United’s First European Adventure

To mark the 50th anniversary of Dundee United’s first ever match in European football, DUFC Archive team member Bryan Orr looks back on that landmark season in the history of the club.

For the first 50 years of the Club’s history, United languished in the lower reaches of the Scottish League, sometimes flirting with financial ruin and bankruptcy, occasionally gaining promotion to the top tier only to find themselves relegated within a year or two. This all changed in the late 1950’s with the appointment of Jerry Kerr as manager.  In his first season the Club won promotion to Division One, and over the next five years he built a side that was able to solidify its place in Scotland’s top League.

By the mid-1960s, Kerr’s team had been constructed around the stalwarts of the squad that won promotion and remained at the Club; Dennis Gillespie, Tommy Neilson, Jimmy Briggs, Stewart Fraser and Doug Smith. Right-back Tommy Millar had been signed from Colchester United, ever-improving youngsters Ian Mitchell and Frank Munro had broken into the first team and were making a name for themselves, whilst goalkeepers Sandy Davie and Don Mackay were battling it out for the number one jersey.

Above: (left) Dundee United manager Jerry Kerr, (right) 1966/67 squad photo.

At the tail end of 1964, the manager made a move that would dramatically change United’s standing on the park. Kerr introduced a contingent of Scandinavians to Tannadice, with Finn Dossing, Orjan Persson, Mogens Berg and Lennart Wing all establishing themselves in the United team from the moment they arrived. Along with Norwegian winger Finn Seemann, who joined in October 1965, their arrival helped turn the clubs fortunes around as the team went from being relegation candidates to European contenders in just over a year.

United finished the 1965/66 season in 5th place – five points clear of nearest rivals, Hibs. At the time, it was the highest position United had ever finished in the Scottish Football League, and meant that the Club had qualified for a European competition for the first time in its history.

The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup was the idea of future senior FIFA Officials Ernst Thommen, Ottorino Barassi and Stanley Rous as a way to promote International Trade Fairs throughout Europe in the aftermath of World War II. Starting in 1955, the competition was originally only open to teams from cities that hosted trade fairs, with their national league position having no relevance, and a “one city, one team” rule.

The early tournaments took two or three years to complete with matches timed to coincide with trade fairs, with Barcelona winning the first two competitions by beating English opposition in the two-legged finals. For the third competition in 1960 both its name and its duration were shortened, with sixteen clubs taking part in the 1960-61 tournament, after which it was staged on an annual basis. Hibs became the first Scottish club to participate, beating Barcelona 7-6 on aggregate in the Quarter Finals before losing to Roma in the Semi Finals. By 1962, the number of entrants had risen to 32 and qualification by League position had been introduced, with Hibs, Hearts, Celtic, Dunfermline, Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock taking part over the next four seasons as the competition grew in popularity. United became the seventh Scottish club to enter the competition.

The team had just returned from a close season tour of Iceland and Denmark as the club’s name – along with Kilmarnock and Dunfermline – was entered into the draw for the first round of the 1966/67 Fairs Cup in July 1966. After much excitement as to who United’s first ever European rivals would be, the draw ended in a mix of anti-climax and elation for the Club, as both United and Kilmarnock were given a bye to the next round.  However, the second round draw in October paired United up with probably the hardest tie possible – Spanish giants Barcelona – the current holders of the Fairs Cup.

barcelona-1Above: 1965/66 Fairs Cup Winners, Barcelona. 

The common feeling was that Jerry Kerr was only taking his Dundee United team of Scots and Scandinavians to Barcelona to make up the numbers, and that they would be overawed by the sheer size and magnificence of the Nou Camp Stadium and the class of their opponents. Very few of these players had ever been to Spain, far less played football there, and especially not in a competitive match.

With talisman goalscorer Finn Dossing out injured, it was Ian Mitchell who remained the only major doubt with an ankle problem. Concerns over the forward’s availability were soon allayed, however, and he was passed fit to play.

Once the game was underway the United team revelled in playing on the lush surface that was yards longer and broader than what they were used to. It took just three minutes for Norwegian ace Finn Seemann to crash a 30 yard shot just over the bar, before the game fell into a pattern of Barcelona having most of the ball, with United hitting dangerously on the break.

After near things for Gallego and Benidez, Billy Hainey wrote his name into the record books when he became the first Dundee United player to score in a European tie, and gave the men from Tannadice a shock lead. A great move that was started by Ian Mitchell was finished off with an excellent well taken low shot from Hainey, which even drew applause from the Spanish fans. As the match went on, Barcelona just couldn’t break down the well organised United defence, and United continued to threaten with every break away, Mitchell and Hainey both coming close before half time. When Barcelona did finally manage to breach the United defence their finishing let them down, with Gallego, Bereda, Rife and Zaldua all either missing chances or failing to breach the custody of Sandy Davie.

When the second half began, Barcelona, unsurprisingly, targeted Finn Seemann as United’s main threat, and in the opening ten minutes, the Norwegian internationalist was continually fouled, with Barcelona’s Uruguayan defender Benidez the main culprit. But in the 58th minute the Norwegian winger fed the ball in front of Hainey, who was brought down in the box by Torres and the Yugoslavian referee pointed to the penalty spot. After the Barcelona players’ protests where eventually waved away, Seemann slotted home the spot kick. However, the drama continued when the referee ordered a retake. Seemann stepped up once again, and remained the coolest man on the park to put the ball beyond Barcelona keeper Sadurni and make it 2-0 to United.

Above: Finn Seemann makes it 2-0 United from the penalty spot in the Nou Camp.                

The Spaniards, now sensing they were in trouble, started to get desperate and eventually pulled one back when Fuste headed home a Benidez cross with eight minutes left. United’s defence, marshalled by skipper Jimmy Briggs and the magnificent Doug Smith and Lennart Wing, stood firm, and with five minutes to go Orjan Persson was fouled whilst attacking the Barcelona goal, which led to an exchange of punches in the Barcelona penalty box, although incredibly there was no action taken by the referee!

The final whistle blew and United had earned an unbelievable victory, becoming the first British club to win a competitive match in Spain. The small band of pioneering United supporters who had made the journey invaded the dressing room to celebrate with their team, before heading out into the streets to dance the night away with the locals!

1966-67-barcelona-1-2-dundee-united-inter-cities-fairs-cup-1st-round-1st-leg-1Above: both sets of players leave the Camp Nou pitch after a shock 2-1 win for United.

Barcelona, stung by their humiliating reversal at home to an inexperienced team from Scotland, dismissed the game as just a bad day at the office, and had every confidence that things would be very different in the second leg of the tie. After all, the Spanish giants were only a goal down after the first match. However, when they arrived at Tannadice for the 2nd leg, it was a bitterly cold November night with a gale force wind sweeping through the ground; entirely different to the balmy evening in Spain just three weeks before.

An all-ticket crowd of 28,000 were crammed into Tannadice to see the return match. United skipper Jimmy Briggs passed a late fitness test and came back into the side, meaning United were starting with the same eleven players who won the first leg in Spain, whereas Barcelona had made four changes to the side that had suffered defeat in the Nou Camp.

Barcelona attacked from the kick off, with Muller and Monbecinos missing chances, before Davie saved at the feet of Fuste as Barcelona started to look dangerous. The game continued in the same fashion as the first leg, with Barcelona having most of the play, and United looking dangerous on the break. Then in 17 minutes, just as everyone was expecting Barcelona to draw 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, and his left footed shot flew past the despairing Sadurni as he came out of his goal.

With United leading 3-1 on aggregate, their Spanish opponents now needed to score three goals to win the tie. They nearly pulled one back a minute later, were it not for the heroics of Sandy Davie, who pushed a Benidez shot over the bar. The game flew from end to end as Persson and Millar went close with long range shots for United at the other end. United were then refused what looked like a stonewall penalty when Millar was brought down inside the box by Torres. Two minutes before half time the Barcelona keeper spilled a Hainey shot, and Dennis Gillespie tapped the ball into the net, only for the linesman to have his flag raised for an offside decision against Persson.

Just four minutes into the second half United incredibly scored again. Billy Hainey, the man who had opened the scoring in Spain, picked up the ball on the right wing and fired in a shot from fully 30 yards out. The ball swirled over the despairing fingers of Sadurni to land in the top right corner of his net, and the home support went wild.

5-hainey-goal-at-tannadice-66Above: Ian Mitchell (second left) and Finn Seemann (far right) wheel away to celebrate Hainey’s goal against Barcelona at Tannadice.

From that moment on it was all United, with Hainey, Seemann and Mitchell all going close, before United had the ball in the net for a fourth time on the night, with Seemann heading the ball home from a Mitchell cross, only for another offside decision from the Belgian referee.

When the final whistle blew there were scenes of ecstasy at Tannadice. Few could have believed that United could not only defeat the millionaires from Spain, but do so in such emphatic fashion with a 4-1 aggregate score. Such a winning margin had been unthinkable and sent shockwaves throughout European football. The holders were out, and just three years after Dundee FC had reached the Semi Finals of the European Cup, a new team from the City of Dundee had emerged on the European scene.

The fairy-tale first venture into Europe continued when United were given the chance to play a veritable giant of the Italian football scene, when the 3rd round draw paired them with the winner of the match between Juventus and Vitoria. With the Italians leading 3-1 after the first leg in Turin, Jerry Kerr flew to Portugal at the end of November to witness the second Leg in Setúbal where the Italians ran out 2-0 winners. Tannadice was buzzing again with the thought of taking on another of Europe’s finest teams. The tie wasn’t to go ahead until February, and when United arrived in Turin the weather was freezing cold.

Finn Dossing, who had by now been the club’s top scorer for the previous two seasons, found himself missing out once more because of a persistent injury that plagued him throughout the season. Kerr therefore fielded the same eleven players that played so well in the two games against Barcelona, with Dennis Gillespie returning to the starting line-up after missing the weekend defeat to Clyde.

With the game kicking off in the afternoon, only 6,000 turned out to watch the game in the bitter conditions at the Stadio Comunale. United performed well but went in at half-time a goal down, with the Brazilian midfielder Chinesinho scoring after 27 minutes.

juventus-1Above: Dundee United in action against Juventus at the Stadio Comunale.

However, two quick goals in the 67th minute more or less ended United’s participation in the competition, with Menichelli and Chinesinho giving Juventus a 3-0 lead after the first leg – a scoreline which flattered the Italians and gave United a mountain to climb in the second leg.

The return leg was not played until a month later, and during that time there were rumours in the newspapers of discord and injuries among the Juventus players in the lead up to the game at Tannadice, with the Italians making three changes for the second leg. Finn Dossing was finally passed fit to play after missing the first three Fairs Cup matches, and was ready to make his European debut. Unfortunately the man he was replacing was that seasons top scorer, with 21 goals, Ian Mitchell. The forward was ruled out through injury.

Another full house at Tannadice willed United on to grab that vital early goal that they needed if there was to be any chance of a recovery. The match opened with chances at either end but nothing clear cut until the 12th minute, when Seemann tested the Juventus keeper with a glorious free-kick. Seemann and Tommy Millar both went close as the first half wore on, but the Italians were not at Tannadice to attack, and used every opportunity to waste time and play act. The referee was not willing to take any nonsense, even getting to the point of lifting one of the Juventus players off the pitch to let play continue.

United were denied a penalty in the opening minutes of the second half, when Persson broke into the box and was pushed and pulled as he tried to line up a shot. After Tommy Millar fired a 20 yard shot just inches over the bar, United began to realise that the comeback was not meant to be, as the Juventus players did their best to see the game out. A lighter moment saw the Italian defender Gori approach the touchline to request a new pair of shorts, after he had lost his original pair in a tussle with Lennart Wing!

With just eight minutes left, United finally made a breakthrough when Dossing hooked the ball over the line after he and Persson had chased a bobble in the penalty area.

Above: (left to right) Finn Døssing, Lennart Wing and Örjan Persson.

Although United went out of the competition, they could take great pride in their home victory over the Italian giants on the night – one of only six defeats that Juventus would suffer during the whole of 1966/67, during which they won the Serie A championship.

Juventus eventually lost out in the Quarter Finals to Dinamo Zagreb, who had knocked Dunfermline out in the second round. After victories over Royal Antwerp, Ghent and Lokomotive Leipzig, Kilmarnock reached the Semi Finals of the competition, where they lost 4-2 on aggregate to Don Revie’s Leeds United side. Dinamo Zagreb defeated Leeds United in the two-legged Final, 2-0 on aggregate.

The 28,000 crowd at the Barcelona match set a new record attendance at Tannadice, beating the previous best of 26,407 that had attended a Scottish Cup match against Aberdeen fourteen years before. This new record still remains to this day, and is unlikely to ever be beaten following the redevelopment of Tannadice over the years which has reduced the capacity to just over 14,000.

The 1966/67 season was an incredible year for Scottish Football. As well as United and Kilmarnock’s performances in the Fairs Cup, Celtic reached the Final of the European Cup to defeat Inter Milan 2-1 and become the first British club to win the trophy. Rangers also reached the Final of the Cup Winners’ Cup, narrowly losing out to Bayern Munich in extra-time. The Scottish International side also defeated the then World Champions England in a memorable British Championship match at Wembley.

Thankfully, United would go on to have many more memorable adventures in Europe over the years. Jerry Kerr’s side qualified for the competition on two further occasions in 1969 and 1970, playing in some fantastic ties against Newcastle United, Grasshoppers and Sparta Prague before the tournament was taken over by UEFA in 1971 and relaunched as the UEFA Cup.

Jim McLean took over from Kerr in 1971, and took the Club to new and unexpected heights. After surviving a relegation battle by goal difference in the first year of the Premier Division in 1976, United went on to qualify for European Football for the next 15 years in a row, playing in European competitions in every season from 1977/78 to 1990/91. Under McLean’s management the club became well known throughout the continent, defeating teams such as Barcelona (again!), Borussia Monchengladbach (twice!), Monaco, Werder Bremen, PSV Eindhoven and Anderlecht, whilst running teams like Roma, Manchester United & IFK Gothenburg close on several occasions.

After winning the Scottish Premier Division Championship in 1983, United even went as far as to reach the Semi Finals of the European Cup in 1983/84 and three years later went a step further to reach the Final of the UEFA Cup in 1986/87, narrowly losing out at the final hurdle.

During McLean’s 20 year spell as manager at Dundee United the Club only failed to qualify for Europe on five occasions. However after his retirement in 1993 United’s standards dropped, and they only qualified 4 times over the next 15 years. It wasn’t until the arrival of Craig Levein and Peter Houston that United began to challenge for a European place again, by which time the competition had changed its name and format again, to what we now know as the Europa League.

Written by Bryan Orr


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