Dundee’s soccer rivalry lacks the bitterness of Scotland’s derbies in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Acrimony can still surface in the City of Discovery when players cross the 200 yards separating Dundee’s Dens Park from Dundee United’s Tannadice Park.
Former striker Ian Scott found the reaction from Tannadice officials to be more troublesome than any supporters’ backlash when he traded Dundee United’s recently adopted tangerine jerseys for the dark blue of Dundee in March 1971.
Scott had featured in 29 games for United during the 1969-70 season, starting on 25 occasions and scoring seven goals. He found himself marginalized the following year as manager Jerry Kerr preferred to pair Alan Gordon with Kenny Cameron, Ian Reid or Morris Stevenson. Scott requested a release from his United contract in March 1971 after making only two starts and five substitute appearances that season.
“I asked Jerry to give me my wages until the end of the season,” Scott told The Soccer Observer. “I was on first-team bonuses that they would save, so I got £900 out of them.”
Scott returned to Tannadice the next evening to watch a game, unaware that Dundee manager John Prentice had been trying to contact him. Dees players John Duncan and Doug Houston were also in attendance, and they informed Scott that Prentice and his assistant, Jim McLean, wanted to meet him the following morning.
“I had a wife and two boys to look after,” said Scott, who joined United’s near neighbors within three days of leaving Tannadice.
“The next thing, Jerry was phoning me up wanting his money back.”
Scott was a 19-year-old apprentice engineer with electronics firm Ferranti when Dundee United staved off competition from second-tier English clubs to sign him from junior side Musselburgh Athletic in 1966. Norwich City had offered Scott a £1,000 bonus to turn professional, while Bury were prepared to pay him £650.
“At that time you were wary about your job,” Scott said. “I thought I needed to do another year so if I didn’t make it in football I could go back.”
Kerr offered Scott the best of both worlds. He could remain at his job in Edinburgh and travel to Dundee for part-time training until his apprenticeship ended later in the year.
“In hindsight, I should have went to Norwich,” Scott confessed. “ But anyway, Jerry said he’d speak to the club’s directors to see what they could give me.
“I went up for pre-season training in the August and I got £20 less tax. Seventeen pounds.”
Future Scottish coaching legend Walter Smith had been lured to Tannadice by a similar ruse at the time Scott joined the club.
“But Walter’s dad went up to see Jerry Kerr,” Scott said. “So Walter got £300 in the end.”
United had struggled in Scotland’s second division for most of their existence until Kerr arrived from Alloa Athletic in 1959 to transform the club. The former carpenter possessed an astute eye for spotting top class talent. He had already launched the career of Tottenham Hotspur’s double-winning forward John White at Alloa, and future Liverpool center-half Ron Yeats blossomed at Tannadice as Kerr masterminded United’s promotion at his first attempt.
Dundee were crowned as Scotland’s champions in 1962 and the Dens Park side reached the following season’s European Cup semi-final before falling to eventual winners A.C. Milan. Along Tannadice Street, United’s dressing rooms still contained one large sink bath with one tap for the entire team to wash themselves in. The gap between the clubs was about to close. United’s ambitious directors established a lottery called Taypools to raise funds for stadium improvements and player purchases.
Scott’s first year, the 1966-67 campaign, saw Kerr’s men oust reigning Fairs Cup holders Barcelona from Europe with wins in Spain and Scotland. They defeated Jock Stein’s all-conquering Celtic home and away during the league season, drawing praise from multimillionaire American sports promoter Lamar Hunt.
United had been invited to represent Hunt’s Dallas Tornado franchise during the 1967 United Soccer Association summer league – a forerunner to the North American Soccer League. Their adventure features in the new book “Summer Of ’67: Flower Power, Race Riots, Vietnam and the Greatest Soccer Final Played on American Soil” by The Soccer Observer founder Ian Thomson.
United had finished higher than their neighbors in consecutive league seasons to break into Scotland’s top five teams by the time of Scott’s departure. Kerr’s prudence had not changed, and he sought to reclaim the monies paid to his former employee who had quickly found work across the street.
“Do you remember when you diddled me, Jerry?” came Scott’s response.
A few scowls and snide remarks were aimed in Scott’s direction. His weekly visit to a local pub on Dundee’s Clepington Road for a quick beer and catch-up with a pair of elderly neighbors riled five diehard United fans sitting at the bar. Scott approached the group. He explained that he was a Hearts supporter from Edinburgh that was more concerned with providing for his young family and bought them a round of drinks.
“They accepted it,” Scott recalled. “Then about half an hour later they sent over a few beers for me and the two older guys.”
Kerr retired in November 1971 after taking United as far as he thought he could. At Dens, Prentice stepped aside around the same time to be replaced by former Rangers manager David White.
“We were about to play A.C. Milan in the UEFA Cup and Jim McLean wanted to see me upstairs in his room to tell him about the United players and directors,” Scott recalled. “He didn’t see eye to eye with Davie White, so that’s why Jim moved over the road.”
White led the Dark Blues to a 1973 League Cup Final triumph over Celtic with Scott remaining on the bench as an unused substitute. It was the last major trophy to make its way into the Dens Park trophy cabinet. Scott joined the police after retiring from professional soccer in 1975, aged 29, and Dundee were relegated from Scotland’s newly created 10-team Premier League one year later after finishing behind United on goal difference.
The balance of power on Tayside had shifted, and McLean transformed United into perennial challengers for Scotland’s honors during the late 1970s and 1980s.
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