Mitch

Yesterday marked 54th anniversary of Ian Mitchell’s debut for Dundee United Football Club and therefore DUFC Archive Co-Administrator Bryan Orr has decided to look back on the Tannadice legend’s career in this article. 

For over half a century, Ian Mitchell held the Club record as the youngest player to play at first team level for United, and although he never won silverware during his 11 seasons at Tannadice, he is still regarded by many as a Club Legend. An important part of the team who turned a newly promoted club into one of the top forces in Scottish Football, he also helped United qualify for European Football for the first time in their history, and scored in the famous win over Barcelona in 1966.

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Above: Mitchell pictured in squad photos during early-to-mid’60s.

Early Career

Born and raised in Falkirk, Ian looked odds on to sign for his local club, having been on the Brockville club’s books as a schoolboy. Indeed, it was here that he got his first introduction to the senior game, turning out for the reserve team at the tender age of just 13! Ian said in an interview with Shoot Magazine in 1970, “I can’t remember much about the game, but I do remember feeling scared to death at playing in front of so many people I knew.”

However, it was a close family member that influenced his desicion to move away from his boyhood club.  “My father had seen a few promising local boys start their career at Brockville, and they nearly always ended up failures. If a young inexperienced boy had a bad game, the crowd would let him know about it and I suppose this would have a damaging effect. Falkirk is a town where you know everyone, and everyone knows you. In a close-knit community like that, I suppose it’s only natural local lads should attract close attention, but unfortunately this usually means stronger cristisism when a fellow has an off-day”.

Whilst playing with Woodburn Athletic, and appearing regularly as a Scottish schoolboy internationalist, he was regarded as one of the hottest prospects in the junior game at the time, and had a host of top clubs interested in his signature, including Manchester United, Aston Villa and Spurs. However, Ian felt that he would progress better with a Scottish Club, and chose Jerry Kerr’s Dundee United over a host of other clubs, including Hearts, Hibs and Rangers, initially signing as an amateur on the 18th July 1962.

His choice was justified when just two months later he made his first team debut in a 5-0 win over Hibernian at Tannadice, aged just 16 years and 147 days, making him the youngest ever player to make a first team appearance for United in the modern era. This was a record that would last for over 51 years – until it was eventually beaten by John Souttar, aged 16 years and 99 days.

Four weeks later, Ian scored his first goal for United, grabbing the fourth goal in an 8-1 win over Raith Rovers at Tannadice. In his first season at the Club, he became a regular in the side, playing mostly on the left wing, and formed an attacking partnership with veteran forward Neil Mochan. The former Scotland and Celtic star was instrumental in developing Ian into a player with a maturity well beyond his years as he went on to make 32 appearances and scored 9 goals before his 17th birthday. Also in that first season he scored in the quarter final tie versus Queen of the South to help take United through to their first ever Scottish Cup Semi-Final – and in his first appearance at Hampden Park he scored to draw United level after being 2-0 down to Rangers, although the Glasgow side went on to win 5-2. He also scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over Dundee at Dens Park in April that year, United’s first ever competitive win across the road.

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Above: Ian Mitchell (right) posing for 1962/63 squad photo. 

After turning professional at the start of the 1963-64 season, Ian went on to finish the season as United’s highest scorer with 16 goals, including his first senior hat-trick in a 6-2 win over St Mirren, and both goals in a 2-1 win over Dundee at Tannadice. Ian’s number of appearances dropped slightly over the next couple of seasons after the arrival of the Scandanavian players and the mighty Finn Dossing, but Ian still played his part, scoring 12 goals during the 1965/66 League campaign to help United qualify for European Football for the first ever time in the Club’s history.

Fairs Cup

Having played most of his career so far as an inside-forward, Ian was moved into centre-forward for parts of the 1966-67 season in the absence of the injured Finn Dossing. It was in this position that he played in both legs of the Fair Cup tie versus the holders Barcelona, and scored the opening goal in the second leg at Tannadice.

“Then in 17 minutes, just as everyone was expecting Barcelona to drawn themselves level, United shocked the Spaniards once again. A Gallego clearance only went as far as Persson, who carried the ball forward before slipping it to 20 year-old inside left Ian Mitchell, who’s left footed shot flew past the despairing Sadurni as he came out of goal.”

Ian later said that the victories over the Spanish giants were the most memorable moments of his career. As well as the impressive Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, he also played in the Stadio Comunale in Rome as United were defeated by Juventus in the next round. He finished the season with 22 goals, once again United’s top scorer, and scored the winner in the 3-2 win over soon to be European champions Celtic at Tannadice, another personal highlight. It was also during the 1966-67 season that Ian gained international recognition, playing for the Scotland Under-23 team in victories over Wales and England.

mitch-3Above: (Right) Ian Mitchell in the forefront as the players leave the pitch at the Nou Camp after Dundee United’s famous 2-1 win over Barcelona, (Left) Ian Mitchell wheels away to celebrate Billy Hainey’s goal in the 2-0 win over the Catalans at Tannadice.

In the summer of 1967 United were invited to America to take part in the newly established North American Soccer League, and Ian was part of the 16 man squad that gained an experience of a life-time. Playing in the League as Dallas Tornado, they faced other teams from all around the world in an effort to gain “soccer” some much needed popularity in the US.

Now classed as one of the most exciting inside-forwards in Scotland, Ian was once again United’s top scorer during the 1967-68 season, with 16 goals – including his second hat-trick for the Club in a 9-0 win over Stirling Albion at Tannadice. Now playing up front alongside the prolific Kenny Cameron, Ian was still grabbing the goals and was the Clubs top scorer again for the 1969-70 season, adding two more hat-tricks against Airdrie  and Raith Rovers. During that season, he once again played in the Fairs Cup as United face English side Newcastle United, where the Magpies won through 3-1 on aggregate.

Another close season trip to America saw United play Wolves, Aston Villa, West Ham and Kilmarnock, and Ian was now being noticed by several English clubs. After one of the matches against Villa, who were at the time managed by Tommy Docherty, the United players got chatting with the legendary Scottish boss. Ian always remembered a particular conversation.

“Still with United, eh?” said Doc.

“Yes… one hundred thousand wouldn’t buy me,” joked Ian.

“You’re right,” replied Doc, “and I’m one of them!”

Ian must have left a lasting impression on Newcastle manager Joe Harvey, as less than a year after playing them in the Fairs Cup, Ian was transferred to the English side for £50,000.

mitch-4Above: (Left and Centre) Ian Mitchell in action for United in the club’s striking new tangerine kit, 1969 onwards, (Right) Newspaper report of Newcastle United’s Fairs Cup win over Dundee United in 1969.

England

Ironically, Ian made his Newcastle debut at Tannadice, in a pre-season friendly against United. It took until the start of November before he broke in to the Newcastle first team, coming off the substitutes bench in a Fairs Cup match against Pecsi Dozsa in Hungary, and again in a Division One victory over Burnley. He then made the starting eleven for a Division One match versus Stoke City before scoring his first and only goal for the club in a 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town in an FA Cup tie at St James Park. Ian found it hard to hold his own in the English Division One, and his last match for the Magpies was a defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in February.

In October 1971, a swap deal saw Alex Reid head for Newcastle and Ian Mitchell return to Tannadice for a second spell with United, and he went straight back into the first team for a League match against Clyde at Shawfield. Ian struggled with fitness levels to start with, but after Jerry Kerr was replaced by new manager Jim McLean, Ian got back on track eventually scoring 5 goals in 15 appearances for the season.

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Above: (Left and Centre) Ian Mitchell kitted out for United, (Right) Mitchell wearing the iconic black and white stripes of Newcastle United.

Mitchell started the 1972/73 season with goals against St Johnstone and Hibs before scoring a last minute winner for the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock – this turned out to be his final goal for the Club. After the turn of the year he only made the starting eleven on a further 6 occassions until the end of the season, and was released just a month into the 1973-74 season.

He returned to his home town to sign for Falkirk and later played with Brechin City before retiring from the game.

His contribution to United cannot be understated. Those fortunate enough to have seen him play would confirm without hesitation that Ian Mitchell is a legend. He was also instrumental in persuading good friend and Blackburn Rovers left-back Frank Kopel to sign for Dundee United in January 1972, making him Jim McLean’s first signing as manager. Kopel went onto become a legend at the club, making almost 400 first team appearances and was part of the sides which won the League Cup two years in succession in 1979 and ’80. A joy to watch, Mitchell is United’s fourth top all time goal scorer with 133 league and cup goals and his total of 314 games ranks him at twentieth in the all time appearances table. Sadly, he passed away in 1996 at the young age of 49 after a long illness but his memory still lives on at Tannadice where he is still recognised to this day as one of the club’s greatest players.

Written by Bryan Orr. 

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