St Andrews will always be the Home of Golf.
But its reputation as a perfect training base for elite football is adding to the Fife coastal town’s sporting status.
Manchester United have arrived there to prepare for the start of their league season, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the latest in a long line of managers who have made that choice.
🏴 United are on to the next phase of pre-season with some familiar faces back among the group 👊#MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 3, 2021
Courier Sport traces the history of the university facility, which has been Dundee United’s Monday to Friday home for over a decade and the summer camp for some of the best players in the world.
Jim McLean establishes the Dundee United and St Andrews connection
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the legendary Tannadice manager was occasionally arrange friendly games against the university’s first team for the club’s under-18 side.
The off-field surroundings were nothing like today’s state-of-the-art ones but the main pitch, known locally as ‘The Carpet’, was as a superb surface even then.
The students would get a story to tell their grandchildren and the up-and-coming stars would get the chance to catch the eye of a hard-to-impress taskmaster looking to see how the youngsters like Christian Dailly, Duncan Ferguson or Andy McLaren would deal with the ‘game of their life’ mentality of their opponents, possibly still working off hangovers from 90p-a-pint beer in the Students Union the night before.
One such match was arranged in 1992, at the conclusion of which legend has it McLean fined the United kids their week’s wages for only winning 1-0.
Dundee United make it their home
Craig Brewster was the first Tangerines manager to use the St Andrews University pitches – just two of them at this point – for first team training.
But it wasn’t until Craig Levein’s arrival that it became a permanent base.
Speaking on the 10th anniversary of United’s partnership with St Andrews in 2016, the university’s director of sport and exercise, Stephen Stewart, said: “When I moved here, Craig contacted me and we talked about bringing the United squad over.
“If it wasn’t for him, the permanent move might not have taken place. When Dundee University learned he was thinking of coming, they had talks with United.
“Fair play to them, it was good business, but by then Craig felt he’d committed to us. He was the driving force.”
The changing rooms and catering facilities have been upgraded over the years and the number of grass and artificial pitches has grown, supplemented by a gym that wasn’t even in existence in McLean’s time.
United obviously pay a significant rent and there was talk of the club moving back to Dundee as part of their post-relegation cost-cutting.
But the decision was made to stay at St Andrews – a wise one given the fact that not only do the their players get to train on immaculate pitches, the venue has the ‘wow factor’ that helps convince potential new recruits to sign.
Barcelona come to town
In the summers of 2007 and 2008 St Andrews was touched by football greatness.
Barcelona, arguably the most iconic club of them all, elevated the status of the training base by association.
Both pre-season visits – and matches against United at Tannadice while they were there – have entered local folklore.
And the ‘08 one still has true sporting historic resonance.
It was the first week of the Pep Guardiola era and possibly the finest player there has ever been, Lionel Messi, was part of the squad.
The Argentine would go on to become a superstar, Guardiola’s team the closest to attain footballing perfection and St Andrews would be an option other big clubs would choose for their training camps in view of Barca’s satisfaction with their east of Scotland experience.
When Sir Alex Ferguson brought his Manchester United side there mid-season in 2012, he asked for the ‘Barcelona pitch’, which had been laid to the La Liga giants’ specifications.
But after the United coaching team saw the quality of other ones (the Barca surface had been used in the early months of the Scottish campaign) on a reconnaissance trip they were perfectly happy to switch.
What’s good enough for the Red Devils was subsequently good enough for their ‘Noisy Neighbours’.
Two years later Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side stayed for a week, playing against Dundee and Hearts while in Scotland.
Such is the size and quality of the place now, it can accommodate two squads at the same time, even though current Dundee United boss Tam Courts has admitted he’d rather have it to himself.
West Ham United and Everton are among many others who have left as happy customers.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 3, 2021
There won’t be many guarantees for Solskjaer this season. That he will be satisfied with his St Andrews stay can be taken as a given, though.