Dundee were thinking big at the start of the 1992-93 season, their first in the Premier Division for two years. The manager, Simon Stainrod, had revamped the squad, with former Everton captain Kevin Ratcliffe and former Arsenal midfielder Graham Rix among that summer’s arrivals. The club’s new home strip was modelled on Sampdoria, who had been European Cup finalists that year. And the club’s owner, the Canadian businessman Ron Dixon, had plans to build a new stand at Dens Park with an ice rink underneath.
But three matches into the season, and despite being handed a gentle start with games against Falkirk, Airdrie and St Johnstone, Dundee were still looking for their first win. And the best team in the country were up next.
Rangers were four league titles into their sequence of nine successive championships. They had big-money signings and internationals almost everywhere you looked; Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist up front; Stuart McCall and Alexei Mikhailichenko in midfield; Richard Gough and Dave McPherson in defence. We felt sure the wait for a win would go on for another week, the ‘we’ being my older brother and his friends who I met in a pub near the city’s then only university before kick-off (soft drinks only for me).
Dundee started well, encouraged from the sidelines by Stainrod, who caught everyone’s attention by wearing a full-length raincoat and fedora, looking like Dick Tracy come to lay down the law. Ivo den Bieman, a Dutch winger who had originally come to Scotland to study, headed home Rix’s corner at the near post to open the scoring. McCoist equalised from a free-kick soon after but Ian Gilzean restored Dundee’s lead when Rangers couldn’t clear another Rix corner. Gilzean’s goal came a month shy of the 30th anniversary of his father, Alan, scoring a hat-trick for Dundee in an 8-1 win over Köln in the European Cup.
Minutes before half-time, McCoist equalised again, this time from close range, but then midway through the second half, Dundee went ahead for the third time. Gilzean flicked on Alan Dinnie’s cross and Billy Dodds beat Ally Maxwell in the Rangers goal with a first-time volley. It was a great finish but it would be another four years, long after he had left the club, before Dodds won the first of his 26 Scotland caps.
Dodds and Gilzean had sights of goal to give Dundee a two-goal cushion and it looked like those missed chances would be costly when, with 10 minutes to go, the Rangers substitute Ian Ferguson thumped home Hateley’s knockdown to make it 3-3. But instead of playing as if they just had the stuffing knocked out of them, Dundee continued on the front foot. And with six minutes to go, Gough fouled Gilzean and the referee awarded a penalty. Dodds sent Maxwell the wrong way and Dundee were back in front. We expected an onslaught in the time left but bar a McCoist shot that flew wide Dundee comfortably saw the game out. They had deservedly beaten the champions. Now our season was up and running.
“We went for their jugular and ripped it out,” said Stainrod of his side’s performance. Rangers, though, quickly recovered. A few weeks later they beat Leeds home and away in the ‘Battle of Britain’ before almost reaching the Champions League final, finishing two points behind eventual winners Marseille in the semi-final group stage.
Dundee, two weeks later, conceded six goals at Partick Thistle, but they stayed up that season. The following year, however, they were relegated.
Stainrod left the club in 1993, later becoming an agent. Dixon became an absentee owner before selling up in 1997; he died in a car crash in Mexico in 2000. As for the ice rink, almost 30 years on the South Enclosure remains pretty much untouched. And that’s just fine.