On the 50th anniversary of Dundee United’s first ever European match, which saw them defeat Spanish giants and Fairs Cup holders Barcelona on their own turf, lifelong Arab Tom Cairns recalls the build up to the match and his experiences of that famous night.
Above: the players leave the pitch after United’s shock 2-1 win at Camp Nou.
It’s claimed that as you grow older your memories fade, but that is certainly not the case with these, probably the most exciting recollections of my young life.
In 1966 I had celebrated my sixteenth birthday, awaiting news of which club my beloved Dundee United would be drawn to play against in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, awaiting with excitement, with impatience and with no little trepidation.
Although it is now fifty years on from the events I am about to recall – my love, my pride and my support for Dundee United has not and never will diminish. Many are the achievements which have drawn us together and the match of which I write is without doubt up there with the best of them.
It should be noted that only seven years before these events unfolded, United had finished the 1958/59 season as thirty fourth out thirty seven clubs in the Scottish leagues, and with Tannadice Park most certainly less than suitable for the top division, never mind European football.
The appointment of Jerry Kerr as manager in June 1959 was key to the unimaginable events which followed. As clerk of works in addition to being manager and secretary of the football club, Jerry built a fine stadium as well as transforming the team from a part-time outfit with no reserve side into a respected top division club with a healthy support.
The inspired signings of five Scandinavians in the shape of Mogens Berg, Lennart Wing, Finn Seemann, Örjan Persson and Finn Døssing over the course of 1964 and ’65 epitomised Jerry Kerr, and I am certain that this blog would not have seen the light of day but for the arrival of those exceptional footballers who linked up with the outstanding Doug Smith, Dennis Gillespie, Jimmy Briggs, Ian Mitchell and others who all became legends at the club over half a century ago.
Above: (from left to right) Finn Døssing, Lennart Wing, Mogens Berg and Örjan Persson.
The Fairs Cup was not under the auspices of UEFA and was organised in a different manner to the other two European competitions and although in recent seasons, three Scottish clubs were invited to compete, in 1966 there were doubts as to whether this would continue. Kilmarnock and Dunfermline Athletic finished third and fourth respectively with United taking the fifth place in the First Division the previous season. Good news was forthcoming however, when in late June, it was announced that three Scots clubs would compete and the first round draw would be made in Portugal just days before the World Cup Final at Wembley. What an anti-climax it was for United, Kilmarnock and another fourteen clubs when they received byes into the second round!
As we United supporters had spent many years in the shadow of our near neighbours, who of course had competed in European Football in two previous seasons, we had all been subjected to constant sarcasm, with regards in particular to the perceived possibility that we could ever qualify for the right to represent Scotland in Europe, but now the impossible had come to pass, and they did not like it one bit.
As a measure of the feelings of disappointment, it’s worth mentioning the season long bet I had placed with one blue-nosed shopkeeper in the Stirling Street area during the previous summer that United would qualify for European competition in season 1966/67. He was so shattered that he reneged on our bet and all these years later I still await my winnings of threepence.
The draw for the second round was made in Zurich during the first days of October and, unbelievably, United were drawn against Barcelona who had just won the previous season’s competition only two weeks earlier!
The Fairs Cup Final had involved another Spanish club, Zaragoza, and with Barca having to fit in a Semi-Final play-off against Chelsea (Barcelona won 5-0 after winning the toss for venue) and the forthcoming World Cup Finals in July fast approaching, the Fairs Cup Final was not staged until mid-September.
Above: 1965/66 Fairs Cup Winners, Barcelona
I remember everyone being very excited at the prospect of meeting Barcelona and indeed bringing them to Tannadice, but the overwhelming feeling was of concern that United would give a good account of themselves and not get a good going over as was predicted by the many Dundee supporters, willing as ever to play down United’s chances in big games.
In truth, the start of the 1966/67 season had been unremarkable with some less than impressive performances and perhaps, like the fans, the players’ minds were on the upcoming European adventure. According to press reports, Barcelona were similarly struggling for form and continued to do so, but news of a trip to play the three times Fairs Cup winners seemed to concentrate the minds of the Tannadice Terrors who beat Stirling Albion and Clyde, scoring eight goals in the process, before drawing 2-2 at Easter Road just one day before flying out to play the highest profile game in the club’s history. All United followers will of course be aware that we rarely do anything the easy way, and travelling to Spain was our in-form striker (12 goals already this season) Ian Mitchell, a hugely talented inside-forward who had suffered an ankle injury when he stumbled after leaving the pitch at the end of the previous day’s game against Hibs. After treatment at Tannadice before flying out and constant attention from physio Andy Dickson in Spain, Jerry Kerr was confident that Ian would play in the game and so it proved.
In Dundee and indeed all over the world, United fans were left in a state of flux, one minute confident, one minute hopeful and next minute worrying that the players we knew and loved would come a cropper in this, probably the biggest game that they and the club had ever been involved in. It was reported that only Lennart Wing, Örjan Persson, Finn Seemann and Billy Hainey had ever before played in European competition but confidence was given to the stay at home fans with the revelation that both Tommy Millar and Tommy Neilson had taken holidays in Spain, so no worries there then!
Foreign travel was, in 1966, something that few United fans had experienced. My holidays consisted of two weeks in Kennoway, Fife, and I was lucky as most of my pals spent the Dundee fortnight at home.
As far as the travelling support was concerned, not many United fans made the journey which would have been too expensive to even contemplate and in fact The Courier actually published the names and addresses of those who did travel to Spain.
Above: Dundee United supporters in Barcelona.
Although the match had been scheduled for Wednesday, 26th October, the Catalan club asked United only on October 15th to travel early and play the game on Tuesday 25th October and they would recompense the Terrors for any additional expense incurred and eventually this was found acceptable by the Tannadice Board of Directors.
The party had no sooner arrived in Barcelona (United playing Barcelona – how ridiculous that would have seemed only a few years earlier) than Jerry Kerr discovered there was a second division game at the Camp Nou that evening and everyone went along to sample the atmosphere. A magnificent stadium holding over 90,000 supporters with dressing rooms, which included a green tiled sunken bath, apparently almost as big as the Dundee City Square! To add to that, alongside the main stadium stood a floodlit training pitch all tended by an army of staff. The Camp Nou pitch itself was six yards longer and ten yards wider than Tannadice and this was hoped would provide scope for our flying wingers, Finn Seemann and Örjan Persson. Having trained on the pitch on the Monday morning and returned in the late evening for a chance to train under the lights, United once again trained on the pitch briefly on the morning of the game, proving Jerry Kerr was leaving nothing to chance by experiencing the ground as often as possible.
The party travelled to the ground in the early evening for the 8:45 kick-off (local time) and back in Scotland we could only wait, wonder and worry. With no internet or teletext and a complete absence of radio commentary, we were totally unaware of how the game was progressing and even the most hopeful, ‘glass full’ supporter would have found it difficult to have imagined the events unfolding in faraway Spain that Autumn night.
The teams lined up with Sandy Davie, Tommy Millar, Jimmy Briggs, Tommy Neilson, Doug Smith and Lennart Wing, Finn Seemann, Billy Hainey, Ian Mitchell, Dennis Gillespie and Örjan Persson taking the field for Dundee United. Barcelona, without a game the previous weekend, fielded Sadurni, Benitez, Eladio, Fusté, Gallego, Torres, Pereda, Müller, Zaldúa, Filosía and Rifé. The attendance was slightly over 20,000 with those who attended paying £1.25 for a seat or 15p to stand behind either goal.
Without giving a match report as such, United, playing in white with black edgings, almost scored in three minutes from a shot by Seemann but had Sandy Davie to thank on the ten minute mark with a magnificent save from a Pereda shot.
Barca, pushing forward at every opportunity, were stunned in thirteen minutes when Finn Seemann moved down the right at speed and found the unmarked Hainey who beat their keeper from just inside the penalty area with a low left foot shot into the corner of the net. Stung into action, Barcelona again pressed United but with the defence holding firm and the team gaining confidence with every passing minute. Yet another chance for United as we broke up-field and Ian Mitchell, whose ankle injury was seemingly not giving trouble, just failed to connect with a Persson cross and United safely saw out the first 45 minutes which ended with Billy Hainey involved in an altercation with Pereda. Hainey, ordered off only three days earlier in Edinburgh for retaliation, comes across as someone you would not wish to upset, but his name will forever go down in United folklore as the scorer of our first ever European goal.
The second half began with a much more physical approach by the Spaniards who were booed off the park at half time and had presumably been on the receiving end of ‘advice’ from their coach.
Given most of you following this blog are of a United persuasion, you can imagine what I and thousands of others were going through as these events were unfolding as we had absolutely no knowledge of happenings. The usual procedure in those days was to phone The Courier’s sports desk and ask for an update, something I had undertaken on many previous occasions but quite frankly this nervous wreck with legs turned to jelly was in no position to go out to the phone-box along the road and just sat in the house and worried instead!
Meanwhile, back at the Camp Nou, United were still playing with a confidence which made a mockery of the fact that this was their first ever European game and when on the hour mark Billy Hainey was tripped in the penalty area, the Yugoslavian referee had no option but to award a penalty kick which Seemann placed past Sadurni but to great United consternation was disallowed because Persson had apparently moved into the area. A retake was ordered and the super cool Norwegian winger Finn Seemann again had no problem in beating the Barcelona goalkeeper impressively.
Above: Finn Seemann makes it 2-0 to United from the penalty spot.
Some great defending kept the increasingly desperate Spaniards at bay and the small band of United fans – who amazingly were warned by police for being too noisy could just be heard over the sounds of the dissatisfaction – from the home supporters.
At this time back in our house on the slopes of Balgay Hill whilst watching the BBC Scottish Late News we were given the latest scores of the two Scottish clubs in action in Europe, Kilmarnock were playing in Belgium that night and I can recall the newsreader say (I am sure nothing was shown on the screen) Barcelona 0 Dundee United 2, and I completely lost it, jumping around and shouting. My father, calling out for me to calm down was completely ignored as the significance of this announcement gradually sunk home. I don’t think even now that I am doing this moment justice in my description.
As a matter of interest, at number one in the pop charts that week was Jim Reeves with “Distant Drums” and never have the distant drums brought more welcome news. It should also be noted that appropriately the Troggs recording of “I Can’t Control Myself” was also high in the charts and was proved to be prophetical, not just in my own case I suspect.
Above: Daily Record, Wednesday, October 26th 1966.
Eagerly reading The Courier early next morning, the headlines of “United’s Night of Triumph” and “First Ever Scottish Team to Win in Spain” brought such feelings of pride that even now have never been surpassed in my experiences and the only disappointment was to find that the Spaniards had scored towards the end of the game and that Dundee United had only won in Barcelona by two goals to one!
We Arabs were walking on air with press reports such as “United, cha, cha, cha!” and “United the Great,” giving tremendous satisfaction, although, as Jerry Kerr pointed out, “It’s only half-time,” and those of differing allegiance felt we must have been lucky and would not be able to survive the upcoming second leg.
Written by Tom Cairns