Skip to content

Patrick Barclay, Chief Football Writer, The Times

As a definition of the phrase “unreasonable expectations”, the effect on my adolescence of the Shankly years at Dundee Football Club would be hard to beat. 

Shankly? While the name is likely to evoke images of Bill, the father of the great Liverpool institution that came to rule Europe four times between 1977 and 1984 will always be The Other Shankly – at least to us. Bob was Bill’s elder brother and the first of the two to win a major trophy as a manager. The first to make a mark on Europe as well. And what a vivid mark it was. 

The Scottish title, secured in 1961/2, had been remarkable enough. I began supporting Dundee, then the leading club of the city in which I was schooled, a couple of years before Shankly was appointed in 1959. We had never been champions. And yet, having lain down the gauntlet by beating Rangers 5-1 at Ibrox, we took the title just as majestically on a spring day at Perth, confirming our supremacy with the emphasis of a 3-0 triumph that relegated St Johnstone (featuring a young striker called Alex Ferguson). 

Yet we had only begun the self-pinching process. Next came the European Cup and, since no British club had yet reached the final, let alone won the competition later to develop into the Champions League, our view was that inexperience on this stage might cause our heroes embarrassment, especially as the first- round draw had pitted them against Cologne, the champions of West Germany. We just hoped the apparently inevitable defeat would be of respectable proportions. 

After 13 minutes of the first leg at Dens Park, the score was 3-0. To us! By half-time it was 5-0. Cologne had been hit by a whirlwind of attacking endeavour led by Alan Gilzean, who ended up with a hat-trick as Dundee obtained an 8-1 advantage to take into the return match. 

We were to need it, for a contributory factor had been a head injury suffered by the German goalkeeper in the first half and, coincidentally or otherwise, retribution was obtained after 27 minutes in Cologne when Bert Slater, our own keeper, had to be taken off to have his scalp stitched. Although he returned to play outfield in the second half – the elegant midfielder Andy Penman deputised between the posts – there were worrying moments before an 8-5 aggregate was etched in our club’s history. 

It proved no freak. Dundee convincingly overcame Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht before losing in the semi-finals to Milan. The dream was real and later good judges would mention that team in the same breath as Jock Stein’s Celtic, the Lisbon Lions who finally broke through the European barrier in 1967. But to have stood behind that Provost Road net as the goals flew past Cologne was to have experienced the ether of football and I shall never forget it, any more than recover the banner I dropped in the excitement. 

We got to the Scottish Cup final the next season, but Gilzean had gone, the team was breaking up and in 1965 the Shankly years ended. There followed decades of gradual re-education and we no longer expect to be taking on Milan. But we do have our memories.

Posted in: ,