Dundee United’s visit to Andorra – 20 Years On

20 years ago yesterday, Dundee United faced Andorran side CE Principat away from home in the first leg of their UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round tie. It proved to be a memorable occasion for the club as United recorded their biggest ever win in European football, a record which would stand for a whopping SEVEN days. Regular contributor Derek Keilloh looks back on the occasion two decades later. 

1997-98 Dundee United Squad Photo
Above: Dundee United squad photo, season 1997/98. 

Andorra is not renowned for being a hotbed of football.

In the Pyrenees, wedged between France and Spain, the small principality specialises more in winter sports. The national income mainly derives from a combination of holidaying skiers and duty free shoppers.

As a country, it is perhaps most notable for technically still being at war with Germany until 1958. The Andorrans declared war on Germany during World War I, but the country’s name was omitted from the Treaty of Versailles.

My main memory of visiting the country over 20 years ago was the endless stream of banks, cafes and duty free shops along the main drag of the capital, Andorra La Vella.

United’s reward for their third place finish in the 1996/97 season was a place in the UEFA Cup. Due to the increase in the number of countries eligible to participate in European competition, the venue was a little less grandiose than those United had been used to on previous European trips.

The draw sent United to a country with a population roughly similar to that of Paisley. It put them up against the champions of the Andorran league, Club Esportiu Principat.

No-one had ever heard of the team. In fact, no-one seemed entirely sure how to even get to Andorra.

Ce Principat 2Above: Ticket stub for the game in Andorra. 

As Tommy McLean said at the time, ‘We’re happy (with the draw), although getting to Andorra might be a problem. I’m told Principat are based up a mountain, but we’ll get there. Neil Duffy’s been there and says it’s a ski resort – but his help won’t guarantee a place in the team’.

United did manage to make it to Andorra successfully, with or without the use of Neil Duffy’s geographical knowledge. And yes, they were based up a mountain.

The journey involved three hours on a plane and three and a half hours on a coach winding its way through the Pyrenees. Around 50 Dundee United fans took the trip.

This was the first game that any Andorran club had ever played in European competition. Given that in the previous season CE Principat only lost one match in the Andorran League and scored 114 goals, it appeared they were not a club to be taken lightly, at least on the face of it.

However, the strength of the Andorran league was illustrated by the fact that CE Principat were in fact a works team. The team actually went under the wonderful name of the Real Madrid Supporters’ Club of Charlie’s Restaurant, a name which UEFA decreed that they were not allowed to use in European competition.

The lack of knowledge of CE Principat was summed up well by Maurice Malpas. He admitted that he had ‘never known so little about an opposition side’ in all his time at the club.

CE Principat’s president, one Tomas Gomez, a barber by trade, said ‘I cut the hair of most of our players, and I’d be honoured if Dundee United visited me before the match. Of course I would cut their hair for free’.

Whether any United players took him up on that offer is not recorded.

The Principat coach Manolo Marin was not accepting defeat before the game, stating that ‘We will not lose this game before we play it. Dundee United will not just have to turn up and win. They will have to play to beat us because we are very motivated’. Although he did admit that ‘the fact that they seem to be taking the game seriously is not good news for us, as our best chance lay in them thinking it would be easy’.

One or two of the home team did admit off the record that they would be happy to avoid a heavy defeat. Principat striker Emiliano Gonzalez rather let the cat out of the bag when he said ‘I think to lose 0-5 here and 10-0 in Dundee will be a good result for us’. Evidently expectations were not high among the players, for all the bravado.

A reporter for Andorra’s national newspaper, Diari, said that the home side were ‘absolutely terrified after hearing the draw. They only won the league here because the other teams were dreadful and now they’re in a European championship. They have a less than zero chance of winning’.

The game took place in Andorra’s national stadium, the Estadi Comunal d’Andorra la Vella. It turned out to be the mismatch that the Andorrans feared.

1997-98 - CE Principat 0-8 Dundee United - UEFA Cup 1st Qualifying Round 1st Leg (1)Above: The small band of Arabs who made the journey to Andorra for the game.

By the time of the first goal in the 14th minute, Steven Pressley had already managed to miskick in front of goal, and Lars Zetterlund had shot wide from 25 yards, provoking derisive cries of “burro” from the home fans.

With Robbie Winters first heading in from an Andy McLaren cross, then scoring again three minutes later with a shot from outside that box that the home keeper Rui de Manel Castro somehow managed to dive over, it looked like it was going to be a long night for the home team.

It should have been worse for them, in truth. Winters, Zetterlund and Maurice Malpas all missed decent chances. Then Pressley and Mark Perry both contrived to miss great opportunities.

Late in the first half, a handball from Federico Coto gave Erik Pedersen the chance to score from the spot. The penalty was given by the Italian referee, one Pierluigi Collina, who was a long way from the San Siro. However, Pedersen’s kick was well saved by Rui de Manel Castro, redeeming himself up to a point for his earlier error.

A 2-0 lead at half time, a lead which could, and maybe should, have been at least trebled.

The second half started well, with two goals in the first three minutes. Substitute Gary McSwegan scored first, followed by Zetterlund, both of whom scored with headers from Andy McLaren crosses. The home side simply could not cope with McLaren.

United rather took their foot off the gas after that, perhaps reflecting that it was their first competitive match of the season against such evidently limited opposition.

However, despite their limitations the home side did manage to create a couple of chances. The previously almost unused Sieb Dijkstra was called upon to make two very good saves from Josep Pasqui and Jesus Lucendo, with the latter save being especially impressive.

This seemed to shake United out of their rut, and they responded with four goals in five minutes, with two goals each from Robbie Winters and Gary McSwegan. There was still time for Mark Perry to clear a Lucendo shot off the line before the game finished.

1997-98 - CE Principat 0-8 Dundee United - UEFA Cup 1st Qualifying Round 1st Leg (1)Above: United on the attack at the Estadi Comunal d’Andorra la Vella

The final score was 8-0, which was Dundee United’s biggest victory in Europe. For one week.

The home leg was no less one sided, and ended 9-0 to United. Again, it could quite easily have been more. The match was noteworthy for the behaviour of the United fans, with the Principat coach noting that ‘United fans cheered us on to the park and at the end were throwing us their scarves. I have never seen anything like it’.

This remains the last time United won a European tie over two legs. United went on to lose narrowly to Trabzonspor in the next round.

The heavy defeat did not prevent CE Principat from winning the next two Andorran championships. However, their European fortunes did not improve, losing 14-1 to Ferencvaros and 18-0 to Viking Stavangar in the next two seasons. The club itself slowly declined after that, with a relegation in 2014 followed by a dissolution in 2015.

Other Andorran clubs have been brave enough to attempt European competition since, and results have been significantly less humiliating than the ones suffered by CE Principat. Sant Julia won a tie on penalties in 2009 after two 1-1 draws against Tre Fiori of San Marino. In 2014, Santa Coloma even managed to win 1-0 against Bananta, an Armenian side.

Unfortunately, Charlie’s Restaurant does not appear to exist any more. Although I am left wondering if somewhere in Andorra, there is a Real Madrid-supporting waiter, postman or barber proudly reminding his friends of the time he played a European tie at Tannadice. I’d like to think so.

Written by Derek Keilloh. 

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