Another Gaffer Bites the Dust: Dundee United’s 25 year merry-go-round of managers

By Mya Bollan

Dundee United are setting up to start the new season not only in a different league but also with different management. A change is gaffer is not something that the Tangerines are unfamiliar with.

Dundee United, like many other clubs, have had their ups and downs over the years. From Scottish cup glory to relegation within the last 10 years the club are no strangers to a reshuffle. However, the chopping and changing of management is not something the Terrors were used to ‘back in the day’.

Curtesy of Dundee United FC’s official twitter

Newly appointed boss Micky Mellon will be the twenty first person to take charge of the boys in Tangerine in just over 25 years. A real contrast to the 21 year long period that saw Jim McLean lead the Tangerines to countless successes including the Premier Division title in 1983 and two League Cup Trophies.

United boss Jim McLean celebrating with his players after winning the Scottish Premier League title in 1983
A bit about Micky

The former midfielder began his managerial career with Fleetwood town in 2008. He enjoyed success at Highbury stadium after leading Fleetwood into the Football League for the first time in their history in the 2011-12 season. Mellon also saw similar success during his time at Shrewsbury Town and Tranmere – winning five promotions so far as a manager.

The Paisley born gaffer lead a lengthy playing career. From Bristol City as a teenager to spells at Blackpool, West Brom, Burnley and two stints at Tranmere Rovers where he later returned as manager. Mellon featured for a total of nine clubs with nearly 500 appearances.

Mr McLean

The era of Jim McLean is one that is unlikely to be forgotten. McLean instituted an incredibly successful youth policy. Laying the groundwork for future successes – for both the club and the players involved as many went on to enjoy excellent and extensive careers. Generations of players with real ability played under McLean like Maurice Malpas (who was thrown into the reserve squad at just fifteen), Paul Sturrock and David Narey. Home grown talent was something high on McLean’s agenda too, even towards the end of his time in charge – later examples like local lad Raymond McKinnon and some chap called Gary Bollan who I happen to know pretty well.

At the point of McLean’s departure the club had only two managers in 34 years. Since then the average number of games in charge per gaffer is a mere 62 compared the 1112 occasions where the Tangerines were lead by McLean.

Cup glory

Jim McLean’s successor Ivan Golac lead the Tangerines to Scottish Cup victory in 1994. A 16 year wait followed before the Scottish Cup would return to Tannadice when Peter Houston’s men were victorious upon Hampden park in 2010. Beating Ross County by three goals to nil.

Dundee United’s winning Scottish Cup squad 1994
Then and now

The question here then is – why have the club changed management so many times since the McLean glory days? Is it because Jim was one of a kind and in a way set the bar? Or because the long term investment in youth and building a team bound for success just does not seem to be as essential to other gaffers over the years? I am not going to try and give a straight answer because the fact is no one can really know. It cannot be said that managers have lacked that United spirit -Tannadice has seen numerous ex players return to take lead of their old club. From Paul Hegarty to Raymond McKinnon.

Instead it boils down to performances on the pitch – and lets face it in the board room -that have seen Dundee United struggle to find that Jim McLean type of commitment over the last couple of decades. But the right decision is surely en route. The return to top flight football will hopefully be long lived with a manager to lay the groundwork for success would surely secure the foundations at Tannadice Park.

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Twitter – @BollanMya

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