El Tel, Dundee United & The 86/87 Uefa Cup Part TwoWritten by Johnny Proctor
In what was a backs to the wall at times 90 minutes where Hajduk hit the woodwork numerous times in addition to having an attempt scrambled off the line. United were through to the quarter finals after a 0-0 draw. Making it through in the most uncomfortable of ways and on another day may well have not. The Times match report summed the hosts performance up with “An astonishing incompetence of Hadjuk split in front of goal.” However and whichever way they got there, the fact remained. Dundee united were through to yet another quarter final.
And then along came Meester Venables, Lineker, Hughes and the self proclaimed “more than a club” team from Spain.
In the build up to the draw for the last eight. United manager, Jim McLean was quoted in the media as saying ‘We have had the luck so far to meet sides just like us. Full of industry, rather than full of class.’ To offer up a Scottish expression to counter this. McLean should’ve kept his pus shut because in world football what team is more synonymous with “full of class” than FC Barcelona?! There were admittedly, a few tasty looking sides left in the competition by this point including Inter Milan, the Diego Maradona’s Napoli and United’s old foes Borussia Monchengladbach but as the football gods would decide. It would be Barca once more visiting Tannadice.
Before the two Barca ties however, the games were coming at an alarming rate for United domestically. Following their 11 game unbeaten run at the start of the league campaign things had fallen away to an extent but by the turn of the year 6 straight league wins had put them right back into the mix and by the time Barca rolled up into Dundee. The Scottish team found themselves in the quarter finals of the Uefa Cup with the same said for the Scottish FA Cup while a mere 2 points from the top of the Premier League.
In a match that had captured the whole of Scotland’s imagination as well as most of Europe it took all of 108 seconds for United to take the lead against the Spanish superstars through a cross cum shot from Kevin Gallacher where even to this day not one single fuck has ever been given if the youngest player on the pitch and one who would go on to win the English Premiership with Blackburn Rovers, meant it or not by any Dundee United Supporter!
The reaction behind the Zubizaretta’s goal from Tannadice’s traditional “shed end” says more than I as a writer could ever put into words so I’m not even going to bother trying!
The remaining 88 minutes were of the nerve racking variety for the Scottish club and none more so than when Gary Linekar missed what was to a striker of such quality a practical open goal where his composure in front of goal looked anything but the calibre of striker who had won the World Cup golden boot the year before in Mexico. The match ended 1-0 and by now, no one could deny that the Scots now had a chance but it was only that, a chance. They had not bossed the first leg by any means, something they were used to doing on home turf and that was reflected in Mclean’s almost pessimistic outlook after the match.
‘I’m not sure we can do it in the second leg. We tired in the second half but I’m proud of the way the boys kept going’
Obviously, a wily old fox like Jim Mclean was using some reverse psychology with such choice of words but considering the opposition his team were up against there was still a degree of pragmatism in his message.
Sandwiched in between the first and second leg, United were to face near humiliation in the Scottish Cup against lower division Forfar in what would highlight why football is such an unpredictable and beautiful sport, with a last minute Iain Ferguson penalty securing a 2-2 draw. Providing something the stretched United side feared the most, an extra game in the cup replay. A team who had just beaten FC Barcelona finding themselves tested by a team from a town more famous for mince birdies than it is for any football reasons! Before the replay however, there was the small matter of a trip to the Camp Nou.
In what had been not even a half full stadium it had been largely an even affair with neither side troubling the other until right on half time Barca’s Caldere scored with a wicked deflection that sent the ball past United Keeper Billy Thompson which saw the two teams even on 1-1 at half time. With everything to play for, both Barcelona and Dundee United emerged for the second 45 minutes in a second half that saw the Scottish side do anything but defend their 1-1 scoreline and hope for penalties as underdogs tend to do in the later stages of a tournament. If anything, they had the better of the second half with Sturrock, Gallacher and Iain Ferguson all passing up chances that the Barca socios with one hand on their white handkerchiefs. Still, it remained 1-1 on aggregate and it appeared that Barca had weathered the storm and with 5 minutes remaining it looked like it was going to take a further 30 minutes of extra time to separate the sides, at least.
Well, that was until United striker Paul Sturrock was cynically brought down outside the box and the resulting free kick was put in and John Clark (him again) brushed Mark Hughes aside, bulleting a header off the underside of the bar and into the net to level the score on the night while giving United the much vaunted away goal which with the game almost over had Terry Venables’ side facing elimination.
‘The thing is, I always remember that Paul Hegarty had predicted to me seconds before that I would score. I said I didn’t know about that because Hughes was always very strong in the air, on this occasion though I managed to bully him a little. To be fair, I think my size had something to do with that’ the forever more than svelte Clark said years afterwards while looking back on that famous night in Barcelona.
1-1 was enough to see the Scots through on the night but well, they had a 100% record against the Catalans to protect so with that they went for the jugular of their deflated and by now defeated opponents. On 89 minutes Iain Ferguson scored with a header and delivered what could only be described as the price tag on the cake after John Clark’s equaliser had placed the cherry on top of it. Ferguson’s winner producing a sporting applause from the Barca support in amongst the occasional white handkerchiefs waved towards the presidential box at Nunez.
In what had been a fairytale finish the United players could hardly believe what had happened as they danced about the Nou Camp turf. They were in the semi finals of the UEFA Cup. And El Tel was deep in the mierda. “Hell Tell” Screamed The Daily Mirror in an adorable play on words only a tabloid could ever think of (sic)
In his press conference Venables said that he believed out of the 4 teams left in the competition, IFK Goteborg, Borussia Monchengladbach & Swarovski Tirol being the others, he now made Dundee United favourites to go on and lift the trophy. This may have sounded like damage limitation from an under pressure manager however it wouldn’t be long before other important figures in football would be singing the team from Dundee’s praises such as Brian Clough. During the same heated press conference following Barca’s exit, Venables refused to be drawn on the fact that this had been the final straw for the majority of fans after the best part of two seasons of failure and as a result wanted himself and Mark Hughes to leave the club.
Barca were out and free to concentrate on their fight against Real Madrid for the league title. The Catalans having already went out of the Copa Del Rey at the last 16 stage. Dundee United on the other hand still had two competitions that they were fighting for in both the UEFA cup and the Scottish cup. Borussia Munchengladbach were taken care of 2-0 on aggregate in the semi final which included the Scots inflicting Borussia's first defeat on home soil in European competition for the first time since 1970 during a period that stretched 55 matches. This 2-0 win away in Germany coming only days after a monumental, intense and energy sapping 3-2 win in the Scottish cup semi final against city rivals Dundee.
By the climax of the season. This “corner shop” club as it’s manager had previously described it as had played 64 matches since the start of the season, a side that from the beginning of March and up to the seasons climax would play the equivalent of 22 matches inside 78 days and now had it’s most crucial of three matches left. Two legs of the Uefa Cup final and tucked away in between those two games, an FA Cup Final for good measure. In the most cruelest of ways the team from Scotland who had given so much throughout the season was to quite literally run out of steam at the worst possible time. The players had taken themselves to the brink during a run that on the final game would be their 67th match of the season. First came the 1-0 defeat against IFK Goteborg in Sweden in the first leg of the UEFA Cup Final. Then and within the space of 5 days was the heartbreak at Hampden Park against St Mirren in a 1-0 defeat in the Scottish Cup Final when all signs pointed towards a win against the heavy underdogs from Paisley. Goteborg delivered the final nail in the coffin of a season that promised so much but delivered nothing in a silverware sense with a 1-1 draw in the second leg of the UEFA Cup Final.
There were many reasons to be proud that night despite defeat in such a major competition. The fact that such an unfancied team could get so far and shock the whole of Europe as they did it, in a similar way that we have seen today with Leicester City who have upset the natural order of how football is “supposed” to work. The fact that even through defeat, the Dundee United support stayed to applaud the Swedes on their lap of honour around the pitch. Something that was recognised by FIFA who created the FIFA Fair Play award off the back of the reaction from the Scottish fans that evening. Meanwhile in Barcelona, La Blaugrana had lost La Liga by 1 point to Real Madrid and, like Dundee United, finished the season with nothing to show their efforts.
The Scots lost two major cup finals inside 5 days. Fc Barcelona lost the league title through the most narrow of margins, and Meester Venables lost his job.
As memorable as the season 86/87 will always be for both sets of supporters, nobody really won in the end. Sometimes the beautiful game can be anything but beautiful.
Part One Here
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