Walker McCall, Ron Dixon, Claudio Caniggia and Lyall Cameron: Alan Pattullo’s dark blue odyssey over five decades

Former fanzine editor, award-winning football writer and one-time Sportscene guest Alan Pattullo tells us why the 87 Skol Cup semi beats any World Cup final, how he risked expulsion from school to watch Dundee play Brechin City and why he joined Dee4Life…

I was born at DRI in April 1973 – so I was just about alive when Dundee last won a major trophy – but grew up in the rural badlands of Angus. I think I picked Dundee to support out of cussedness as much as anything. I note with some pride that my first Dundee match was the first game of the 83-84 campaign at Dens v Montrose in the League Cup. We all know what the last competitive game held there had been. But I chose to shun success at that time and I’m forever glad I did.

While it’s often said that such areas as rural Angus are dominated by United, Dundee were and are definitely well represented in my neck of the woods. But that certainly wasn’t the case at the school I went to on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Rugby was sadly king and a few of us would break out of school on Saturday to attend football matches. I was the only one bound for Dens Park though and it’s funny to look back and think I was risking expulsion to watch us play Brechin City. But the passion was very real then and it’s barely dimmed since, even if the stakes are not quite as high now when it comes to attending games.

Early Dee hero

My first hero, perhaps surprisingly, was Walker McCall, whose No 9 play and height caught my eye. Iain Ferguson was another early favourite, as was Tosh McKinlay, who was a class apart as a left back. Early standout games were Scottish Cup ties v Celtic and Rangers at Dens – I’ve a memory of Ferguson being straight through in the latter game and the ref blowing up for half time! Was always thus.

It was Dens as much as the team that stole my heart, sitting in the old Section F ‘Father and son’ section in the main stand (before being old enough to graduate to the Derry) and the intoxicating whiff of tobacco smoke and pies. I was sitting there with my dad and sister – who, absurdly, cannot remember the game at all – when I witnessed what I consider my greatest match (and I’ve been fortunate to cover three World Cup finals): 2-1 v Dundee United in the Skol Cup quarters, 1987. I can still feel the surge of emotion when Tommy Coyne equalised towards the end. I’m not sure anything has come close to that feeling since.
These reasons, among many others, are why I’m not an advocate for the Camperdown development. Dens is our home.

I grew up on a farm and with a friend down the road – an Aberdeen supporter who then switched loyalties to Forfar – started writing a fanzine that would become It’s Half Past Four …And We’re 2-0 Down (HPF). It summed up that feeling towards the end of the game when you had been reduced to making deals with God if it meant getting a goal that might spur a comeback. Invariably of course that didn’t happen. I remember looking at the clock in the corner at Dens many times and hoping against hope.
The first issue was a more general football fanzine but by issue 2 we had decided to make it a Dundee FC-centric publication. I think my friend, who was a good bit older than me, had found other things to interest him such as girls. I meanwhile was happy to stay up until the wee sma’ hours writing diatribes about Angus Cook and composing all time Dundee disaster XIs etc.

Four edition’s of Alan’s It’s Half Past Four …And We’re 2-0 Down fanzines.

There was not too much content about Dundee to savour beyond what the Courier was reporting. There was barely even a book to buy before Jim Hendry’s fantastic Dundee Greats. I just wish HPF might have extended to more than eight issues.

Challenges of being a Dee and football writer

One time, Ron Dixon invited me to Dens Park. I was just a student and so had to smarten myself up for a boardroom visit. He sat down in front of me and told me that I reminded him a lot of himself, which I wasn’t sure whether to take as a compliment or not. He’d actually bought a copy of the fanzine outside Dens. He thrust a tenner into the hands of one my friends I’d recruited to help me sell them, and drawled: “keep the change”. I like that image.

When I became a football writer professionally, I suppose the biggest problem was that I wasn’t always covering Dundee. I had to get used to not watching them play on a weekly basis. I started freelancing for Scotland on Sunday. Although my first assignment was a 0-0 between Morton and Dundee at Cappielow, it wasn’t always a Dundee game that I was handed. I remember sitting at Palmerston Park while Dundee were winning the league in Kirkcaldy in 1998 and finding that quite hard. But you get used to it and of course, it solved the problem of not having to criticise the team I loved! I didn’t fancy doing it in print that much and having former chairman Derek Souter phone me up to complain, which he did a few times. But Derek and I are all right now. I’ve had a seat near him in the Derry in recent seasons and I enjoy his insight. Although Angus Cook did recently put the phone down on me….

There’s certainly been plenty of news to cover at Dens over the years, that’s for sure. I suppose it started to get really interesting when the Bonettis came in. The Caniggia signing is still hard to process and while I was fortunate to bag a one-to-one interview with him a few months into his stay, I’m still annoyed that my sports editor sent me to interview Robert Prytz – then assistant manager at Hamilton Accies – rather than to cover Caniggia’s unveiling.

Interviewing Caniggia on the Copacabana

He did redeem himself by sending me to Albania for Dundee’s return to European competition in 2003. That was certainly memorable and a real privilege – to be paid to see what I always dreamed of seeing: Dundee in proper European action (I don’t count the Intertoto).

Also memorable but in a less positive sense was the night Scotland were humped 6-0 by Holland in the second leg of the Euro 2004 play off. Reports were just emerging that Dundee were preparing to go into administration the following day and so I was trying to process that amid the wreckage of another failed major finals attempt. I have to confess the Dundee news was uppermost in my mind but I had to try and be professional and concentrate on the Scotland story.

Another memorable moment, and I don’t think I will ever beat this one, is interviewing Claudio on the Copacabana beach during the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014. I stalked him after spotting him at the Maracana during the France v Germany last 16 game and the following day waited outside his hotel until he emerged. He gave me about 20 minutes of his time and was utterly charming and happy to chat about Dundee after giving me what I needed on what looked like being Messi’s last chance to win the World Cup.

Bringing it slightly more up to date, the recent title winning game v Queen’s Park was a privilege to be at. I would not have been able to go had I not been working as we all know that tickets were like hen’s teeth. Even getting press accreditation was hard enough. But I did and all was going swimmingly until about 12 minutes in when Dundee decided to make it a bit more interesting by conceding two quick goals. My sports editor phoned up at half time requesting 1000 words on the final whistle rather than the 500 previously agreed. They came fairly easily fortunately. And the pint at Larbert station en route home in a pub full of Dundee fans has rarely tasted sweeter.

When I first started the job I did fear it would compromise my relationship with Dundee and maybe it has to a certain extent. You see and hear things you sometimes do not want to. But I’m happy to report that even now when I go to a match as a fan, I slip effortlessly back into the mindset of the teenage me. A week is made a lot brighter if I know there’s a trip to Dens at the end of it, and I can get my scarf on rather than sit in the press box.

Dee4Life and raising a future Dee

I’m still a member of the Capital Dark Blues, I had been aware of the club when I was at school in Edinburgh and even contacted the then convener Grant Anderson about getting lifts up to games but the timings didn’t work. And then I started at Dundee Uni and didn’t have such worries about getting to games. But since returning to Edinburgh to live I’ve had more involvement and in the early 2000s the club was very vibrant – though I also remember attending a Dixon/David Holmes meeting in Edinburgh in the early 90s and Holmes marvelling at the number of Dundee fans present. He said something like if Hearts or Hibs organised a similar meeting in Dundee, they’d be holding it in a phone box! So Edinburgh has always had a really healthy number of active Dundee fans, but I think it was at its peak in the early 2000s, when Ivano and Dario Bonetti were coming for question and answer events in Italian restaurants and the annual dinner was being attended by around 150 people.

My love for Dundee remains as strong as it ever was an I now hope to pass that on to my son, Jack. I’m always struck by parents who take a casual view of the matter of their offspring’s loyalties. I know of several who are simply happy if it’s the local team rather than their own. Well, there’s no way I’m taking Jack – who is still only five – to Hibs or Hearts games at the expense of Dundee. Fortunately, he seems to be showing interest. His first game was away at Livingston, the last game of 2021-22 season when we were already relegated. I thought that would be a chilled-out one to introduce him and I was eager for him to be able to say he once saw Charlie Adam play in dark blue – or light blue as it was that day. He’s since been to Dens – a 2-1 win over Ayr United, when Paul McMullan scored a worldie. Jack wears his Dundee strip to tots’ football coaching each Sunday morning and it gives me pride to see that standing out amongst all the usual football tops you’d expect on an Edinburgh pitch.

Dee4Life member Alan Pattullo and his five-year-old son Jack.
Dee4Life member Alan Pattullo and his five-year-old son Jack.

That’s one of the reasons I’m a Dee4life member. This is a tricky and potentially defining time in the club’s history. We all need to ask the right questions and be wary of plans that potentially put the club’s very future at risk. It’s what I would be doing in fanzine days and what I’m trying to do now in a professional capacity.

On the pitch, I’m pretty optimistic. I’m fairly easy to please. Simply knowing I can enjoy Lyall Cameron and Josh Mulligan in a Dundee shirt for another season at least is a welcome bonus, as I had doubted seeing them again after the Queen’s Park title game when they were out of contract and on the radar of other clubs. I’m passionate about seeing young talent from the Dundee area being given a chance and it does seem like Dundee have got their act together on the youth recruitment front.

As for the first team, Tony Docherty has done a sterling job of rebuilding again and I’m glad to see so many from last season returning. I was saying to someone the other day that for the first time in my lifetime there’s not anyone at Dundee United I would take over the current Dundee player in the corresponding position. Not that this is relevant this season when it comes to securing safety in the top flight. But I’m hopeful we can do that.

To join Alan as a Dee4Life member, sign up here for just £10 a year.

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