When I was 18, I went on holiday to Zante with some pals. One night, we thought it’d be great fun to play on some inflatables floating just off the beach. The manager of the nearby bar went mental, and armed with an oversized bottle opener-cum-swiss army knife, demanded 40 euros from each of us before he’d let us leave. When his back was turned, we legged it down to the beach to our scooters and bolted it back to our hotel. As the Will of this real-life Inbetweeners sketch, my terror – and relief at making it back without any scars – was palpable.
This season has been a nine-month-long reliving of that experience, as Dundee have drunkenly lurched from one disaster to another before finally, undeservedly, embarrassingly stumbling to safety. I never want to speak of this season again.
I don’t want to relive it all, as the memories are still too fresh and mediocre, but here’s a list of ways in which Dundee outperformed even our own tragicomic tendencies this season:
– Signing Danny Williams on a 3 year deal
– Signing the seriously-injured James McPake on a 2 year extension to 2019
– Signing United reject Marcus Haber, a move mocked by the support, who somehow then saves our season
– Scott Bain getting into arguments with fans in the Bobby Cox Stand (who, to be fair, make St Mirren fans look like rays of endless sunshine and positivity)
– Replacing Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings with an amateur wrestler from the 27th tier of Dutch football
– Signing social media guru Marc Klok to boost his highlights reel by a full 10 seconds before chucking him
– Going out of the Betfred Cup at the group stage to the footballing gods that are East Fife, Dumbarton, Forfar and Peterhead
– Losing 7-0 at home to Aberdeen and still not sacking the manager
– Hartley persisting with Tom Hateley and not being sacked
– Hartley playing Cammy Kerr at left-back and not being sacke
– Losing 21 league games this season – seven of which were in a 10-game run of no wins, and another seven in a row in March and April, ending our top six hopes and Hartley’s time at Dens.
In the end, our fate rested on a bold decision from the Board to sack media-darling Paul Hartley and appoint another media-darling, pundit, Dundee legend and generally handsome man Neil McCann, in the hope of pulling us out of the post-split mire. Points gained against Motherwell and Rangers in February, when both teams were as disciplined, measured and graceful as the customers of kebab shop at 4am, would prove to be vital in keeping us away from a true relegation dogfight. In the end, the “new manager bounce” (read: playing players in their actual bloody position) got us over the line in time for the players to absolutely fart out defeats to Caley and Accies.
On reflection, it’s a minor miracle that my tweet hailing Neil McCann as the new Messiah did not end up in the “retweeted to death by bitter United fans” column, as did happen to my Betfred Cup “piece of piss” tweet, but whoever takes on the Dens Park hot seat has been left a hot steaming mess of a squad. Given how borderline unhinged elements of our support can be, I’ve yet to work out how nobody has chucked a scarf, season ticket, pie or farmyard animals on to the pitch in disgust at some point. We’ve been shortchanged for years by Lyle Lanley-style charlatans in charge of the club, but now that we have what appears to be off-the-park stability, we need the right man in charge next season to finally deliver something approaching success. Hell, I’d even take simply avoiding cup embarrassment as a down-payment.
Anyway, the ratings:
Scott Bain – 5
Players’ Player of the Year, Evening Telegraph’s Player of the Year, and (I think) voted Dundee’s POTY by the Daily Record, Scott Bain is a stellar example of a player rated by reputation rather than results. Yes, he’s had a shakier defence than the Maginot Line to cope with all year, but his positioning at set pieces and distribution are all on him, and he definitely regressed after a terrific 15/16 campaign which ended with a Scotland call-up. He’s had the temerity to snap back at fans online and in the Bobby Cox this season, which doesn’t exactly show an ability to cope under pressure, but definitely improved after Hartley’s departure and made a few crucial saves post-split. Previously thought to be heading out the door to try and find his BOMAs Hemmings, McGinn, Stewart et al, there’s now talk of Bain staying for the final year of his contract.
David Mitchell – 2
A point per game for our back up keeper, who did keep two clean sheets and is therefore statistically the best keeper in the land. Despite that 100% record (which included the infamous ghost goal against Motherwell), he never really looked like challenging Bain, and it’s no surprise he’s heading to the Championship to seek pastures new.
Kevin Holt – 6
Much-maligned last year, Holt has become a solid but not flashy left back who hasn’t done too much wrong. Like Matt Lockwood and Daniel Day-Lewis, his dependence on his left peg is something else, and his ability to get up the park has been hampered by the lack of a dependable left-mid in front of him to help cover, but he’s still chipped in with a number of valuable goals and assists.
Cammy Kerr – 9
He’s one of our own, he’s one of our own. Cammy Kerr. He is one. Of. Our. Own.
Full disclosure – I love this guy. Challenged by Hartley to make the right back position his own, he’s taken it on with gusto, and has blossomed into an athletic dynamo who isn’t scared to leave Kenny Millar flat on his arse in front of a baying Derry. Deservedly voted Player of the Year by the fans with a win percentage Kim Jong-Un would be proud of. Thankfully, he’s Derry’d oot his nut and isn’t likely to be going anywhere any time soon.
Darren O’Dea – 7
It’s early April. Dundee are awarded a penalty in Dingwall. I’m frantically refreshing my feed in a hotel in Vietnam at 2am. “O’Dea scores!”
WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS WHERE O’DEA IS ON OUR PENALTIES? I’ll tell you where – it’s a hell where he saw the need for a leader on the pitch and took action. He’s not the fastest centre back in the world, but his positioning and command of his fellow defenders makes up for that, and he brings a passion to the side that was sorely lacking elsewhere this year. A true leader who I’d back to be given the captain’s armband permanently.
Kostadin Gadzhalov – 4
This mark is artificially held down by his lack of appearances, because let me be clear: I love Gadzilla, and don’t have a scooby why he’s behind Gomis and Julen in the pecking order. He doesn’t take any chances, is pretty tidy on the ball, and scored the equaliser to send United down; what’s not to like? I’d be gutted if he’s released this summer, but he’d be a great option for any other bottom 6 team.
James McPake (yes, he is still here) – 0.
I like James – I won a top from him in a Twitter competition, so he’s a good lad – but he’s not played a game since January 2016 and it’s hard to see him ever coming back from injury now. I understand he’s getting involved elsewhere at the club, and could step up to coaching in the near future, and I’m guessing his two-year contract extension this season is to reflect that work.
Kevin Gomis – 3
Vince Cable once said Gordon Brown had gone from Stalin to Mr Bean. Kevin Gomis is clearly cut from the same cloth. When he’s paying attention and using his brain and immense frame to patrol the backline, you can see why he’s played at such a high level before. When he has one of his regular brain farts and removes somebody’s spleen by accident, you can see why he’s now at Dundee. I don’t see him getting a new contract, and I won’t miss him too much.
Julen Etxabeguren – 4
Would you dance, if I asked you to dance? Julen is a handsome man, but by Christ does he love giving away cheap penalties, even managing to offer up two in one game against Caley. He missed the last few months through injury, and is a frustrating player to watch at times, but a solid enough squad player.
Daniel Higgins – 3
Signed from Celtic’s youth team, Higgins was only thrown in at the end of the season when our paper-thin squad began to creak, but he performed admirably at the back when he was played and is a hope for the future.
Darryl Meggatt – 1
Yeah, I know, I forgot we signed him too! The utility player was utilised out to Ayr United, never to return.
Paul McGowan – 5
Apparently, he’s our friend because he hates coppers. He also seemed to hate tracking back, following his man and shooting with power and accuracy this season, but those aren’t quite as easy to fit into a terracing chant. Performed much better in the advanced role he was deployed in by McCann than the quarterback role preferred by Hartley, and has enough quality and experience to bounce back from a fairly poor season. Remember to count to ten, Paul….
Mark O’Hara – 6
Mind when Gary Mackay-Steven was a thing? The Joel Sked lookalike built a career on YouTube montages, and there’s a risk that some are applying that logic to O’Hara. He’s had a good first season, and has had some excellent games, but there have also been stretches when he’s been anonymous. He’s adapting to his role on the right wing and building an understanding with Cammy Kerr, and will hopefully push on next season.
James Vincent – 5
I’m going to get pelters for this from some fans, but I think Vincent has improved massively since he joined. He’s still not being played in the attacking slot he was used to at Inverness and can be guilty of some slack passes, but his pressing and positional awareness have been excellent. Anybody who claims McGowan has had a better season is letting the name cloud their judgment.
Danny Williams – 1
The aforementioned Mr Williams is not in my good books. Signed for width and pace, Williams provided a slow, dithering, lightweight and overly cautious presence somewhere on the pitch a few times this year, before going home to giggle at the fact he’s landed a three-year deal with us. He gets a mark because, in my sunnier moments, I think that our formation and tactics haven’t yet suited him, and he may yet come good.
Tom Hateley – 0K (as in absolute zero on the Kelvin scale)
There are a few ratings in here that I’ll accept some quibbling over. I will fight to the death over this one, though. Hateley is slow, slight, ponderous, risk-averse, and all of the other adjectives I’ve come to associate with a typical Hartley midfielder. He put in a decent shift at right back against Motherwell, and I’m reliably informed that his stats belie his reputation among fans, but if he was stuck in stocks outside the Caird Hall I’d be the guy selling rotten fruit next to him. He’s got to go.
Nick Ross – 2
Like Gadzhalov, this mark is indicative of a lack of game time rather than performance. An ever-present last year, Nick Ross has now had an entire forest of splinters from sitting on the bench all season, but saw some game time after Hartley left. A neat, tidy player, but one who can (and does) have some total stinkers too.
Marc Klok – 0 for performances, 6 for music choice for his highlight reels.
Signed in a last-minute panic on deadline day in January, Klok was an archetypal Hartley signing; a lightweight, slow, indecisive central midfielder who has better career prospects in promotional videos for seedy nightclubs than he does on the pitch.
Nicky Low – 0
We seem to like signing midfielders called Nicky with legs made of shite and sellotape, but unlike Riley, Low couldn’t hold his limbs together long enough to play for us and was punted out on loan. A pity, because from the few games he has played, he provided pace and width on the left that his supposed replacement Danny Williams must have sold for some magic beans.
Marcus Haber – 8
His eye for goal is questionable, to say the least, but get yourself into enough scoring positions and you’ll eventually get lucky. His arrival heralded a change in tactics from “suicidal” to “punt it up to the big man”, and while it wasn’t pretty, it did work. Unfortunately, it’s also the only system we found that did work, which meant that if Haber was injured or having one of his “couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo” days, we were out of luck. He’s not the fastest player, and if he has too much time on the ball, he’ll inevitably make a poor decision, but without him, we’d have been automatically relegated.
Craig Wighton – 5
Craig gets an extra mark in recognition of the fact he relegated United at Dens last May. Have I mentioned that Dundee relegated United? I have? Repeatedly? Oh.
Anyway, Wighton’s had a lot more game time this season than last, but hasn’t really made his mark. He’s still easily bullied off the ball and has lacked a little bit of dynamism and energy. A lack of natural wingers has had him deployed on the left most of the season, which isn’t his natural position, but his ball skills show that there’s a player there if he’s supported properly.
Faissal El-Bakhtaoui – 6
He’s not replaced the regular supply of goals we had from Hemmings and Stewart, but El-Bakhtaoui has shown glimmers of real promise. Like Wighton, he is incredibly slight and can bounce off the bigger defenders in the league, but he buzzes around the park causing bother, and is capable of some very neat touches and ridiculous goals.
Yordi Teijsse – 2 (1 for telling the Sun where to go on Facebook, 1 for the WWE-style hair)
I feel sorry for Yordi. He was signed as a two-year project and immediately thrown in as a sacrificial goat once Hemmings and Stewart left. What a goat he was, as well. Other than a good performance against Forfar in the Betfred Cup, he offered nothing before being punted out on loan to Germany and then released at the end of the year.
Rory Loy – 2
An opening day brace wasn’t enough to save Loy, who didn’t score again until late October before being punted out on loan to St Mirren in January. He was touted far and wide as a player worthy of the step up to the Premiership when at Falkirk, but the higher end of the championship is probably where he’s most comfortable.
Michael Duffy (loan) – 1
Signed as a winger/forward from Celtic, scored a screamer in the BetFred Cup, then did nothing else before his loan was terminated halfway through the season so he could sign for Dundalk.
Henrik Ojamaa (loan) – 3
Signed on loan to provide some physicality and a link between midfield and attack, Ojamaa looked the business for a few games before fading away and drifting on to the bench by the time of the split. He definitely played his part, but a permanent deal doesn’t look to be on the cards.
Paul Hartley – 2
The 2 is in reluctant recognition that Hartley brought us up, cemented us in the Premiership, and relegated United at Dens. The absence of any other marks is a reflection of the shabby recruitment strategy for this year, our one-dimensional tactics, and generally doing such a piss-poor job. Shipping seven goals at home to anybody, giving Hamilton their only away win all season and going out of that Betfred Cup group are all unforgivable.
Neil McCann – 10
He’s blue, he’s white, he’s fucking dynamite – he’s Neil McCann!
Handsome Neil’s appointment boosted the support and the club at a time when morale was non-existent, and was mocked by many. BUT WHERE ARE THE HATERS NOW HE’S KEPT US UP, EH?! He didn’t even need all five games to do it, managing to eke out two wins and a draw to secure our status in the first three games. What a fella.
Written by Gary Cocker