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Obituary: Eddie Thompson

Eddie Thompson

Few can claim to have been more passionate about Dundee United than Eddie Thompson.

But the man who was to become United's owner and chairman was neither a Dundonian, nor brought up as a fan of the Tayside club.

Instead, his love-affair with Tannadice grew from his other incarnation as one of Scotland's most successful and respected businessmen.

Born in Glasgow, in 1940, Thompson trained as an accountant before gaining a managerial position at the Dundee firm Watson and Philip.

He eventually left to found his own chain of convenience stores called Morning, Noon and Night in 1991, which he sold 13 years later for 30m.

His achievements were recognised by the Queen in her 2005 Birthday Honours list, and he was awarded the OBE for services to the Scottish grocery industry and his work as chairman of the Scottish Retail Consortium.

But, he will be remembered more universally as owner and chairman of his beloved Dundee United.

It was while working with Watson and Philip that his four-decade association with United began, when he negotiated the club's first shirt sponsorship deal with subsidiary company VG Stores.

I hold this club dear to my heart

Eddie Thompson

The club appointed him as an honorary business consultant, but a chequered relationship developed between him and manager-turned-chairman Jim McLean, leading him to part company with United.

Yet, despite the breakdown of relations with the Dundee United board, Thompson's enthusiasm for the club remained undiminished.

He was determined to invest some of his fortune in United, and after years of struggling - including two rejected takeover bids - in September 2002 he eventually acquired McLean's controlling share.

It was clearly a moment of immense pride for Thompson.

"I hold this club dear to my heart," he said. "I wondered if this day would ever happen, and there was the odd moment I felt like giving up the fight.

"I remember someone doing a review at the end of the year and when they came to Z it said: 'Stands for 'zero' - Eddie Thompson's chances of taking over Dundee United.'"

But he had emerged from the fight victorious.

Less than a year later, though, he was faced with a tougher battle when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Eddie Thompson poses with Dundee United first-team players
Thompson ploughed his money and energy into the Tannadice club

Yet, despite his health problems, Eddie Thompson insisted he could not spare the time to be a cancer sufferer.

"The reason I don't have time to be bothered with this is because I'm in the office at 7.30am, leave at 4.30pm for treatment and not back until 7.30pm," he explained shortly after it the news was made public.

"Dundee United play a part in these 12 hours as well and I wouldn't have it any other way,"

As a shrewd businessman in a results-driven environment he demanded the club finished in the top six in his first season, while keeping a watchful eye on expenditure.

However, when asked if profit would come before squad-building, there was no doubt where his priorities lay.

He wanted to re-establish Dundee United a driving force in Scottish football, capable of competing with Celtic and Rangers, and at the very least the country's third force.

And it took the new chairman just 12 days to sack Alex Smith and appoint a new manager tasked with taking them there.

Under Thompson's guidance, Dundee United had five different managers at the helm, before settling on Craig Levein.

There were many who felt Thompson's business mind was too quick to enact personnel changes when results took a dip.

But there can be little doubt that in Levein he found the man to whom he felt he could entrust the club's long-term development.

The pair cultivated a special relationship, and just over a year after his appointment as first team manager, Levein was given a place on the board as director of football.

It took five years, but last season Thompson saw his vision for Dundee United realised, with the team challenging for third spot in the SPL.

Eddie ThompsDundee United chairman Eddie Thompson (left) and son Stephen celebrate Craig Levein's (centre) joint role as manager and Director of Football
Eddie Thompson made Craig Levein his director of football

With Thompson's cancer terminal, his son Stephen started to take a more public, hands-on role at the club.

In February this year, Dundee United reached their second cup final in the Thompson era, with a 4-1 victory over Aberdeen in the last four of the CIS Cup.

Levein dedicated the win to his chairman and friend, who was moved to tears after the final whistle when the fans began to chant his name.

"It's a night to remember for me. The players were magnificent," said an emotional Thompson.

"I've been supporting the club for 40 years and I've spent a fortune since I took over.

"But I don't care about my own finances, I only want a return for the fans."

Thompson watched his side come agonisingly close to lifting the cup in March, only to lose to Rangers in a penalty shoot-out after a 2-2 draw in a pulsating game at Hampden.

Speaking afterwards, Levein said the chairman would be "gutted" at the result, but not at his side's battling display.

Dundee United will no doubt try to think of a fitting tribute to their number-one fan, who is survived by his wife Cath, children Justine and Stephen and four grandchildren.

Perhaps, at the end of this year, the same journalist that never gave him a chance of taking over the club will write: "L stands for 'legend' - Dundee United chairman Eddie Thompson."

see also
Dundee Utd chairman Thompson dies
15 Oct 08 |  Dundee Utd
In quotes: Eddie Thompson reaction
15 Oct 08 |  Scotland

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