in 2019.

However, when he stumbled across a few cuttings on the European Cup campaign during research for that book, and when he took the 2019 book round the speakers’ circuit and heard Dundee fans reminiscing about those 1960s glory days, it was clear there was an appetite to document this near-Cinderella tale in book form.

‘David v Goliath’

“There have been books written about Dundee’s 1962 title win, but the European Cup campaign which followed was even more dramatic,” says Graeme, who now heads up DC Thomson’s nostalgia team.

“In fact, many of the goings-on wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Tinseltown script and every game seemed to deliver even more twists and turns than the previous one.

Broken Dreams.

“This was a new world of glamour that Dundee were entering – it was David and Goliath stuff!”

Graeme explains how Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup starts in the summer of 1962.

Shankly’s newly-crowned Scottish League champions were in New York City for the month-long International Tourney.

They would face sides from West Germany, Brazil, Yugoslavia, Mexico and Italy who would provide the perfect preparation for the European Cup.

The Dens Park party would also encounter Cassius Clay who was to become one of the most famous figures in world boxing.

A new world of glamour beckoned and soon the European Cup draw would see them up alongside household names like Real Madrid, Benfica and AC Milan.

Dundee weren’t short of talent either with the likes of Gordon Smith, Alex Hamilton, Ian Ure, Andy Penman, Alan Cousin and Alan Gilzean in the side.

The book reveals that a group of rebel players were holding out for more pay before re-signing for the 1962/63 season, which might have been to blame for a dismal start to the campaign.

One star name was to put in a transfer request prior to the first European Cup game and there would be others during a season worthy of its own Hollywood script.

Drawn against Cologne

Dundee were drawn against a Cologne side who were among the favourites to win the European Cup and boasted no fewer than 10 West German internationalists including 1954 World Cup winner Hans Schäfer.

The Cologne team line up, at Glenesk Park in 1962. Cajkovski (coach), Wilden, Ewart, Schumacher, Hemmersbach, Thielen, Benthaus, Habk, Muller. Bocsai, Ripkens, Schafer (captain), Rech, Hornic, Stollenwerk.

The Dark Blues were up for the fight though, and hit the West Germans with an 8-1 first leg blitzkrieg at Dens Park.

Legendary commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme told BBC listeners that he rated the Dark Blues as one of the best sides he had ever seen and predicted they could go all the way in the competition.

In the week they shared the same bill as boxing legends Sonny Liston and Sugar Ray Robinson, the British Army rescued Dundee from a mass riot in the return, which became known as The Battle of Cologne.

The book features interview transcripts, scouting reports and match reports from the vaults alongside rare images from the time, including many never before seen in print.

Alan Gilzean narrowly misses a header against FC Cologne in 1962.

It includes forgotten interviews from the players and management who were part of that remarkable journey at a time when journalists were part of the team’s inner-circle.

Impact of winter weather

History tells us that Portuguese champions Sporting Lisbon were put to the sword next by Shankly’s swashbuckling heroes before the onset of  the worst winter in living memory.

The book recalls how the Pools Panel was dreamed up during this period due to the lack of football and ultimately abortive plans for summer football.

The thaw finally came in March and Dundee’s delayed tie against Anderlecht went ahead after East Fife helped out by providing much-needed match practice at Bayview prior to Dundee’s trip to Belgium.

Dundee v Anderlecht, March 13, 1963. Cox, Wishart and Smith look on as an Anderlecht shot goes just wide.

Over 60,000 were at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels to see Dundee provide a lesson in counter-attacking football as they ran out 4-1 winners over the conquerors of Real Madrid.

Soon Dundee found themselves in the semi-final against an AC Milan side whose team featured Maldini, Trappatoni, Rivera and Altafini as well as legendary manager Nereo Rocco.

Broken dreams

A heavy defeat followed. But were the odds already stacked against them when the teams lined up at the San Siro?

Why were the Italian photographers gathered behind Bert Slater’s goal and why were Milan the beneficiaries of what appeared to be thoroughly questionable refereeing?

“Dundee’s European Cup run ultimately ended in brawls, bribes and broken dreams despite winning the return leg at Dens against the side which would go on to win the trophy,” adds Graeme.

“Remarkably, they used just 13 players during that eight-game run, though 21 in all competitions, and finished ninth in the league as their title defence collapsed.

“What might have been had that game in the San Siro been played on a level playing field?

“Who would have emerged victorious if Dundee had gone on to meet Benfica in the final?”

‘Fantastic’ response to book

Since the book’s release on May 16, which has seen it become an Amazon bestseller, Graeme says the response so far has been “fantastic”.

Graeme Strachan with his recently released new book.

“I think it has really captured the imagination,” he says.

“The football side of things is intertwined with the story of the city which at that time was going through a huge period of change.

“So people are enjoying reminiscing about that period in time which I think becomes even more important to remember at a time when the Dark Blues are adapting to life in the championship.

“Nostalgia and shining a light on the past is hugely important – it’s our history; these are our people; these are our places; these memories can take people back to a particular period in their life; they can make us happy. They can also make us sad.”

Where to find the book

*Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup by Graeme Strachan is available now from Amazon, WH Smith, Waterstones and other online outlets.