The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 15

August 4, 2009

The Forgotten Ones – Number 17 – The Tangerine Terrors

Recent articles in TAG concerning Tayside football have reminded me of the three happy years I spent as a long-haired layabout in Dundee between 1972-75. My Saturday afternoons were spent alternately at Dens and Tannadice. Dundee had a terrific side during that period, and in Scott, Wallace and Duncan they had the most potent attack in the country. Visits to Dens Park were devoted to the seriously heavy business of viewing regular stuffings being handed out to all-corners. Trips to Tannadice, on the other hand, were purely for the purposes of having a good laugh. Jim McLean’s seemingly endless reign as Tannadice supremo had just started, and he had not yet had the opportunity of turning United into the dour, efficient, humourless outfit that we all know and love today. United had, at that time, earned the soubriquet of “the Terrors “, as positive proof that Dundonians possessed a cruel streak of sarcastic humour. A less terrifying side would have been difficult to imagine.

This Charming Man

Nevertheless, to me, they were a team of stars. Every time I now see Walter Smith on the telly, adopting the role of the paternalistic elder statesman, I can barely suppress a chuckle. Terrors fans remember “Wattie” as a lumbering, flat-footed, half-witted head case, who demonstrated week in week out that he was utterly devoid of co-ordination or any other attribute commonly associated with professional footballers. Amongst his team-mates were such as Gorgeous George “white boots” Fleming, capable of remarkable brilliance and appalling, er, appallingness in equal measures; Tommy Traynor, who had a skinhead haircut that made Jimmy Johnstone look like Lemmy. Sometimes he played like Johnstone, but most of the time he played like Lemmy; Frank Kopel, whose haircut featured in TAG 14. There were constant rumours that Frank was the owner of a European Champions Cup Winners medal, having allegedly been part of Manchester Utd’ s 1968 squad. No-one who ever saw him play could have taken this story remotely seriously: Kenny Cameron was a tremendously exciting and prolific goal-scorer. He lived just round the corner from me, and I used to see him on a Saturday morning, looking seriously hung-over, visiting the corner shop for his week’s supply of Benson and Hedges. Four hours later he’d be kicking off at Tannadice, prototype Arthur Scargill haircut flapping in a non-existent breeze: Hamish McAlpine in goal – the modern age of the psycho keeper starts here – further comment would be superfluous: Graeme Payne, who was the best player on Tayside at that time, and that includes a young Gordon Strachan to whom he bore a passing resemblance. Payne was kicked out of football (says he bitterly) by players not fit to (insert appropriate cliche): Paul Hegarty, a converted centre-forward. Converted to what was never made completely clear: Jackie Copeland, one of the first victims of Jim McLean’s insane policy of requiring all the players to live on Tayside; then there was Jim Henry and Andy Rolland, both craziness incarnate; this mob were captained by Dougie Smith. Wattie and Dougie were the original “Smiths” and were clearly the inspiration for Morrissey’s gang. Wattie, it was really nothing.



Occasionally, just occasionally, this crew would, by some weird alchemy, transubstantiate themselves from the piss-water of mediocre apprentices into the vintage wine of unbeatable sorcerers (I feel an appearance in Pseud’s Corner coming on – ­Ed). Part of the excitement of going to Tannadice was that you never knew which United persona would appear. Would it be “the Terrors” in full cry, demolishing the opposition with breathtaking brilliance, or would it be Wattie and Dougie (literally) falling over each other to smack in the first o.g. of the afternoon?

I remember one occasion when it was the lunatic eleven who took the field. Early on, Hamish came dashing out of his box to avert some real or imagined danger. Inevitably, he became entangled with an opponent some twenty yards outside the area, and while he paused to debate a number of interesting issues arising from the incident, another opposition player lofted a high chip-shot from near the half-way line towards the untended goal. Dougie Smith sprinted (I use that word very loosely) back towards the goal line, eyes unwaveringly fixed on the rapidly descending ball. It was obvious to the watching multitudes what was going to happen, and it duly did. In an eerie forerunner of Gordon McQueen’s magnificent Hampden effort some years later, Dougie collided at maximum velocity with the goalpost at the precise instant when the ball struck the bar. Thereafter the ball inconsiderately dropped down onto the head of the prostrate and now unconscious Smith, and from there bounced unmolested into the empty net. How many disasters can happen simultaneously? A broken goalpost, Smith stretchered off and an own goal conceded. How we all laughed.

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

Of course, Jim McLean couldn’t tolerate this sort of unpredictability, however entertaining it was, and quickly began to introduce a much more professional attitude, while at the same time bringing a series of outstanding young players into the side. I was privileged to see Sturrock, Narey and Gray make their debuts for the side and quickly establish themselves as regulars. The seeds were sown then of a United team who were genuinely to deserve the “Terrors” title, a team which became trophy winners rather than also-rans, a team to reach a European final, a team studded with internationalists rather than headless chickens, and, regrettably, a team which has become one of the “Big Five”. I haven’t been to Tannadice for some years, but as an interested outside observer, it seems to me that, during the metamorphosis from “Mickey Mouse outfit” to “contenders”, most of the joy has gone out of United and their fans. The supporters of opposition teams now suffer real heartsink when it’s their turn to play United. Everyone knows that they will be clinical, cynical and boring. They are now synonymous with consistent and turgid predictability. They are past masters at “closing down” games. It’s only very occasionally that the old mad exuberance gets out to play (and when that happens the offending players get docked a week’s wages). I suppose there’s no pleasing everybody, and I’m one of those awkward buggers who hankers after the days of rampant unpredictability, in which riotous magnificence was casually mingled with dreadful incompetence as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

Jim McLean must take the credit for United’s achievements, but must also shoulder the blame for them being currently unlovely and unloved. With each passing year, Jim’s po-faced pomposity becomes ever more inflated. It’s perhaps time to remember that Dundonians used to christen local players with nick-names borrowed from Dundee’s most famous export – kids’ comics. Thus, George Mclean (no relation) was “Dandy”, while David Johnston was “Biffo”. Meanwhile, Jolly Jim, the player, rejoiced in the nom-du-guerre of “Corky”. Jim might be less sour-faced if this moniker were revived. Just imagine Jock Brown’s post-match interview beginning, “Well, Corky, were you satisfied with today’s performance?” .

When I used to stand on the terracing, there was a wee old man who always stood just in front of me, and at five past three every Saturday without fail he would shout, “C’mon McLean, get the subs on for fuck sake “. The beauty of it was that, in these days, McLean sometimes used to oblige. Mental as anything. Those were the Tangerine Terrors, early 70s vintage.


2 Responses to “The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 15”

  1. Do you by any chance remember a Scotland international right back called Bobby Robinson who played for Dundee (and possibly United as well) around that time?

    He was my English teacher when I was at high school in the 1990s but could still be tempted to come out of retirement for staff v pupils matches. While he was a mere footnote in the history of Scottish football, it was obvious every time he touched the ball that he was by far the best player any of us would ever share a pitch with.

  2. almax Says:

    I remember him well – playing for Dundee.

    He was a whole-hearted reliable attacking full back

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