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Past Times

Ivan Golac recalls moment he knew Dundee United would win Scottish Cup ahead of return to city

Golac will be returning to Dundee to reminisce about the 1994 Scottish Cup victory alongside Craig Brewster.
Graeme Strachan
Ivan Golac and his players celebrate at Hampden in 1994
Ivan Golac and his players celebrate at Hampden in 1994. Image: DC Thomson.

It was like chalk replacing cheese when the Ivan Golac took over from Jim McLean as manager of Dundee United 30 years ago.

The two couldn’t have been more different.

McLean decided to swap his manager’s chair for the chairman’s seat on a full-time basis in May 1993 after United lost his final game 1-4 to Aberdeen at Tannadice.

Only the Scottish Cup remained elusive despite the fact that the club would contest six finals during his managerial reign.

United had one of the best Scottish teams ever under McLean in the 1970s and 1980s, yet lost finals to Celtic (three times), Rangers, St Mirren and Motherwell.

Then along came the flamboyant Golac who adopted a bohemian approach that was like a breath of fresh air to the players who had grown used to McLean’s dictatorial attitude.

So when Golac masterminded United to their first Scottish Cup triumph after just nine months in charge, he became the darling of the United support.

Golac will be returning to Dundee

Golac remains a fans’ favourite and will return to Dundee on April 8 to look back at the 1994 Scottish Cup victory alongside Tangerines goalscorer Craig Brewster.

He has spoken to The Courier ahead of the event and said nothing will be off limits during the question and answer session with the United supporters.

Golac was already a confirmed follower of Scottish football having grown up idolising Jimmy Johnstone and the Celtic side which made history by conquering Europe.

Free, in the summer of 1978, aged 28, to play abroad, after 16 years with Partizan Belgrade, Golac joined Southampton where he played 196 games until 1986.

Ivan Golac in action against Aberdeen in 1981 during his Southampton days. Image: SNS.

Golac returned to Partizan Belgrade to take up a coaching job, eventually becoming assistant manager before an extraordinary debut in management in September 1989.

Momčilo Vukotić was taken ill on the eve of a European Cup Winners’ Cup first round tie against Celtic at Parkhead with Partizan leading 2–1 from the first leg.

Golac stood in and Partizan put Celtic out on the away goals rule after a never-to-be-forgotten 5-4 second-leg defeat in which Jacki Dziekanowski netted four times.

Golac remained in charge at Partizan for the rest of the season and won the Yugoslavian Cup 6-1 before almost getting the Celtic job in 1991 when Billy McNeill was sacked.

Via Torquay United, in the summer of 1993, Golac became the first new Dundee United manager in 22 years after being recommended by Celtic chairman Jack McGinn.

Golac told me: “Doug Smith and Bill Littlejohn (Dundee United board members) came out to meet me in Budapest and they told me about the club.

“I asked them: ‘What do you want?’

“Both of them said: ‘We want to win the Scottish Cup because we have gone all the way to Hampden six times and fallen at the last hurdle’.

“I said: ‘That’s done so what do you want next?'”

A mix of youth and experience

The fact Golac was United’s first new manager since 1971 made the transition even more difficult, especially as McLean was still chairman at Tannadice.

Golac inherited a good group of young players when he took charge such as Alex Cleland, Christian Dailly, Brian Welsh, Andy McLaren and Paddy Connolly.

Seasoned professionals Maurice Malpas, Jim McInally and David Bowman were joined in the squad by Golac signings Gordan Petric, Jerren Nixon and Craig Brewster.

Ivan Golac with his United side at the start of the 1993/94 season. Image: DC Thomson.

United fans will never forget that Scottish Cup run which started in January 1994.

The Tangerines defeated Arbroath, Motherwell, Airdrie and Aberdeen in the semi-final and now stood between Rangers and a back-to-back treble on May 21 at Hampden.

“We played Motherwell in the fourth round at Tannadice which was the best game we played in the competition and Craig Brewster scored two absolute beauties,” said Golac.

“We were leading 2-1 and Motherwell equalised in injury time.

“We went to Fir Park and won 1-0 and Brian Welsh scored the goal.

“Some people said United would never win the cup and that we were jinxed.

“That was the moment I knew our name was on the trophy.”

So how did Golac convince the players they could break the Hampden Hoodoo?

“United were at a junction,” he said.

“Jim McLean was there 22 years and things had grown stale.

“Now was the time to change direction so I decided to do things differently to make sure the players were relaxed like they’d never been before.”

The odds were against United

He took the team to Camperdown Park to “walk in the woods and smell the flowers”.

So when midfielder Jim McInally asked Golac if the players could go to the races at Hamilton Park the Friday before the game he immediately agreed.

That would have been unheard of under McLean.

Jim McLean spent 22 years in charge of Dundee United. Image: SNS.

Golac said: “They were better at the races taking their mind off the final, instead of sitting locked in their hotel rooms worrying about how the game might unfold.

“In my opinion, mental preparation is the most important aspect.

“The players needed to relax to get away from the pressure.”

So how good was Walter Smith’s Rangers side in 1994?

Golac said: “In my opinion, they were one of the best teams in the world at that time, having just failed to reach the final of the Champions League a year earlier.

“With the players at their disposal, Rangers should have been world champions.

“We had one of the youngest sides ever to reach the final.

“Yet I knew we could prevent them creating history.”

United fans believed Golac would keep his promise when they left for Hampden. Image: DC Thomson.

United had defeated Rangers 3-0 in the league in December 1993 with both points wrapped up after just 21 minutes following goals by Bowman, Connolly and Brewster.

Rangers won the league by a mile and spent the final month of that season twiddling their thumbs and confidently waiting to get revenge on United and win the treble.

When the big day came around, however, they found an opposition that was in no mood to respect reputations or the odds.

Golac said he never mentioned Rangers once in the build-up and his pre-match team talk lasted only a few minutes and was all about what United were going to do.

Triumph and tragedy for Golac

He was confident United would win and played It’s All Over Now by the Rolling Stones in the dressing-room before the game which helped give the players self-belief!

United were worthy winners and the strike that earned Craig Brewster legend status at Tannadice was the very least they deserved.

The moment Maurice Malpas lifted the trophy after the 1-0 victory ranks alongside the winning of the Premier League in 1983 and League Cup wins in 1979 and 1980.

Craig Brewster, Ivan Golac and Gordan Petric celebrate at Hampden following the 1-0 victory. Image: DC Thomson.

“It was a wonderful moment,” said Golac.

“Winning the Scottish Cup at Hampden and parading the trophy the following day amongst the fans in the City Square would rank as the highlight of my career.

“I brought them happiness and it was simply unforgettable.”

Ivan Golac will never forget returning to Dundee with the trophy. Image: DC Thomson.

Golac turned down the offer of replacing Lou Macari at Celtic following the Scottish Cup success but unfortunately the good times rarely last in football.

Golac never forged a close relationship with McLean and he was sacked in March 1995 following a Scottish Cup quarter-final defeat against Hearts.

They were also flirting with relegation.

Many United fans still argue the club panicked too early.

Although United did go down, there were still three teams below them when they dispensed with Golac’s services.

Dundee United fans pack the City Square in Dundee after Golac gave them plenty to cheer. Image: DC Thomson.

Since then, Golac has managed in Iceland, Ukraine and his native Serbia and had a spell running his own chocolate factory in Belgrade.

“Losing my job was a shock and the way it was done was disappointing,” he said.

“I regret the way things ended because there was unfinished business to do.

“We would have won more trophies because we were at the start of something special.”

Tickets for An Evening with Craig Brewster and Ivan Golac on Saturday April 8 – organised by The Longest Forty – are on sale now.