Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.
Dundee United

‘We will be forced to go to the wall’: The dramatic story of Dundee United’s birth — 100 years later

October marks a month of celebration for United and its supporters.
Alan Temple
A collage of events relating to, and occurring the same time, as Dundee United's creation.
'Dundee United' played their first match 100 years ago this month. Image: DCT

October 27 will mark exactly 100 years since Dundee United took to the field for the first time.

The starting gun for a century of soaring successes and galling failures.

European adventures, Hampden heroes and a Premier Division title.

Jerry Kerr and Jim McLean; Luggy, Heggy and Narey.

All Arabs can luxuriate in that history as United exhibit a host of memorabilia, documents and artefacts at DC Thomson’s Meadowside building in the heart of Dundee this week.

A report confirming a long-awaited agreement to become Dundee United FC
A Dundee Evening Telegraph report confirming the agreement to become Dundee United. Image: DCT

However, 1923 is not merely the year when Dundee Hibernian became Dundee United and switched from green-and-white to black-and-white, complete with new crest.

It was a year of tortuous negotiations and debate with their closest rivals, while events played out amid an existential crisis as the club sought to gain admission to the Second Division of the Scottish Football League.

But from the shadow of adversity, Dundee United FC was born.

This is that story.

An existential crisis

In 1922/23, Dundee Hibs were plying their trade in the Alliance League, effectively pitting them against the reserve sides of First Division clubs.

They won just seven of their 42 fixtures that season.

An inglorious existence.

With an increasingly modest match-day support, in the shadow of their city rivals Dundee FC and bumbling along in the football wilderness, seeking a place in the old Second Division was a last roll of the dice.

“Dundee Hibs will be forced to go to the wall,” came the stark warning from club director William Hutchinson, speaking at the time, when faced with the prospect of that application being rejected.

Dundee United's badge, as of 1923
Dundee United’s badge, as of 1923.

“United may not exist at all, had it not been for the changes in 1923,” says Peter Rundo, Dundee United programme editor for 40 years and co-author of Dundee United: The Official Centenary History.

“One thing you can say with near-certainty: they wouldn’t be a league club. They were at rock bottom.”

While there is always the possibility Mr Hutchinson was indulging in hyperbole in order to gain a precious place in the Scottish Football League, this was pitched as a matter of life and death for Dundee Hibernian.

Peter Rundo, Dundee United programme editor and author
Few know the history of Dundee United as well as Peter Rundo. SNS.

The directors’ canvassing of other clubs was persistent and fierce.

And in a moment arguably more important than any name change, they were admitted to the Second Division, edging out East Stirlingshire in a second round of voting.

The birth of United

Now a league club, it was time to engineer a change of name.

That had been placed on the back-burner for fear that ditching the traditional name of Dundee Hibernian would actually hinder their chances of gaining admission to the Second Division.

Not that “Dundee United” was ever the first choice.

Indeed, Dundee City FC was registered with the Board of Trade in August 1923 and, even after the name Dundee United was ratified, the business actually remained called Dundee City Athletic Club Ltd until June 1925.

The Dundee Hibs / Dundee United minutes book
The Dundee Hibs / Dundee United minutes book, pictured, will be on display at DC Thomson’s offices.

Dundee FC objected to “Dundee City” and its tacit implication that their neighbours were the representatives of the city.

“That was the complaint, albeit you have a “City” in Manchester — for example — and, historically, that hasn’t indicated which was the bigger,” adds Rundo. “However, that is where the rancour came from.”

Something had to give.

Following a protracted period of negotiations, a compromise was struck in October of 1923.

Tom White, of the Scottish Football Association, was informed that Dundee FC would have no objection to the name “Dundee United” and the process approached its denouement.

A “woeful” start

The name Dundee United was ratified on October 17, 1923 and Dundee Hibernian played its final fixture three days later: a 3-2 win over King’s Park.

But good news, it seems, doesn’t always travel fast.

On the Saturday (October 27, 1923, below) edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph, the publication looked forward to “Dundee Hibs’” trip to Dumbarton.

A preview for Dundee Hibernian's trip to face Dumbarton, despite the club having rebranded to Dundee United
A preview for “Dundee Hibs'” trip to face Dumbarton, despite the club having rebranded. Image: DCT

And what of that historic outing to Boghead?

Well, the Prince of Wales had been on duty in Dundee to officially open Caird Hall that week, but the city’s representatives in the west produced a display that was anything but regal.

They were “whacked” by the Sons of the Rock, to quote the Dundee Evening Telegraph (below).

The report from Dumbarton 3-0 Dundee United in 1923
The report from Dumbarton 3-0 Dundee United; a historic day for the club. Image: DCT

“It definitely wasn’t an auspicious start,” adds Rundo, recalling the meek 3-0 defeat in front of around 1000 supporters.

“It was a complete and utter damp squib actually. United were woeful!”

The Prince of Wales opens Caird Hall in 1923
The Prince of Wales opens Caird Hall in 1923. Image: SNS

Indeed, Dumbarton Harp were playing Queen of the South in a nearby Scottish Cup qualifier and, for many, that proved a bigger draw that witnessing a little bit of Scottish football history.

A gradual upturn

United’s rise was far from meteoric following the rebranding; certainly nothing to suggest the club would ever be crowned champions of Scotland or lift the Scottish Cup. Even usurping Dundee as the city’s dominant force seemed a little fanciful.

“Dundee were miles ahead of United and powered by the jute industry; our team was formed by a man, Pat Reilly, who owned a bicycle repair shop on the Perth Road — there was a huge difference,” notes Rundo.

“However, there was a sharp improvement in the Second Division, with Jimmy Brownlie, the goalkeeper and manager, building a team as the season went on.”

An exhibition celebrating 100 years of Dundee United will be held at DC Thomson’s city centre HQ, pictured, from October 9 to 13. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

Fuelled by the goals of Joe O’Kane and Bobby Bauld, United’s first-ever campaign would end with a creditable ninth-placed finish in the Second Division.

Promotion would then come in 1925.

Babysteps; but a pivotal, formative period on the journey of Dundee United.