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Dundee United triumphed but so did city itself when 1980 ‘Friendly Final’ restored faith in Scottish football

Dundee skipper Bobby Glennie (2nd left) shakes hands with opposite number Paul Hegarty.
Dundee skipper Bobby Glennie (2nd left) shakes hands with opposite number Paul Hegarty.

The RRS Discovery was docked in London and there was a leisure centre where the V&A would rise.

However, Dundee was still the place to be.

Four decades ago tomorrow, the eyes of a nation was on the city as it hosted the so-called Friendly Final.

A crowd of 24,466 gathered inside Dens Park on Saturday, December 6, 1980 for the big game between Dundee and Dundee United to decide who lifted the Bell’s League Cup.

Dundee Utd's Paul Hegarty raises League Cup trophy as team-mates carry him on their shoulders.
Dundee Utd’s Paul Hegarty raises League Cup trophy as team-mates carry him on their shoulders.

The Tangerines were the holders, having won the trophy the previous year by beating Aberdeen in a replay at the same stadium.

They would collect the silverware again following an ultimately convincing 3-0 victory over the neighbours, the same scoreline by which they demolished the Dons.

This fixture was about more than football, however.

It transcended the action and became an opportunity to show how the beautiful game could engender friendship, respect and a sense of civic pride off the pitch as well as fierce rivalry on the park.

We all needed our faith restored.

Hampden hooliganism

Just seven months earlier, Scottish football – or rather some so-called supporters of Celtic and Rangers – had brought shame on the country as they fought pitched battles between themselves and against the police on the Hampden grass following the Hoops’ 1-0 extra-time victory in the Scottish Cup final.

It was a disgraceful display of hooliganism which, to this day, remains one of the sport’s darkest episodes this side of the border.

This city and this occasion were going to be different. They had to be.

Coming so soon after that horror show, the authorities had placed a huge amount of trust in Dundee to put on an event that would bring pride back to the national game.

Paul Hegarty.

They were not disappointed.

The senior police officer in charge of crowd control said: “I just can’t praise the supporters enough. In the park itself their behaviour was first-class.”

An ambulance service spokesperson added: “We didn’t have to deal with any fighting before, during or after the match. The fans were excellent.”

Dundonian blood wasn’t spilled but it flowed through this memorable occasion.

A toss of the coin decided the match would be played at Dens, an outcome that would have been cheered more loudly by the United team than the “home” side because of their love of playing in their rivals’ backyard.

Even ref was Dundonian

Not only did the clubs both hail from the banks of the Tay but so did the referee, with local whistler Bob Valentine handed the honour in a gesture that deserves to be applauded even all these years later. It was a brave show of imagination from the blazers, not something you see too often.

As well as bragging rights and silverware, a place in the next season’s Uefa Cup was on offer in this First Division v Premier League contest.

Tom Lauchlen, then Scottish Football League president, went all-in on the award of the prestigious tie to the city.

He said: “And so, on with the game, which is widely accepted as the most interesting confrontation in the history of the competition. No matter the outcome of today’s match, surely the citizens of Dundee in particular, and football in general, will benefit.”

Church on time

In a storyline that would have been at home in a Broons annual, a wedding was saved by the police just as kick-off approached.

Margaret Etchells, of Sandeman Street, who lived just yards from Dens, was getting married at 3pm to Alexander Edwards in SS Peter and Paul Church. An area in front of her house was cleared for taxis and a police escort was laid on to get her to the church on time as masses of fans converged on the stadium.

The scene for the match – the sporting one this time – was set in the programme by the stylish prose of that era’s football writers.

The Courier’s long-serving reporter Tommy Gallacher touched on events in Glasgow earlier in the year, writing: “Dundee is being presented with a heaven-sent opportunity to prove to everyone that intense rivalry need not be associated with violence of any kind. If Dundee and Dundee United achieve this then, regardless of the outcome, there may be broken hearts but no real losers.”

Locally-based journalist John Mann, working for the Daily Star at the time, declared: “On this unique day, Dundee is the capital of Scottish football.”

The late, great Dick Donnelly provided a superb article on Tannadice boss Jim McLean that must have given United fans reading it goosebumps as they awaited kick-off.

He wrote: “It was nine years ago last Wednesday that the Dens Park coach made the short trip across the road to Tannadice to succeed Jerry Kerr as manager. Long enough hidden away in the backwoods of our national sport, United have, during McLean’s reign, progressed almost beyond all recognition.”

As usual, Dick was correct and United would go on to reach even greater heights under McLean both at home and abroad.

Hegarty’s grand gesture

A huge part of the club’s success was, of course, down to legendary captain Paul Hegarty.

The central defender, even 40 years on, looks back on that day with enormous pride.

Famously, he chose not to be first to lift the cup himself but instead gifted the honour to long-serving keeper Hamish McAlpine, a generous gesture agreed upon by every other player without the goalie’s prior knowledge.

By coincidence, the aforementioned match programme had a sketch of Hamish on its front page, holding the cup along with Dark Blues’ number one Bobby Geddes.

Maybe someone knew something the rest of us didn’t…

Recalling, four decades on, how he decided to make a skipper’s sacrifice on one of his proudest days in tangerine, Hegarty said: “We had discussed it as a group before the game, without Hamish being involved.

“We were conscious of tempting fate because anything can happen in finals but we wanted to have a plan in place just in case.

“The decision was taken to let Hamish lift the trophy if we won because of the service he had given United.

“He had been through all the ups and downs over the years and we wanted to give him recognition.

“I didn’t think twice about it.

“It had happened in Spain a few times at the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid so if it was good enough for them it was good enough for us.

“We had a magnificent club servant in Hamish and wanted to do what’s right by him.

“When the time came I said to him to go ahead of me and, after some reluctance, Hamish enjoyed his moment.”

How they lined up

The teams were:

Dundee: Bobby Geddes, Les Barr, Erich Schaedler, Cammy Fraser, Bobby Glennie, George McGeachie, Peter Mackie, Ray Stephen, Eric Sinclair, Billy Williamson (replaced by Jim Shirra), Andy Geddes (rep by Brian Scrimgeour).

Dundee United: Hamish McAlpine, Dave Narey, Iain Phillip, John Holt, Paul Hegarty, Frank Kopel, Eamonn Bannon, Willie Pettigrew, Davie Dodds, Paul Sturrock, Graeme Payne.

Referee: Bob Valentine.

Attendance: 24,466.

Scorers: Dodds (45 mins), Sturrock (60 and 82).

Hegarty took us on a walk through the game as if it had happened yesterday.

After the Dark Blues had a Sinclair “goal” chalked off for a foul, Dodds put the Tangerines ahead right before half-time.

Sturrock then pounced twice for United following two Hegarty headers, the first hitting the bar and the second parried by keeper Geddes.

The United captain recalled: “Doddsie scored just before half-time with his header and I was behind him when he put it in – don’t ask why I was so high up the pitch.

“They had the ball in our net before that but there was a foul on Hamish so that didn’t count.

“It had been reasonably even until we took the lead so to score at such a vital time was brilliant for us.

“I played a big part in our next two goals, with Luggy (Sturrock) scoring after two of my headers.

“For the first I got good contact on the corner but it smacked off the bar and came down for Luggy to nod into the net.

“Because of how that goal had been scored, I was surprised when I got room inside the box again to put in another header, which was saved before Luggy made sure again.

“I was just glad that he was in the right place at the right time, not once but twice.”

Comfortable win in end

Hegarty added: “I think it was a pretty comfortable victory in the end.

“My main emotion at the final whistle was relief because you want the job done.

“I was so happy for the United fans because it was a cup win against their rivals – a Dundee derby as well as being a final.

“Can you imagine if it hadn’t gone our way?

“We would be reading articles nowadays about how Dundee upset the odds. We couldn’t have put our supporters through that!”

Hegarty pinpointed the previous season’s final against Aberdeen and that year’s semi-final second leg 3-0 success away to Celtic as the two performances that gave the Tangerines the edge for this one.

He said: “It is hard to explain just how much confidence and momentum we took from having won the trophy the year before.

“In the first final match at Hampden against Aberdeen (it finished goalless) we actually carried a lot of luck and they were the better side on the day.

“That all changed when we went to Dens for the replay, though, and we ran out deserved winners against an excellent Aberdeen team.

“We were just a confident bunch back then and believed in our ability as a group of players.

“What helped enormously for the Dundee final was having won our first bit of silverware just 12 months previously.

“We were over that first hurdle and were feeling good about going back across the road, a pitch that suited our style of play.

“Also, we had recorded an exceptional result in the semi-final by beating Celtic 3-0 at Parkhead after a draw at Tannadice in the first game. You always took heart from winning in Glasgow against one of the Old Firm.

“On the day, there was some pressure on us because we were favourites but it wasn’t a problem because of that self-belief.”

Praise for Payne

The late and much-missed Ron Scott, reporting from the Dens final under his Sunday Post byline Bill McFarlane, spoke to McLean after full-time.

The victorious boss typically deflected praise away from himself.

Instead, McLean picked out Graeme Payne for a special mention, having left him out of his line-up for the 1979 success against Aberdeen.

McLean told Ron: “I won the League Cup for my wife, two sons and especially Graeme Payne.

“Paul Sturrock was the man of the match but I’m delighted for Graeme. He typifies the best of Scottish football.

Dens Park and Tannadice. Pic: staff.

“I had to leave him out of last season’s final for tactical reasons…so I’m exceptionally pleased he had his moment of glory here.”

He also caught up with Dundee manager Donald Mackay and got an answer to the question every Dark Blues’ fan was asking when their team was read out: “Where was winger Jimmy Murphy?”

Ron reported Mackay as saying: “United treated the game like the cup-tie it was. We didn’t. It was as simple as that.”

Where was Murphy?

Asked about Murphy’s omission, Mackay added: “Jimmy was disciplined after Wednesday’s reserve game against Raith Rovers.

“Players cannot be allowed to play for Dundee when they feel like it. They must produce the whole time.”

Murphy’s absence was all the more extraordinary because of the starring role he had played in the games that got the Dens men to the final.

He scored a penalty in the shootout at Rugby Park when they edged past Kilmarnock in the third round; tormented Aberdeen at Pittodrie as Cammy Fraser’s goal sealed a superb quarter-final success; and covered every blade of grass in the 3-2 semi-final, second leg thriller against Ayr United at Dens.

For one Tannadice player, the success earned him a noteworthy city double.

Just seven years previously, midfielder Iain Phillip was in the Dundee team that lifted the League Cup at Hampden by beating Celtic thanks to Gordon Wallace’s goal.

Now he was in the United side, collecting a medal at the expense of his former club.

Sing-song in pub

The last word on the Friendly Final goes to an unnamed but happy United fan, who called the Sunday Post office that night from the Vennel Bar on the city’s Hilltown.

No doubt helped by a pint or two, he reported: “There are 70 Dundee and United supporters here and we’re all having a sing-song and enjoying ourselves. Put this on your front page. It’s the sort of thing that does the city proud.”


~ First round, first leg (August 13)

East Fife 2 United 5.

Scorers: Milne (2), Ward, Sturrock (pen), Narey.

Second leg (August 20)

United 4 East Fife 0.

Scorers: Ward (2), Hegarty, Payne.

United won 9-2 on aggregate.

~ Second round, first leg (August 27)

United 4 Cowdenbeath 0.

Scorers: Bannon (2), Sturrock, Hegarty.

Second leg (August 30)

Cowdenbeath 1 United 4.

Scorers: Hegarty, Ward (2), Sturrock.

United won 8-1 on aggregate.

~ Third round, first leg (September 3)

Motherwell 2 United 1.

Scorer: Addison.

Second leg (September 24)

United 4 Motherwell 2 (after extra time).

Scorers: Sturrock (2), Holt, Milne.

United won 5-4 on aggregate.

~ Quarter-final, first leg (October 8)

Clydebank 2 United 1.

Scorer: Bannon.

Second leg (October 29)

United 4 Clydebank 1.

Scorers: Ward (2), Sturrock, Hegarty.

United won 5-3 on aggregate.

~ Semi-final, first leg (November 12)

United 1 Celtic 1.

Scorer: Bannon.

Second leg (November 19)

Celtic 0 United 3.

Scorers: Pettigrew, Sturrock, Dodds.

United won 4-1 on aggregate.


~ Second round, first leg (August 26)

Dundee 2 Arbroath 0.

Scorer: Fletcher (2).

Second leg (August 30)

Arbroath 0 Dundee 3.

Scorers: Sinclair, Fletcher, MacLaren.

Dundee won 5-0 on aggregate.

~ Third round, first leg (September 3)

Dundee 0 Kilmarnock 0.

Second leg (September 24)

Kilmarnock 0 Dundee 0.

Dundee won 5-3 on pens. Scorers: Shirra, Fraser, Murphy, Williamson, Barr.

~ Quarter-final, first leg (October 8)

Dundee 0 Aberdeen 0.

Second leg, (October 29)

Aberdeen 0 Dundee 1.

Scorer: Fraser.

Dundee won 1-0 on aggregate.

~ Semi-final, first leg (November 5)

Ayr United 1 Dundee 1.

Scorer: Sinclair.

Second leg, (November 19)

Dundee 3 Ayr United 2.

Scorers: Williamson, Fraser, Sinclair.

Dundee won 4-3 on aggregate.