Even by Dundee’s high, high standards, season 2021/22 was off the “crazy” charts.
How a club like the Dark Blues managed to fit so much into one campaign is a question for the ages.
You’ve got returning heroes becoming villains, deep dismay from the stands, players in trouble with the law, a bonus row, long-term injuries including one picked up outside a nightclub, a horribly-timed managerial change, nowhere near enough wins and, finally, relegation.
And that’s not even including Mark McGhee’s seemingly-endless run of bizarre interviews.
Ultimately, it ended in disappointment, with only six league wins registered across the season and a bottom-place finish.
It all started, though, with optimism.
James McPake’s side roared up through the play-offs, dispatching Kilmarnock in the final and they built further momentum by winning all their League Cup group stage matches.
Even the first match of the season, a 2-2 home draw with St Mirren, couldn’t dampen the positivity.
But then came a trip to out-of-sorts Celtic. The Hoops had not been in any way convincing under new boss Ange Postecoglou – until they faced Dundee.
A 6-0 thrashing was dished out, laying bare inadequacies early on.
The stellar capture of the summer arrived at the end of August, with Leigh Griffiths returning to Dens Park, 10 years after he left.
Dundee had a proven goalscorer, it seemed. Get him fit and the Dark Blues would be a serious force in the Premiership.
Of course, it didn’t work. In hindsight, it was McPake’s biggest error. At the time, though, it was heralded as a brilliant piece of business.
Despite bringing in Scotland’s best finisher, Dundee didn’t score for five matches straight.
The sacrifice of goals – and points – to the mission of getting Griffiths up to speed proved very costly.
It was October 16 before a league win arrived, nine matches into the Premiership campaign.
Beating Aberdeen 2-1 was the moment that should have kickstarted Dundee and their star man into life.
Griffiths scored, his smile was back, it looked like his mojo was back.
But it was a false dawn for club and player.
Ross County nemesis
Though wins had escaped them, Dundee weren’t bottom of the pile. Ross County had started the season terribly.
They hadn’t won a game – until they arrived at Dens Park.
A first-half massacre saw the Staggies go in at half-time 4-0 up, with Joseph Hungbo’s goal of the season contender flying past Adam Legzdins in the process.
But the dismay of an eventual 5-0 home loss to the side bottom of the table was quickly put to one side when Dundee won 1-0 at St Mirren, then embarked on their best run of form of the season.
The good times would all come to a crashing halt against Ross County once more. In the Highlands, Luke McCowan’s excellent double had Dundee set to go eight points clear of the Staggies.
However, a late collapse saw the Highlanders take the points. The next time they met, Ross County themselves would be eight points ahead of the Dee.
A sliding doors moment if ever there was one.
The Dundee squad was on its knees after Covid-19 struck, sending them into the January transfer window off the back of five straight defeats.
But an extended winter break should have been the moment to refresh and re-energise the squad with new signings.
In pandemic times, that proved challenging. Clubs were reticent to let squad players go in case they suffered an outbreak.
Players weren’t keen to join a team at the bottom of the table either.
Lee Ashcroft had already been out for a month and his absence was felt at centre-back, while Leigh Griffiths’ time at Dens was over. Jason Cummings was shown the door too after appearing on stage at a show in Glasgow dressed as the Joker from Batman and being sent home from training the following day.
So a centre-back and striker were top of the shopping list.
But come the last week in January, only midfielder Jay Chapman and winger Niall McGinn had arrived.
Zak Rudden and Ricki Lamie were hooked on pre-contracts, with Rudden joining the club before the window shut.
McPake out, McGhee in
The decision to sack James McPake was made after a 2-1 defeat to Ross County on February 5. But, rather than make the move there and then, a successor was sought while McPake remained in the job.
The problem for the owners was that the players were still playing for McPake and pulled off a shock win at Hearts before booking a place in the Scottish Cup quarter-final by beating Peterhead 3-0.
A day after that victory, McPake was gone. One further day later, Mark McGhee arrived.
Fans were furious at the shock move and choice of replacement. McGhee was very experienced but had not managed in Scotland for five years. He also had a six-game ban carried over from his last job at Motherwell.
The squad, meanwhile, had had the guts ripped out of it. A delayed reaction came in McGhee’s second match in charge when Livingston claimed a 4-0 win at Dens Park, with Dundee fans heading for the exits after just 18 minutes.
Others let Nelms and McGhee know exactly how unhappy they were, with at least one season book thrown in the direction of the managing director.
A different sort of protest came at home to Rangers in the Scottish Cup quarter final when less than 1,000 home fans turned up.
All that combined to bring a group of supporters together to try to improve relations between the club and its fans.
An open letter was published and sent to owners Tim Keyes and John Nelms with over 1,300 fellow Dees putting their online signatures to it.
In it, they requested more fan representation at the club, an AGM so questions could be asked of the owners and that the club utilise the expertise available within the fanbase.
Those ideas were rejected by the American owners.
In the same week, Nelms announced, via a glitzy video, the next step in the proposed new stadium project at Camperdown Park and an ambitious 2024 target date for the move from Dens.
After a flurry of back-and-forths, relations between club and fans improved a little.
‘Biggest’ summer ahead
The club backed the formation of a number of new supporter groups and were seen to be doing more in terms of communicating.
However, there is a long way to go before the divide is mended.
Relegation was confirmed with something of a whimper, McGhee’s first win in charge not coming until it was too late.
The end of his time at the club coincided with its brief time in the Premiership finishing.
Charlie Adam’s two talismanic seasons at the club came to a tearful end soon after, with the local hero announcing his intention to pursue a career in management.
Now comes the biggest summer in the stewardship of the Keyes family.
They – with John Nelms and new director of football Gordon Strachan in positions of power – have to get the next appointment right, or the patience of supporters could run out.