Looking for Archie part 1 – Dens Park

IMG_0012.JPGAs the purpose of my veteran football club, Dynamo Birkerod, is to provide sports and cultural activities in the Anglo-Saxon football  and gentleman tradition to the benefit of the members’ physical and intellectual well-being, I had decided to organize a three day trip to Scotland to see three classical football grounds with stands made by the iconic stadium designer from the early 20th century, Archibald Leitch.

scan0097Back in the 80’s, almost every other football ground in Britain seemed to get it’s distinctive features from a stand designed by the entrepreneurial Scotsman in the first two or three decades of the century. But after the Taylor report in 1990, almost all British stadiums have been relocated or rebuilt. There is less than a dozen grounds with Archibald Leitch stands left now. Two years ago, I took Dynamo to one of them, Goodison Park, Everton. This time around, we are going for three. Dens Park in Dundee, Ibrox in Glasgow, and Tynecastle in Edinburgh. And just in the nick of time, as the Archibald Leitch stand at Tynecastle is about to be bulldozed away in a month from now.

As things have turned out, it could also be that we will see the Scottish league title being decided. Celtic could win it, if Aberdeen fail to win at Dundee F.C. in the first match. And should Aberdeen manage to win, Celtic could still become champions in the third match of the weekend, if they beat Hearts.

17498558_1899526356927646_7730480214010065989_nAlas, Ib – our club journalist – cannot make the first match due to work commitments, but will join us with his two sons after the match. So we are only eight Dynamo members getting together at the airport at noon Friday. We have a pretty tight schedule to get to Dundee in time. From the scheduled landing time in Edinburgh, we have exactly an hour and a half to get to our hotel in the city center, drop our luggage, get to the station and pick up the tickets from the ticket-collect-machine and catch our train for Dundee.

Things, however, seem to run smoothly. We get an eight-man cab at the airport. Peter and Frank, club cartoonist and webmaster, sit in the front and tell the driver about our plans. When he hears that we are going to Dundee for the match, he says that he can take us. We tell him that we have already got train tickets. “How much are the train tickets?” he asks. “£18” I answer. He makes a quick calculation. “I will take you for £150”.  For a split second, I find it hard to believe that a taxi driver will wait more than two hours outside a football ground to take his customers back. But then I figure out, that he probably wants to see the match himself and see us as potential sponsors of his going there.

Actually, I discover that the £18 is for the outward journey only, whereas the return journey is 4,50, so it would have been cheaper to go with his cab. But now that we have bought the train tickets and only have to collect them, there is no point. But nice to have a plan B, if we should miss the train.

We do, however, catch the train with a few minutes to spare – but not enough time to buy a snack at the station, despite calls for a fish ‘n chips. There should, however, be time for that before the match. But the train only moves slowly. The driver apologizes over the tannoy, but none of us understands his explanation, delivered in a thick Scottish accent.

As the train slowly puffs along, we pass a football ground with a stand that makes my heart pound. It looks absolutely amazing. I look at google maps on my phone to see where we are. Kirkcaldy. The name doesn’t really ring any bells. I look it up at the hotel in the evening, and discover to my embarrassment, that it is an Archibald Leitch stand, I have seen. Raith Rovers play at Stark’s Park in Kirkcaldy. It illustrates my ignorance of Scottish football. But I promise myself to make amends and be back within a year.

17637133_1719934911356170_2322568712404751169_o.jpgWe get to Dundee about half an hour late. There is still about two hours to kick-off, so we don’t panic but decide to walk to the ground, which should be just a 30 minutes’ walk away. The walk, however, is mainly uphill. We meet two other men of the same age as us (that is 50’ish or 60’ish). They have travelled from Middlesbrough to see the match. One of them had been to about a thousand football grounds. After doing the league grounds, he was now doing the non-league grounds as well. In England and Scotland. In fact, he even knows of my Danish club, BK Frem. I am deeply impressed, but he claims that he is just as impressed to meet a Dane, who knows about Archibald Leitch.

P1270013.JPGWe finally get to the ground, shake hands with the Middlesbrough lads and wish each other a good game. By now, there is a desperate craving for fish ‘n chips in our group, but I insist on  collecting our tickets before. I am, however, more business-like than usual, and don’t really get a look around to see what the souvenir shop has to offer.

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We ask for a place to buy fish ‘n chips and are told to go down Provost Road and then around the corner. It doesn’t sound very far, but it takes us some 10-15 minutes to get there. “Jamie’s Chippie”.

P1270021.JPGThe staff are not that efficient – or, perhaps, used to customers who are in a hurry. It takes quite some time for them to get 8 trays ready for us. With so much effort put into it, I would have expected better chips. They are rather pale and soft. Tam, who is in the habit of having a beer at halftime when we are playing ourselves, decide to go to an off-license store to get some beer to make the chips go down. He comes back with an eight-pack.

17436237_1719933318022996_6362228272028888146_o (1)By now, I am getting a bit nervous. Apart from the Archibald Leitch stand, what makes Dundee a special place to watch football, is the fact that the distance between Dundee F.C.s Dens Park and Dundee United’s Tannardice is the shortest distance between two rival football grounds in Britain – if not in the world. Just over a hundred yards. A good goalkeeper would be able to kick the ball from the corner of one ground to the corner of the other. No wonder that the away team sometimes prefer to change at home in the Dundee derbies. To have two grounds almost within touching distance is really something to dwell on and take in.

17757080_1901694856710796_6461475371369731477_nMy nervousness increases, as some of the lads start to discuss whether there is time to visit a pub close by. Jes, our literature man, spots my nervousness and sends me off, telling me I have to do my anthropological field work.

P1270028.JPGAs almost all the fans, I have seen heading for the match, had walked down Hindmarsh Avenue, I decide to follow in their steps. I should have checked my google map, as another choice would have enabled me to walk along with Tannardice, Dundee United’s ground. Now, I end up right in the middle of no-mans land between the two grounds. Roughly the distance between the trenches in WW1.

I feel like a child, waking up on his birthday to a mountain of presents, waiting to be unwrapped. Not knowing what is inside them, not knowing where to start. Just feeling overwhelmed and knowing that this is going to be good. A state of excitement that you want to be in for as long time as possible. Two grounds – so close to each other. I am stuck in the middle. Finally, Archie wins me over. His stands are like time warps. They ooze football of the “golden age”, the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Well, maybe these decades were not that golden. But, anyway,  they defined my generations sense of ‘proper football’. And the Archibald Leitch stands are the embodiment of that time.

P1270033.JPGThe main stand at Dens Park is captivating. Built just after WW1 on a tight budget, it is one of Archie’s more utilitarian stands. Everything that could be done to save money, was done. The cheapest materials, the front terracing sunk under pitch level to accommodate more spectators and at the same time keep the height of the stand to a cost-saving minimum. And whereas modern grounds usually are designed as a harmonic unit, the main stand is designed to follow the curve of the road. Where football clubs today would buy surrounding lands or roads, this ground is fitted into the existing structure. On top of these efforts to keep expenses on the new stand down, the predecessing wooden stand was kept and used during the construction of the Leitch stand, allowing the club to get the revenue from spectators despite construction work taking place.

I could be standing there for hours, taking it all in. But there is only 20 minutes to kick-off. I make a quick dash down to Tannardice. There is not time to walk around the ground, but at least I can get a look at Dens Park from the point of view of their rivals.

By the time I walk back towards Dens Park, I see the others arriving, and we go to our turnstile. They are amazed how narrow it is, although it is not really narrower than at other grounds. But the stairways and corridors (I wouldn’t call it a concourse) in the stand are definetely more narrow and sparse than at any other grounds – also than the other Leitch-grounds I have seen. When we collected the tickets, the guy at the ticket office told us to be careful to chose the right turnstile. “Otherwise you might get lost”. I can see what he means. Narrow corridors separated by doors – the doors leading to the toilets not really different to the doors leading you further down the network of corridors or into the stands.

Our seats are right in the middle of the stand, a couple of rows in front of press reporters and journalists. Although the pillars holding the roof (and restricting the view) are plain, cheap, prefabricated concrete pillars, the iron constructions under the roof are elaborate enough to give the stand more character than modern day stadium ‘car park-like’ architecture. And, of course, the angled shape of the stand. It does leave a gap from the stand to the field – a gap that previously has been used for a greyhound race track. When standing was abolished in 1990, the greyhound race track was relaunched, and the standing areas were used by bookmakers.

Opposite Leitch’s main stand is the South Stand from 1959. That was before cantilever stands, and this stand also has pillars obstructing the view. The really odd thing is, that it only extends the length of the eastern half of the ground. The others are puzzled. Why?

scan0098The explanation is probably that the terracing built on the sloping ground on the other sides of the pitch were not the same heights and widths. When they decided to cover the terrace, they went for a very basic cover on top of the existing terrace rather than constructing a completely new stand. And the irregular terrace (constructed on a sloping hill) was not wide enough for the stand in the western half of the ground.

There is still one of the original stairways leading up the hill to enter the uncovered western terracing part of the southern side of the field. But it is an unused wasteland, the crowd now entering the stand from the eastern side, and TV-platforms now taking up the space of the western half.

P1270016.JPGThe reason why the match is played on a Friday night is, of course, that it is being televised. And that is also the reason why it has been easy to get tickets. The Friday night kick-off time hasn’t deterred the Aberdeen supporters. They fill the modern Eastern Stand with some 2.400 fans – out of a crowd of just 7.500.

P1270123Predictably, it is also the Aberdeen supporters making all the noise. There are a few Dundee chants coming out from the southern stand, but they seem rather halfhearted. It is not that Dundee F.C. supporters don’t care. Back in 2010, when the club for the second time was put under administration because of financial problems, the supporters rallied and helped the club survive. In fact, the team also rallied after the club was deducted 20 points and had -11. But a long winning streak saw them survive the drop.P1270076.JPG

It is not stubborn support that Dundee F.C. comes up with tonight. Rather, it is complete resignation. Shambolic defending and lack of communication between keeper and defenders allow Aberdeen to storm into a 3 goal lead within 34 minutes and spark an exodus of Dundee fans, particularly from the Southern Stand. By half-time, it is 4-0 and more than half the Dundee fans opposite us have left.

P1270124.JPGMost of the Dynamo players are disappointed by this lack of support. I try to put up a defence for the Dundee fans. When you really care, your heart is bleeding, whenever you watch such a collapse, and it is unbearable to see the wild celebrations among the rival away supporters. They stayed while it was only 2-0. because there still was – in theory at least – a chance that they could rally the team to get back into it. But now – it is just painful.

We make our way down the corridors to taste the local pies. It proves that people from the main stand have left in numbers as well, because the queue is short and there is plenty of space for all of us to gather to discuss the first half events. We wonder whether Aberdeen will ease off and just go through the motions in the second half – or whether it will be 8-0.

As things turn out, it is something in between. Aberdeen play some exhibition stuff, but then decide to take off their best player. Still, they easily make it 5, 6 and even 7-0. Behind us, an exaltated radio commentator thinks that the scoreline is unbelievable from 5-0 upwards. The Aberdeen support seems to think the same. The battle for the title is still on.

I do feel sorry for Dundee F.C. Their defending is shambolic, but they try to play football all the way. That the club still exists is testament to the strength of the support. And the ground embodies their topsy-turvy history. I have read that the current board has purchased some land with the posibility of building a new ground. Already back in 2002, there were plans to build a new shared ground for the Dundee clubs, as Scotland bid to host the 2008 European Championship. Luckily, the bid failed. Everybody who loves British football should go here – see the two grounds next to each other, sense the development of the game over the past century through the place.

P1270143 (2)We make our way back to the station. It is, fortunately, downhill. We come across a group of four elderly ladies with walking sticks and walkers. They mumble something about football, and I tell them that we were at the match. One of them ask for the score. Reluctantly, I tell her that Dundee F.C. lost 7-0. “I knew it!” she laments, whereas some of her friends express their disbelief.

We proceed to a pub – there is just time for a beer before departure. It is crowded and noisy. There is a karaoke contest on, and nobody in here seems to care about the match. But down at the station we come across a few Aberdeen fans. They are also in a state of disbelief. They have never seen anything as fantastic as this. Whereas most of our group fall to sleep during the 90 minute ride back to Edinburgh, they spend the entire trip analyzing every single action, every single player of the match. Truly, a day to remember. And I will certainly be back to Archibald Leitch’s utilitarian time-warp, the Main Stand at Dens Park.

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Posted in Football grounds
One comment on “Looking for Archie part 1 – Dens Park
  1. Frank Madsen says:

    What an excellent and comprehensive report, Hans Henrik! It’s almost like being there yourself. Looking forward to the next chapters.

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