DUNDEE'S players and fans will make the short, traditional walk along Tannadice Street for the first competitive Dundee derby in seven years today.
It is a walk I have made many times, and in both directions. By the end, whether as an experienced striker for Dundee United or assistant manager for Dundee, I was an old hand at the fixture. I used to get pelters from the opposite set of fans, whoever it was I played for, but things were always fine at the end. I had the right temperament for it by then, I was the right age. I knew what I was doing and I always just tried to calm the situation.
But I will never forget one of my first encounters of the match, which saw me end up in a rammy with my own chairman. His name was Malcolm Reid, but everyone called him Molly. It was at Dens Park, back in April 1993, and I got myself sent off when the game was 0-0. Freddie van der Hoorn elbowed me off the ball so I kicked him back, the linesman spotted me, and that was the end of the derby for me. United just went goal after goal after that, the match finished 4-0, and just as our manager Jim Duffy was about to talk to us Molly kicked the dressing room door in and started demanding answers.
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Jim said he wasn't prepared to speak until the chairman left the room, then Molly – who was a hard man but a good man and a fair man – said "where is that little b******" and started walking towards me. I had a bottle of water at the time and was so distraught about it all that I didn't even think.
It looked like he was going to hit me, so I threw the bottle at him in self defence. It gathered pace and hit him straight in the face and smashed his specs. He went beserk, and quite rightly so, but luckily for me a couple of the boys – Alan Dinnie and Steve Pittman – backed me up. I didn't speak to him for about six months but Molly and I made our peace and now have total respect for one another. I saw him about two years later when I went back there with United, and I saw him again after we beat Dundee in the Coca Cola Cup final with Aberdeen. He stayed behind to wait for me and the two of us had a cuddle.
That was back when I was a young lad with peroxide blonde hair and I used to noise up the United fans a bit, but looking back it was probably the jolt I needed to help me mature. I scored eight goals in the fixture in all, but the ones which stick out the most were a penalty in a 1-0 Dundee win at Tannadice in 1992, and scoring both as Dundee United fought back from 2-0 down at Tannadice for a 2-2 draw in 2004. Even though they were giving me dogs' abuse, I didn't go to the Dundee fans, and some of them even clapped me at the end.
But today's game is about a new set of players, and I can't wait. Although United won 3-0 in pre-season, that was a friendly, or as friendly as these games can ever be. I spoke to plenty of people at United after the game and they said the result flattered United so I expect a tough game.
A lot of people picked Dundee to go down this season. I didn't. I think they might stay up due to their team spirit and their support. They have been left short due to the timing of the SPL set-up, but if Barry Smith can get one or two more faces in, they might just sneak it. I have played for clubs that hardly carry any fans and it is demoralising when you go out and there are only about 100 fans there. But if there are 2000 to 3000 it really drives you on. United will probably just sneak it today, but it would hardly be a surprise if their players and fans were a bit anxious.
CRAIG Levein doesn't have a case to answer with the Ian Black row. He only said it would be harder to pick players in the Third Division, not impossible, but what I would say to the big man is that now is the time to make allies, not enemies. His detractors are starting to compile a list: they will look at the 4-6-0 formation, not getting a play-off place, the 5-1 hammering to the USA, beating Liechtenstein in the last minute, and the Steven Fletcher situation.
I am not saying he should bow down over this one, but barring a daily newspaper from press conferences for me is choosing the wrong path. If things go wrong next month, certain people really will be gunning for him.