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Sunday, 15 October, 2000, 20:04 GMT
The rise and fall of Jim McLean
Jim McLean will always be a United legend
Jim McLean will always be a United legend
Dundee has long been the city of jute, jam and journalism, but in the 1980s, it also became synonymous with Jim McLean.

As manager of Dundee United, McLean, often portrayed as a dour character by the media, led his club to unprecedented heights which almost culminated in European glory.

But the 1990s have been less kind to McLean and United as the potential to buy success became more important than the ability to nurture a group of Scots towards silverware.

That the departure of McLean from United comes at a time when their big-spending, cosmopolitan neighbours Dundee are playing attractive football in the top-half of the division may or may not be coincidental.

Long association

Born in Larkhall in Lanarkshire in 1937, the young Jim McLean had an unspectacular career as a player with Hamilton Accies, Clyde, Dundee and Kilmarnock before retiring to a coaching role with Dundee in 1970.

He began his long association with United the following year when he was appointed manager at Tannadice.

But it was not until the end of the decade that the fruits of his labour began to appear.

He guided the Terrors to their first major honour in season 1979-80, beating Aberdeen in the final of the League Cup - a trophy the club retained the following year with victory over Dundee.

Along with his contemporary Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen, McLean created the New Firm, a genuine challenge to Celtic and Rangers, which would dominate Scottish football in the early 1980s.

Alex Ferguson was a contemporary of McLean's
Alex Ferguson was a contemporary of McLean's
McLean and Ferguson, both from similar working-class backgrounds in the west of Scotland, developed teams capable of competing with Europe's best from minimal resources.

As coincidence would have it, McLean brought the Scottish Premier Division title to Tannadice for the first time in the same season as Ferguson's Aberdeen returned from Gothenburg with the scalp of Real Madrid and the European Cup Winners' Cup.

The names of Hamish McAlpine, Paul Hegarty, Dave Narey, Eamonn Bannon, Paul Sturrock and Davie Dodds wrote themselves into the history books with that league win, inspired by McLean.

A notoriously hard task-master, McLean drove his players to even greater success, turnig down the post of Rangers manager along the way.

In 1984, United went within a whisker of reaching the European Cup final - having beaten AS Roma 2-0 in the first-leg of the semi-final, they lost 3-0 in Rome.

Famous victory

Three years later, they came even closer to European success, this time in the Uefa Cup.

That campaign heralded the most famous victory in the club's history - a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the Nou Camp courtesy of goals by John Clark and Iain Ferguson.

Another victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach handed them a confrontation with IFK Gothenburg in the two-legged final which they lost 2-1.

Nevertheless, that period represented a high-point for both United and McLean who many believed should have been offered the Scotland manager's job.

The following year, 1988, McLean took on the additional duties of managing director and chairman at Tannadice.

Paul Sturrock could not repeat his success as a United player
Paul Sturrock could not repeat his success as a United player
But by that time, the Souness revolution was well under way at Ibrox and big money was beginning to take its toll as clubs began to bring in more and more foreign players as the price of failure increased sharply.

As the decade neared its end, United's fortunes began to dip, with McLean eventually standing down from his managerial duties in 1993.

It is no exaggeration to say that Jim McLean was entirely responsible for the success enjoyed by United over that period, but the period of stagnation which followed must also be partly attributed to him.

However, his replacement, Ivan Golac, did deliver the one trophy McLean had not brought to Tannadice - the Scottish Cup courtesy of a victory over Rangers in the 1994 final.

Sadly for the team's supporters, that was the last bright spot of the 1990s, with relegation following the next year.

Ivan Golac brought the Scottish Cup to Tannadice
Ivan Golac brought the Scottish Cup to Tannadice
While they scraped back into the top division the following year, the Tannadice trophy cabinet has remained empty since that 1994 cup win.

Since then, Golac, Billy Kirkwood, Tommy McLean and Paul Sturrock have all failed to emulate Jim McLean's achievements as United manager.

Suggestions that McLean retained more than a passing interest in on-the-field matters may be a reflection of his continuing desire for his beloved United to return to previous glories, but the added pressure of having a club legend breathing down one's neck may have proved a hindrance for a manager.

Since the mid-1990s, a section of the United support have campaigned to have McLean and his fellow board members removed in a bid to revitalise the club.

Relegation battles

That said, there is also a large section of the fan base that has stayed loyal to McLean.

But the recent success of his near-neighbours and the pressures that come with fighting relegation year-in, year-out appear finally to have got to McLean.

His attack on BBC Scotland's John Barnes was a result of persistent but not unfair questioning by the reporter.

McLean himself has apologised unreservedly but despite calls from some quarters, he is unlikely to be persuaded to change his mind over his resignation.

There is no doubt that the man's passion for his club is infinite, but when it results in actions which would merit arrest if they took place in the Tannadice stands, it is time to call it a day.

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Jim McLean's last words as Dundee Utd chairman
See also:

15 Oct 00 |  Dundee Utd
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10 Aug 00 |  Dundee Utd
United's McLean faces fan anger
07 Aug 00 |  Dundee Utd
Sturrock's United days are over
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