WHEN the new manager of Dundee and his chief executive drove up to Parkhead yesterday, the Celtic stewards advised them to take the car all the way to the front door.
The offer – generously made to spare them potential hostility from supporters – was politely declined. John Brown is a loud and proud Rangers man and an obvious target for verbal abuse from more excitable Celtic fans, but he told Scot Gardiner that they should park in the usual space. "We walked in with our heads held high," said Gardiner.
It's not Celtic's fans the pair of them really have to worry about, of course, it's Dundee's. There are plenty on Tayside who will snort at the idea that Gardiner can hold his head high after taking full responsibility for going to Brown and appointing him as Barry Smith's successor for the rest of the season. It's gone down like a lead balloon with supporters who liked Smith and regard Brown – albeit a fine player for the club – as a failed manager undeserving of their job.
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Dundee are in such disarray over the issue that only one of their directors, Maurice Kidd, was at Parkhead to represent the board yesterday. Three more are said to be considering their position because of the mushroom cloud of anger about Smith's dismissal and Brown's appointment.
It was to Gardiner's credit, at least, that he spoke to a handful of us after Dundee had suffered their 5-0 going-over from Celtic. Melting away without being seen or heard would have been the easier option. What was abundantly clear from his briefing was that Brown is Gardiner's kind of guy. He talked admiringly of his character and integrity, and what a great servant he was to Dundee as a player. The disrespect shown to him since Saturday had been disgraceful, he said. He stressed that he is manager only on an interim basis until the end of the season, and that many other coaches will be considered to take the job permanently. More experienced managers weren't up for taking the job only until the summer, supposedly.
The calibre of the permanent appointment will depend on whether Dundee get buttons as a first division club or £450,000-or-so if they go down under the proposed new league structure. "I wasn't going to put the club at risk – gamble everything – by giving someone a [long-term] contract," said Gardiner. He talked of Sunday's William Hill Scottish Cup tie against Dundee United as if it was World War III and the only Field Marshal he could think of was Brown. Yet when Brown was at Clyde they were relegated from the first division and then bottom of the second when was sacked in 2009.
Not exactly an irresistible cv? "It didn't go well in his second season," Gardiner conceded. "But I know exactly what his budget was in that second season and Jose Mourinho couldn't have done anything with that budget at Clyde. He was paying guys £40 and £60 a week. He was highly respected at other clubs and has won everything there is to win in the Scottish game."
Despite meeting the players on Saturday he had not taken the team at Parkhead because "he didn't even know the guys' names."
Gardiner came out fighting yesterday but he looked wounded by the episode, clearly surprised by the intensity of the negative reaction. But the point remains: no matter how he dresses it up, it is a baffling appointment. Brown has not had a manager's job since being sacked by Clyde, they were relegated under him, he has never been in charge of a top-flight club, and it had seemed as if he had gone to ground since standing on the doorstep of Ibrox last summer and doing his best to assemble a lynch mob to get Charles Green out of Rangers. That excruciating episode did huge damage to his credibility.
Gardiner will never get most supporters to buy into the notion that Brown has done enough to deserve the job. Many see it only as an old pals' act between two friends who used to work together at Rangers.
What's happened at Dundee is a valuable reminder that a club being owned or run by supporters is not always the dreamy idyll that many would have us believe. A fans group owns the majority shareholding at Dundee and elected three of the directors who faced that merciless grilling on Saturday night. They may be there to act for the fans, but by approving the replacement of Smith with Brown they misread their mood and wishes.
Unwisely, Gardiner tried to downplay the significance of the objections. "There was a backlash from some fans at a meeting with the board but that backlash had started before anything had been mentioned about the interim manager. Just because there was a backlash at a meeting with a number of fans, of 70-80 people, that doesn't speak for everyone."
Maybe not every single one, but the majority view is pretty obvious. Good luck to Brown, he's done nothing wrong here and maybe he'll surprise everyone. But Dundee fans – with their pride in Steel, Cox, Hamilton and Gilzean, being champions in 1962, reaching a European Cup semi-final, winning domestic cups – simply feel the guys in charge of their club have sold it short.