Branch History - Chapter 4

European Trips

During the great European successes of the 80's we started running buses to away matches in Europe. This took a great deal of organisation but fortunately our then secretary/treasurer Richard Robertson soon became an expert at organising these events. Richard made a good contact with a small travel agency in Edinburgh (Caledonian Travel – Trips to Europe later to become Dunedin Travel) who specialised in short trips abroad and this was to stand us in good stead later. We had reached the stage that as soon as opponents were known Richard was on the case and if a venue was reachable by coach arrangements were soon underway.. We had cut our teeth with a trip to Dublin to play Bohemians in the previous season. An article describing in full the trip to Dublin to play Bohemians is in a separate section later in the script. This is an excellent read and it shows the lessons we learned which meant we were ready to roll for the 1986/7 season and what a season it turned out to be.

It should be noted that there no Easyjet or Ryanair flights in these days so that the cost of flying was very expensive. Travel by bus was therefore the most affordable for the vast majority of supporters. There are also separate chapters (See 8 to 10) covering trips to Munchengladbach, Coleraine, Arnhem and Brondby (Denmark). These show the amount of planning that was required for these trips and in many cases the great comradeship shown by the supporters of the opposition.

The Great UEFA Cup Run

The first round was to Lens in France and we ran 2 full buses. LENS is a mining town in Northern France and we were well received by the locals. We had a piper with us and we marched through the main street of the town with our banner written in French which said "Thank you for your hospitality we are Scottish football fans not English hooligans" At that time there had been a lot of problems with the English fans abroad and it was only through contacts that Richard had with senior British Transport police officers that we were allowed on the ferry in the first place. (We had to supply a £500 Surety cheque which was handed over at Dover and returned on our return – it never was banked). See photo gallery (1986/7).

One funny story from that trip concerned one of our members who managed to miss the bus leaving Lens. Somehow or other he got a lift to Calais and rejoined the bus but for years afterwards he did not appreciate it when we sang a song popular at that time “Lost in France” A photograph of our march through the town is in the photo gallery (1986/7).

The second round was to Craiova in Romania . This was a bit too far for even Richard's planning skills but a few of our members travelled on the official team plane to Romania for the match against University Craiova. As the Iron Curtain was still in place at that time those travelling had a few tales to tell It seems that the secret police followed you down the street in Romania at that time and one United supporter got himself arrested for taking a photograph of a train at the railway station.

Our members who were there will never forget the poor quality of the food (Beetroot soup and pork and chips) and how Jim McLean provided a bag of Mars Bars to keep them going. Our members were amazed then they met up with some United supporters from East Germany who had travelled by train all the way to Romania They could not travel outside Eastern Europe but travelled hundreds of miles to watch United behind the Iron Curtain.. A good friendship was struck up but when we sent a parcel of souvenirs sometime later it seemed to disappear on route and we never heard from them again. They did appear again at a match in Czechoslovakia (sew photo gallery (1986/7)). A full article on this trip is in chapter 8.

The third round was in Yugoslavia at Spljt and all we could do was watch it on the TV. As the away leg was on TV in the afternoon I think quite a few United fans threw a sickie that day.

Then came the big one, Barcelona in the quarter final. We had already beaten them home and away in an earlier meeting but no one gave us much of a chance. We ran 3 buses to the home game and when Kevin Gallacher scored to give us a 1-0 first leg lead we were ready for a trip to Barcelona for the second leg even although it was a very long bus trip. There is a picture in the photo gallery (1986/7) showing our supporters gathering ready to leave for the long journey.

There are many tales about our trip to Barcelona and maybe one day some of our members who were there will go on the record and tell us about it but from what I have heard some of it is maybe best left untold. One of the lasting memories of that match was seeing Gordon Inglis on TV celebrating the victory on the terracing at the Nou Camp at the end of the match while the Barca fans showed their white handkerchiefs in surrender. Goals by John Clark and Iain Ferguson saw us through to a 2-1 victory even although Barca scored first. Another great night to remember... For those members who could not travel to Barcelona we arranged for a big screen at The Telecoms club at Gorgie Rd and what a night we had there. The town was full of Welsh supporters as they were due to play at Murrayfield on the Saturday. They all became United supporters for the night and joined in our celebrations and what a night we had.

The UEFA Cup semi-final

This was a great occasion and a journey never to be forgotten. It would be fair to say that this was the most eventful journey we had ever experienced. We took 3 buses and over 160 supporters and some of us will never forget the events of that journey. Running a supporters' club can sometimes prove stressful with buses arriving late and on the odd occasion breaking down but nothing could prepare our committee members who were in charge of the bus that went on fire on the way to Germany for the stress that they experienced. As with the trip to Manchester the previous year we arrived at the stadium 5 minutes before kick off which was leaving things a bit tight considering we had started out from Edinburgh at 6.00 the night before. A photograph of our supporters heading for Germany can be seen in the photo gallery (1986/7).

After the first leg when the Germans passed us off the pitch even although we held out for a 0-0 draw we were not travelling full of optimism but we felt we had an outside chance. The stadium was packed and the fans were very close to the pitch. The United support was augmented by a fair number of British soldiers who were stationed in that area of Germany. When Iain Ferguson scored in the first half the German crowd was really silenced and Ian Redford's second goal minutes from full time was the icing on the cake. At full time the United fans went mad and the players all came over to thank us for our support. There were a lot of tears in a lot of eyes that night. After the game we crossed the border back into Holland and had a night to remember. The full story of this trip is given in the separate chapter " The Saga of Munchengladbach”

The UEFA Cup Final

The Build up to the Final

It was really something to be a United fan in those days. Our achievement in reaching the final was recognised by everyone in Scottish football. United got saturation newspaper coverage and when you went to your local pub fans of other teams were keen to talk to you instead of recognising you as that strange case in the corner who supports Dundee United. At some away league matches the United team were applauded on to the park and the home team made a corridor of honour to clap us on to the pitch. As with the 2 previous matches the demand for tickets was frantic. Life for committee members especially those taking bookings was really hectic with calls coming in at all times of night and day.

Committee members' phones just never stopped ringing as old friends came out of the woodwork. It has to be remembered there were no emails at that time so all ordering of bus seats and tickets had to be done by phone. The script for each call could easily be forecast. "Hi there", "Haven't see you for a while", "How'z it going" and by the way "I don't suppose you have any spare tickets"?

Davie Doig’s T-Shirt

One memory from those days was of the late Davie Doig, a committee member of the branch who sadly died at an early age. He was an ardent United supporter who never missed a match and he was determined to go to the final. In order to raise the funds Davie designed and had manufactured a special commemorative tee shirt. It featured a map of Europe with all of the countries we had played on the way to the final highlighted. In the weeks before the final Davie could be seen outside Tannadice selling his tee shirts. They proved to be very popular and Davie raised enough money to go to the final. One wonders if any of our members still have one of the tee shirts? There is a rumour that one of our former members was trying to sell one on Ebay the internet auction house earlier this year. A picture of Dave’s special edition tee shirt is in the picture gallery (1986/7).

And so to the Final

After the fantastic season we had had we just had to organise transport to Gothenburg for the final. Richard as usual, was ahead of the field and had the idea to charter a ferry to sail from Dundee which could take all the United supporters who wished to attend and so he set out to get a price. When the answer came back, to say we were shell shocked was not an overstatement. £350,000 pounds sterling paid in advance plus £100,000 surety against any damage was just a wee bit more than we had been anticipating so that was the end of that idea. A copy of the fax detailing the price can be in the photo gallery (1986/7). As a result all we could do was to run a bus to Gothenburg and so we did with around 30 brave souls setting out on a journey that took over 2 days to get there and another 2 to get back and cost over £90 each.

There was no overnight accommodation so basically it was sleep on the bus for 4 nights in a row. The Hull ferry would not take football supporters at that time so Richard really had his work out to arrange a feasible itinerary. But as usual he did even although it meant travelling down to Dover and then going back up north through France, Belgium , Holland , Germany and Denmark. That sure was some journey involving 3 different ferries but those who went did seem to enjoy the occasion and from all accounts made a fortune by selling their booze to the Swedes and it is understood that the Swedish blondes made quite an impression on some of our members.

This was, of course, followed by the second leg at home when a John Clark goal in a 1-1 draw was not quite good enough to lift the trophy. United fans gave our team and the Gothenburg players a great reception that night. This was a very emotional night and once again many tears were shed. We then ran 3 buses to the Scottish Cup Final against St Mirren which we lost 1-0. Unfortunately it was a sad end to a great season.

Defeated but not Downhearted

This had been a fantastic season for the branch and the committee felt they were running a business rather than a football supporters club. When you remember that there were no emails or mobile phones and many matches were all ticket, with a very strong demand for tickets, you will get a feel for the demands which were made on the committee.

We had 3,500 supporters in our buses that season (in 2006/7 season we had 500) and in total over £35,000 passed through our books. In fact, we made a profit of £500. Again to give a greater insight to the level of activity that season a copy of the Income and Expenditure account for the season is in the picture gallery(1986/7). This shows that we even sponsored a player and had a match ball sponsorship that season.

By the end of the season the committee members were exhausted and were really glad to reach the end of the season, get a rest and be ready for next season.

United Fans: The Best Behaved In The World

In recognition of their behaviour during the cup run and at the final itself United fans were awarded a Fairplay Award by FIFA and the Edinburgh and Lothians' branch would be entitled to claim that they were right up there setting an example throughout the season with all our European travels. The Fairplay Stand at Tannadice is a lasting memory of that award.

One has to remember that at that time all football fans were barred from the ferries because of bad behaviour and The Scottish Football Association had imposed a ban on fans travelling abroad. It was therefore with great difficulty that we managed to receive permission to travel and we had to have a £500 surety for our behaviour for the first trip to Lens.

Here are a few excerpts from newspaper cuttings of the time:

After the Lens match a quote from the Managing Director of Sealink Ferries in a letter to our branch. “The manner in which your association conducted itself was a splendid example to other clubs”

From the same match a quote from Inspector Dennis Temporal of the British Transport Police in a letter to our branch secretary said “One of my officers travelled with the United supporters on the Ferries between Dover and Calais and basically his comments were that the Dundee United fans, the supporters’ club and all travelling with them were probably the best I have ever escorted”

After the Munchengladbach match a quote from a letter sent to the Firm who organised our travel from the Director of the Sports Centre at Maastricht where we stayed overnight. “After the Dundee United fans left I felt I had to write to you. I felt I had to give the fans and you my compliments about how everything was arranged and how everybody behaved. As the fans from your country have a bad reputation for behaviour this group proved that there are also fans who do not make trouble”. Please pass on this letter to the Board of Dundee United Football Club”.

The full articles can be read in the picture gallery 1986/7 section.

These awards did not come by accident and great efforts were made by the committee to ensure that everything ran smoothly and problems were avoided. In the picture Gallery there are copies of the rules we set out for the behaviour of our fans. Our general rule was enjoy yourself but do not overdo things.

To reward the organisers of the supporters’ clubs a special hospitality day was held at Tannadice before a home match and Ken Smith and Jim Gardiner represented the branch. A picture of the group can be seen in the picture gallery (Special relationship) At that time there were only a few official supporters’ clubs and we were the only one from outside Edinburgh.