This article is an introductory piece from Gary Cocker who will launch The Herald's Dundee FC newsletter. The Dens Dispatch will begin next week.

Are we a yo-yo team? 

A gaggle of Perth-based rapscallions who grandiosely call themselves the “Fair City Ultras” unveiled a banner to that effect at McDiarmid Park, much to the chagrin of my fellow Dark Blues.

To paraphrase Shakira, sadly, the stats don’t lie. Since I was born shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dundee have suffered six relegations, celebrated six promotions, and split their time almost evenly between the top two tiers – eighteen seasons revelling in our rightful spot, the other sixteen licking our wounds, the seven in a row spanning my teenage years and early adulthood seeming like a particularly cruel trick to pull on me. 

Contrast this with other provincial sides and it’s all the more baffling. Motherwell have yet to be relegated in my lifetime – a fact my claret and amber in-laws seem to enjoy – and Kilmarnock have only had one brief spell in the second tier, ironically suffered at our hands. Whisper it, but that lot over the road have only had three second tier spells in that timeframe, too.  

Nobody chooses to support Dundee for a quiet or easy life. For every Claudio Caniggia, there have been a dozen Jordi Teijsses. Our recent history of swaying up and down the leagues like a punchdrunk boxer has, at times, been fuelled by financial largesse, turbocharged by wild managerial appointments and, on one heartbreaking occasion, by the width of a Tony Macaroni goalpost in West Lothian. Stability, competence and just some good luck have often been rare commodities.  

However – and of course there’s an overly optimistic however – could this be the start of a new era? A glorious epoch where Dundee make sensible yet ambitious signings, establish a steady foothold and returns to Hampden for the first time since Tony Blair was Prime Minister? My glass is never less than three-quarters full when it comes to Dundee, but allow me to make the case.  

Lessons have clearly been learned from our last, all-too-brief return to the Premiership. A streaky run to the playoffs led by Charlie Adam and Jason Cummings ended with the ice-cold dispatch of a bedraggled Kilmarnock side. James McPake is a manager loyal to his players, which is an admirable quality to have; however, his assertion that he would seek “evolution, not revolution” of the playing squad on our return to the top tier went as well as you’d expect. Both in number and in quality, we were found wanting and overly reliant on the mercurial talents of Fintry’s finest, and there was never a point where survival seemed likely.  

Fast forward to this summer, and the approach has been markedly different. Tony Docherty’s appointment following Gary Bowyer’s slightly bewildering departure came a little out of left field, but has so far worked out well. Although this is his first managerial gig, his years of experience alongside Derek McInnes make him a more reliable option that the in vogue temptation to appoint senior or recently retired pros, a trend already hanging like albatrosses around the necks of some in the league.  

READ MORE: Docherty hails Dundee as he questions 'soft' Celtic penalty

Most sceptical fans were quickly won over by the scale and ambition of the squad overhaul. Although two year deals were handed out to some of last season’s side in the days immediately before and after Doc’s appointment, over 20 players with first team starts departed, and – at the time of writing – 16 new bodies have been pictured grinning in a box fresh Dundee top at our training ground. Naturally, not every signing will be a success, but the core of the team has been replaced and upgraded. Joe Shaughnessy, Ricki Lamie and Trevor Carson bring experience and stability to the back line, Malachi Boateng has impressed in the middle of the park, and Scott Tiffoney and Owen Beck have combined to great effect down the left flank already. Almost every signing has been made with a clear purpose and role to fulfil, and Tony Docherty’s willingness to be tactically flexible to match the opponent and game can be facilitated by a well-balanced squad accentuated by the fruits of our youth system.

A sea of new faces, predominantly youthful but with experience in key areas, has precipitated a more intangible sense of progression. It’s hard to describe, but there is an air of quiet confidence and competence around most of what the side has done so far on the pitch. If we ignore the final 10 minutes against St Johnstone – please, let’s agree to ignore it – this Dundee side has matched up against all comers so far with a clear game plan, options off the bench, exuding an air of belonging in the top tier to the extent that only taking 5 points from our first five matches feels disappointing. Survival in the Premiership is as much about confidence and morale as it is about quality, and right now, we seem to be ticking each of those boxes. 

Proving the Fair City Ultras wrong won’t happen overnight. It takes time to erect the scaffolding of a Premiership club on and off the park, and that can all be swept away in a terrifying flash of poor judgment. Right now, though, I’m going to enjoy feeling that relegation #7 isn’t around the corner. Who knows; we might even get that trip to Hampden we've been waiting 17 years for…