Ralph Milne: A Fabulous Fifteen

This is a slightly edited version on an article written by DUFC Archive team members: Niall Harkiss, Bryan Orr, Ally Stewart, Ben Nicholson and John Myles, for the official Dundee United match-day programme last year. The article was written shortly after the passing of Ralph Milne, Dundee United’s all-time highest goalscorer in European competition and therefore the article details each one of his fifteen European strikes for the club. 

ralph-milne-2
Above: Ralph Milne pictured during season 1983/84.

Goal #1

September 1981. Johnstone Grant spoke earlier in the week of the great honour it would be for Tannadice to be graced (pardon the pun) by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, as AS Monaco travelled to Dundee for the second leg of their UEFA Cup 1st Round tie. United took a 5-2 aggregate lead into the game, following their trip to the principality two weeks prior. Come the night of the game, a nervy United support watched the Tannadice side fall to a 2-0 deficit just before the hour mark, as Ralf Edström and Bruno Bellone notched in the second half to reduce the score to 5-4. Fingernails were at a premium as the United support watched on in fear of a Monaco ‘equaliser’. It was up to Ralph Milne to come to the rescue. With seven minutes left on the clock, Milne, who had come on for Payne just seven minutes before, netted to ease the fears of Arabs, incresing the aggregate score to 6-4 to see them through, with what would be his first European goal in United colours.

Goal #2

The same season, United’s UEFA Cup second round glamour tie against German giants Borussia Mönchengladbach began with a 2-0 defeat away in the first leg in October. In the second leg at Tannadice, the goal couldn’t come quick enough, and on 36 minutes, it was that man Milne again that set Arab heart-rates to rest as he cooly swept the ball home first time from a neat Paul Sturrock pass. A goal from Kirkwood levelled matters before half time and Sturrock, Hegarty and Bannon added further goals to record one of the greatest results in United’s history to advance to the third round.

Goals #3 & #4

In the third round, United drew a blank Belgium against KFC Winterslag, leaving all the work to be done in the second leg in Dundee, and after Bannon, Narey and Hegarty had given United a half time 3-0 lead, it was down to Ralph Milne to add the finishing touches to secure the Terrors’ second 5-0 win of the campaign. Davie Dodds, collecting a loose ball, hit a cross into the box where Milne was waiting to force a fierce header past de Bruyne. Iain Phillip was the provider for Milne’s second as he sent in a cross for Milne, and the imposing winger glanced a header in at the goalkeeper’s far post to round off the scoring.

Goals #5 & #6

In the second round of the 1982/83 UEFA Cup, United faced Viking Stavanger with the first leg in Norway, where United took the lead in the 71st minute when Milne latched on to a perfect Holt pass, dragged the ball across the face of the penalty area and shot home from 14 yards out. After Viking equalised five minutes later, Milne pulled United in front once more, slotting home a penalty after Sturrock’s cross had been handled in the box. Sturrock himself added another before the final whistle, and that was the aggregate score after the teams played out a 0-0 draw back at Tannadice.

Goal #7

The victory over Winterslag earned United a glamorous clash with German wide Werder Bremen in round three. A large crowd of approaching 11,000 packed Tannadice for the first leg and they watched the hosts make much of the early running.

The Tangerines forged their way ahead in 15 minutes thanks to a typical finish from Milne, which oozed quality. Eamonn Bannon showed terrific desire to make significant progress down the left flank before crossing low for Milne, who met the ball six yards out right in front of the shed to instinctively finish high into the net using the outside of his boot. Despite losing the lead midway through the second half to a Norbert Meier goal, Dave Narey restored the one goal advantage from a perfectly flighted free-kick with just eight minutes left. There was still time for Milne to almost send his side over to Germany with a two goal cushion and had the ball ended up in the back of the net it would have been right up there with his other iconic strikes. Drifting in from the wing he turned the ball inside with his left foot before spinning to thunder in a right foot strike from some way out which crashed off the inside of the upright before being cleared. This near miss was not to prove significant however as a 1-1 draw in the return leg was enough for the Terrors to see of the eventual Bundesliga runners up.

To date, this match remains the only occasion on which the sides have faced one another and the mark left on that tie through Milne’s goal goes on to be celebrated by Arabs who were there to witness it. Ultimately the team were to bow out at the Quarter Final stage after a 1-0 aggregate loss to Bohemians Prague however the impact being made by Milne and this talented side was starting to be felt across Europe.

Goals #8 & #9

Ralph Milne’s glorious chip at Dens Park on May 14th 1983, along with Eamonn Bannon’s quick reflexes to pounce on the saved penalty for that famous last victory of the 1982/83 season, not only won United the Scottish Premier Division title but also saw the club qualify for European Football’s most prestigious tournament, the European Cup. In the days before the format changed to what we now know as the Champions League, United were drawn against Maltese champions Hamrun Spartans in the first round of the knock-out competition. The team came back from the Mediterranean island with a comfortable 3-0 lead, and the Hamrun side set themselves out for damage limitation in the second leg at Tannadice. It took a Ralph Milne right foot volley after 29 minutes to break the deadlock, with the aid of a slight deflection, and Billy Kirkwood added a second just before the interval. Milne grabbed his second of the night just 30 seconds into the second half, tapping home after Davie Dodds had hit the post. United eased through to the second round, where they were drawn against old foes Standard Liege.

Goals #10 & #11

The Belgian Champions had knocked United out of the UEFA Cup five years earlier, and a hard working United performance kept the tie goalless in the away leg. Back at Tannadice, United gained their revenge. Bannon fired in a cross after great play out on the left wing, and Ralph Milne stooped to head home in off the post in the 26th minute. Milne had been highlighted by McLean to be the man to cause the Belgians the most damage, and that was to be the case throughout the match. A minute before the break, John Holt’s long pass sprung the offside trap as Milne raced into the box, where he controlled the ball magnificently before lifting it high over the keeper and into the net. Milne continued to torment in the second half, assisting with a further two goals in an impressive 4-0 victory to take United through to the quarter finals. This side were now on the crest of a wave, and a win over Rapid Vienna in the next round took them through to the semi-finals, where they dramatically lost out in the second leg in Italy – only one match away from going as far as any European club side can go.

Goals #12 &#13

After the successful European Cup run, United were back in the UEFA Cup the following season where they come up against AIK Stockholm in the first round. Jim McLean’s men were defeated 1-0 in Sweden but a superb performance in the second leg at Tannadice – with Milne playing a key role in all of the goals – saw United progress in the competition.

The Terrors took a while to get going in the match with the Swedes edging the first half in terms of chances created but it remained goalless at the interval. The second half was a completely different story as United opened the scoring almost straight from the restart. Ralph Milne played a brilliant ball into the box from out wide on the left which was headed towards goal by Davie Dodds. The goalkeeper managed to dive low to his right and make a block but he only parried the ball into the path of Paul Sturrock who turned home the rebound. From then on United were in control of the match and went ahead on aggregate on 70 minutes with a goal very similar to the first: Bannon crossed into the box, Dodds’ headed effort on goal was parried by the goalkeeper and this time it was Milne himself who was on hand to fire high into the roof of the net. Ralph scored again within three minutes to put the tie beyond any doubt – taking advantage of sloppy defending to lash the ball into the top corner from six yards to the delight of the 11,000 strong home crowd.

Goal #14

Arabs had experienced many great European nights over the previous few seasons, but the atmosphere at Tannadice was rather flat for the visit of Bohemians of Dublin with little over 7,500 turning out for the second leg game. Comfortable after the first leg, United made four changes for the match. On a wet, greasy pitch suffering from heavy rain, United raced into a two goal lead after 32 minutes. The first goal was uncharacteristic for United as John Clark flicked a Billy Thomson clearance into the path of Ralph Milne, who steered the ball past the keeper to open the scoring.

Ian Redford headed a second and after this, United became rather sloppy sitting comfortably on a 7-2 aggregate lead. With many thinking the tie was over, Bohemians reduced the leeway twice before full time and while it wasn’t the most inspiring United display in Europe, with supporters making their feelings known to the players, United had advanced.

Goal #15

United welcomed RC Lens to Tannadice on a cold windy evening on the 1st October 1986, for the second leg of a UEFA Cup first round tie which had already seen United narrowly lose the first game 1-0 in France. A large crowd packed into Tannadice, unaware that this was to be the start of a glorious European campaign which would ultimately end in a cup final defeat to IFK Gothenburg some eight months later.

Manager Jim McLean had selection problems before the match, and Ralph Milne was given the nod ahead of Kevin Gallacher to replace Iain Ferguson. The Tangerines started the game on the front foot and controlled most of the first half without really threatening the Lens backline. United pressed hard in the second half and the pressure eventually paid off when Paul Sturrock sprung the offside trap out wide on the left, the goalkeeper came out of his box to meet him, allowing the United player to skip passed him and play the ball into the centre of a now crowded penalty box where it was controlled by Ralph Milne on his right foot and hammered into the net with his left, beating both defenders on the line. The relief at Tannadice could be felt, with the tie now all-square. The turnaround was complete four minutes later when a pass from Jim McInally again sprung the offside trap with Ralph Milne running through on goal before squaring for Tommy Coyne to bundle home from close range. From there, United held onto their lead which saw them through to the second round of a European competition for the eighth season running,

Unknown to anyone at the time, that opening goal against Lens would prove to be the last of Ralph Milne’s 75 goals for Dundee United Football Club. Having set the club on the road to a European final that season, Ralph left United before the Quarter Final games against Barcelona, joining Charlton Athletic in January 1987.

Written by Niall Harkiss, Bryan Orr, Ally Stewart, Ben Nicholson and John Myles on behalf of the DUFC Archive for the official Dundee United match-day programme. 

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