Steven Boyack’s time wearing the dark blue of Dundee was a tale of two managers – with loyalty at the heart of the story.
Going from Jocky Scott to Ivano Bonetti was never going to be straightforward and one phone call from the outgoing Dens Park legend laid bare the complexities facing a dressing room that’s lost a likeable boss.
He said: “I remember when it was pretty certain Jocky Scott was leaving, I got a phone call from a journalist asking about it.
“Me being young, loyal and inexperienced I said there was no way he should be leaving the club as manager.
“After that Jocky said it was nice of me to do that but, ‘Don’t do it again! Remember there’s another manager coming in after’.
“Maybe that didn’t help!”
He joined from Rangers a 22-year-old, for a reported £125,000, in 1999 and his arrival coincided with a spark in form that led Scott’s Dundee to equal the best top-flight finish since the league-winning side of 1961/62.
But less than 18 months later, when Boyack wasn’t given a squad number by incoming boss Bonetti, he knew it was all over.
A former Scotland U/21 international, the midfielder had been on the fringes of Walter Smith’s Rangers squad during the Nine in a Row era.
Despite making his debut in 1996 alongside the likes of Andy Goram, Richard Gough, Jorg Albertz, Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup – and up against Ray Wilkins in the Hibs team – he eventually moved on in search of first-team football.
Step forward Dundee, with family ties making it the perfect move.
“I had been at Rangers a while and it was time to move on,” he said.
“I had family connections to Dundee, my dad was a big fan and was always talking about ducking school so he could go watch the AC Milan European Cup semi-final.
“I think that local connection helped and I was quite happy people knew that. Dundee is a small place and I remember my granny from Broughty Ferry getting on the bus with me and saying to everyone, ‘This is my grandson, he plays for Dundee!’
“It was the right move and it was great, for the most part anyway – it ended really badly.
“Things started off great and I loved it at Dens. As much I was on the fringes of the first team at Rangers and playing in the reserves, Dundee was my first real club where I played consistent first-team football.
“It was exciting times and completely different to reserve football – it’s just not the same pressure as a young guy at Rangers.
“That was boy’s football – I was playing the men’s game at Dundee.
“Suddenly it was a relegation battle and there’s all these experienced guys who are playing for a contract or to avoid a wage cut by being relegated.
“The pressure was much more, suddenly everything was about 3 o’clock on a Saturday. Nothing else mattered.”
The news was out that fans’ favourite Dariusz Adamczuk was leaving for Ibrox in the summer after three years at the club.
Boyack said: “I remember there was a story at the time I was being brought in to replace Adamczuk because he was leaving on a Bosman, going to Rangers funnily enough.
“I think it might have been right after I signed when Dariusz got sent off at Dunfermline and got a six-game ban. That gave me my start in the team.
“We went on a run after that and won five on the bounce near the end of the season.
“We had a good hard-working team with youth and experience mixed well, with some good players in there as well.
“It was lucky how it started for me but brilliant as well.”
Boyack made his first start the following week in a 2-0 win over Hearts before playing the final seven matches of the season, winning five, drawing one and losing the final match against third-placed St Johnstone.
He also notched his first senior goal in a win at Pittodrie and followed up with another at home to Dunfermline as Jocky’s side romped up the division and into a fifth-placed finish.
Boyack added: “I think at that time Dunfermline were at the bottom but they weren’t a million miles away from us so we needed those wins.
“Jocky Scott and (assistant manager) Jimmy Bone made things very easy for us players, they were pretty old school and they built a good team. There were no favourites, they picked the best team.
“We had guys like Gavin Rae in midfield, Iain Anderson, Eddie Annand, Willie Falconer, James Grady then there was Rab Douglas who wasn’t far off the best keeper in the league, he was brilliant.
“Really dependable guys like Barry Smith and Brian Irvine, then there was Willie Miller who helped me a lot – anyone who kicked me, he’d kick them back twice as hard!
“I think we must have had 100s if not 1000s of Premier League games of experience in that team but young players as well.”
The following season, Boyack was a regular in the Dark Blues midfield with only Rae, Douglas and Steven Tweed featuring more for Scott’s men.
The Dark Blues would finish seventh, just one point off repeating their fifth place of the campaign before.
However, that signalled the end of Jocky’s spell in charge and he made way for the flamboyant Bonetti regime.
It was clear early on that there were going to be huge changes at Dundee and, unsurprisingly, the new manager didn’t fancy some of the stars he had inherited.
But Boyack, who had played 32 times in the Premier League the previous season, wasn’t too concerned despite several warning signs.
“We went on a pre-season trip to Italy and they didn’t seem to know who any of the Scottish players were!” he said.
“Some of the older guys were saying the writing was on the wall but I didn’t listen. I said, ‘I’ve got a contract for another year and if they don’t want me, I’ll go somewhere else.’”
Boyack soon realised the experienced members of the Dark Blues squad were spot on and he was eventually put on the transfer list.
It was too late, however, to go anywhere – a problem for a club needing to recoup some of the money they had already spent on new players.
At the time, a frustrated Boyack told the Courier: “The manager (Ivano Bonetti) said I would remain here until another club met Dundee’s valuation but he spoke to me while watching a football video and I only got 20 seconds of his time.
“No one has told me I am not good enough to play for Dundee and I’ve not become a bad player overnight but it’s now best I move on.”
Twenty years on, Boyack is philosophical about his Dens dream turning into a nightmare under Ivano and his brother Dario.
He said: “I didn’t play a minute under them but the club had a problem because they’d signed a lot of players but they’d done that before getting rid of the players they didn’t fancy.
“I didn’t even get a squad number. They were bringing in good players and they gave my number to Fabian Caballero. He was brilliant so at least they gave it to somebody pretty decent.
“Then (Claudio) Caniggia came in…had somebody said when I signed a year before he’d be there I’d have said they were mad.
“They told me really late in the summer that I could go but, at that point, a lot of teams already had their squads signed up.
“There was a chance to go to Hibs but they brought in Didier Agathe from Raith Rovers and it ended up being too late for me. It felt like the goalposts had moved.
“I eventually dropped down a division on loan to Ayr in October because I couldn’t go on loan to another Premier League team.
“I imagine if I had dug my heels in about it all, I maybe wouldn’t have played for a whole year.
“Ideally I wanted to continue playing at Dundee and play in semi-finals or finals because I knew what it would mean for the club and the fans.”
He added: “For a while I was maybe not quite bitter but disappointed at the way things went. With a bit more time and experience you start to understand clubs do certain things.
“I enjoyed it at Dundee, people always ask about the way things ended but it’s blown out of proportion really.
“I bump into Peter Marr quite a lot actually and it all doesn’t matter now. I would have loved to have played another 40, 50 games but it wasn’t to be.”
Boyack would only play 10 times for Ayr before Craig Levein snapped him up for Hearts in a £50,000 deal.
He made 63 appearances in three years at Tynecastle. His most consistent football, however, was played at Dens Park under Jocky Scott.
Now working in the construction and engineering trade, he says some of his best moments in the game came during his stint in the City of Discovery.
“My best memories include my first derby. I remember walking across the road to Tannadice, I’d never done anything like that before.
“It’s funny, you always remember the games you did better in! Big Brian Irvine scored, that was great for the big man, then I played in James Grady to get the winner and we won 2-0.
“I also remember going to Ibrox and winning. Rangers were flying at that point, seriously flying.
“They’d just beaten Dortmund a few days before. My mates were saying we were in for a hiding and I didn’t disagree.
“But they didn’t turn up and Gav Rae popped up in the last minute. I don’t know how many times Dundee have won at Ibrox but that was a great time.
“And we were at a supporter’s do that night too. On the road down some of the boys were saying it was the worst time to have that, coming back from a game at Ibrox if we got stuffed.
“Turns out it wasn’t a bad night after all!”