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Past Times

Dundee United, Liverpool’s Boot Room and the quest to replace Jim McLean

A forgotten interview with Jim McLean from June 1993 reveals some of the candidates in the frame to replace him as Dundee United manager.
Graeme Strachan
Jim McLean waves to the fans after his last game in charge of Dundee United in 1993. Image: SNS.
Jim McLean waves to the fans after his last game in charge of Dundee United in 1993. Image: SNS.

Jim McLean considered emulating Liverpool’s Boot Room philosophy to find his successor when he stepped down as Dundee United manager in 1993.

Liverpool promoted from within with great success during their Boot Room years of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish in the 1970s and ’80s.

It was the breeding ground that established a distinct line of succession.

Ivan Golac eventually took the job at Tannadice but a forgotten interview with McLean from June 1993 reveals some of United’s Class of 83 were in the frame.

What might have been had the cards fallen differently?

McLean stepped back to the boardroom after he decided to swap his manager’s chair for the chairman’s seat on a full-time basis after 22 years in charge at Tannadice.

The 55-year-old spoke to the Evening Telegraph to “set the record straight” with “speculation running wild over the identity of his successor”.

Little wonder.

Here was an almost impossible act to follow.

Class of 83 were interviewed

McLean’s domestic achievements included three major honours – consecutive League Cup wins in 1979 and 1980 and the Premier League title in 1983.

United also reached the European Cup semi-final in 1984 and the 1987 Uefa Cup final.

The five-man United board — including McLean — were now trying to find an able replacement with likely candidates being divided into three categories.

McLean wasn’t scared to promote from within and confirmed that several members of the 1982/1983 title-winning team were interviewed and were still in the running.

Maurice Malpas, Paul Hegarty and Paul Sturrock were candidates.

Jim McLean and Paul Hegarty at Tannadice.
Title-winning captain Paul Hegarty was part of United’s coaching staff under Jim McLean in 1993. Image: SNS.

McLean said: “The first we looked at was the Walter Smith-Archie Knox era, but the people of that age we would want are in exceptional jobs they would not be prepared to give up to come to United.

“The second was the 1982/83 team.

“We have gone right through that team, and we knew that taking one of them would be a gamble, because of their lack of experience, but we would not rule anyone out because of that.

“The third category is people from abroad.

“Foreign players have better technique, and we have to find out if that is because their coaches are better.”

McLean was angry with Steve Coppell

Around 20 names had been linked with the manager’s job but McLean said he was fed up and angry with reading “glaring inaccuracies” in some tabloid newspapers.

“It is a crazy time in football when, if there is not a story, something has to be made up to sell papers,” he said.

“At various times it has been reported that Steve Coppell, Jim Duffy and Jimmy Nicholl have been offered the manager’s job and I defy any paper to tell me where and when this happened.

“I can state categorically that no-one has been offered the Dundee United job, and despite all the names being bandied about, we have interviewed fewer than 10 candidates so far.”

Anyone with money on Coppell for the job wouldn’t be making a profit!

McLean said: “I spoke to him on the telephone once — he phoned me — and he was not even interviewed.

“Within days, a story saying he had turned us down appeared in a paper down south.

“These things are supposed to be confidential, and this club would never employ anyone who ran to the papers like that.”

McLean wouldn’t make the final call

The Evening Telegraph reported: “Taking on a foreigner who had little knowledge of the Premier Division would be a huge gamble, and it could be that a member of the championship-winning team will get the nod.

“Whoever gets the job, Mr McLean insisted he will not make the final decision single-handedly.

“There is no way I could do that — for a start, I have not even been at all the interviews.

“I did not attend those of Malpas, Sturrock and Hegarty because I felt they might be intimidated by my presence and not express their views fully.

“The best qualified people to make a decision are those who have been at all the interviews.”

The Dundee United team in a team photo with the league trophy. Some of the players were considered as contenders to be the new Dundee United manager
Some of United’s title-winning heroes were considered when McLean stepped down in 1993. Image: DC Thomson.

He acknowledged that some fans were concerned about the time the new appointment was taking but he insisted the board would not be rushed.

“I saw a letter from a fan asking why they should buy season tickets before they know who the new man is.

“I would say to that, if you look at the prices of your season tickets, they are a gift.

“We will not make a decision for any reason other than, we are sure we have the right man for the job.

“Until we are 100% certain of that, there will be no appointment.

“We still hope to have a new manager in a few days or weeks.”

Where would Duncan Ferguson go?

Whoever took charge would start the new season without Duncan Ferguson.

The 21-year-old striker was United’s hottest property after his stock soared following his overhead kick whilst playing for Scotland against Germany at Ibrox in March 1993.

The Evening Telegraph said Chelsea and Leeds United had tabled bids of £3m and Ferguson and his agent Dennis Roach were at Elland Road discussing personal terms.

Chelsea or Leeds United?

Duncan Ferguson in action against Celtic
Duncan Ferguson was the hottest property in Scottish football during the 1992/93 season. Image: DC Thomson.

McLean didn’t really care but there was one place he didn’t want him to go.


He said: “It is absolutely imperative that people understand that although it has been made out as such, the Duncan Ferguson thing is not a Dundee United-Rangers situation.

“It would be absolute business stupidity if we were to strengthen any one of the other 11 Premier clubs by weakening ourselves when we had a choice.”

McLean doth protest too much, perhaps?

So what happened next at Tannadice?

Ferguson became Scotland’s most expensive player with his £4m move to Rangers and the flamboyant Ivan Golac became United’s first new manager in 22 years.

The former Yugoslavia international adopted a bohemian approach that was like a breath of fresh air to the players who had grown used to McLean’s dictatorial attitude.

McLean couldn’t win the Scottish Cup in six attempts but Golac did it at the first time of asking with his relaxed style and became a darling of the United support.

Ivan Golac and the Scottish Cup.
Ivan Golac brought home the trophy that eluded Jim McLean during his 22-year spell. 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.

Many United fans still argue the club panicked too early.

Fortunately, Golac could at least console himself with the knowledge that his Class of 94 will forever be spoken about in the same breath as McLean’s Class of 83.