The first lockdown gave me, like many others, an opportunity to do several things that needed doing around the house. Alright, it was pretty much just a case of tidying up.
Out of the many miscellaneous items that I unearthed in my endeavours, there was one encounter that particularly struck a chord with me. A ticket. Two tickets in fact. For matches due to take place side-by-side and just 24 hours apart. Both with monumental consequences.
The first was for Scotland versus Israel, initially scheduled for Thursday, 26 March 2020 - a Nations League Play-Off Semi-Final that could propel our country to within one game of Euro 2020, now, of course, Euro 2021.
The second was for the following evening as Dundee United faced the short trip up the coast to Gayfield for a Friday night firecracker that would hopefully result in The Terrors returning to Tayside with one hand on the trophy. Or both.
Needless to say, neither event took place as COVID-19 swept across Europe to further-extend our agonising wait of reaching a major finals. At least it was only for one more year! For United, the return to the land of milk and honey was a lot sooner - both since last visited and the wait to hear the verdict post-lockdown. The much maligned SPFL vote saw United Pump It Up all the way back to The Premiership.
As well as those unused tickets, I also came across my old season-books for Tannadice, dating back to my first one - the forgettable 2005-06 season. Looking back, I wonder what left me wanting more. Yet, one thing that is noticeable from each was that I have barely missed a match since. An average of around one per season in fourteen years as an Arab. It has always been a bugbear of mine; missing United games - both home and away - but more so at Tannadice. You know that feeling when you flick through your season-ticket only to find that untorn voucher for a home encounter some three weeks ago that you can’t take your eyes off. Like a permanent itch; yet your hands are tied behind your back. Or is that just me?
I’m not sure if I speak for the rest of you but, for some delusional reason, I always think that, if I am in attendance, I will have some positive impact on the result with my mindless shouting and screaming. The modern tactical genius. Principally as the games I fail to attend seem to always end in draw or defeat. You feel like you’ve literally let the side down.
That is why my other findings detailed above really sticks in my craw - both could have been two of the most important games I had ever witnessed as a fan. In the end, my managerial expertise weren't needed as, by hook or by crook, both club and country negotiated their way through. At least we did get to see one of the fixtures; albeit from the comfort of our armchairs. Something which we’ve gotten used to over the past twelve months. Well, I say that, but I don’t know if can handle much more of it. 364 days later and slapping the back of the sofa to celebrate John McGinn’s brilliant bicycle kick instead of the saltire-clad chairs doesn’t quite hit the same. Literally.
Anyway, my ticket for The William Hill Stand at Hampden Park – Scotland’s biggest home tie in thirteen years, since Allan Hutton was fouled for an Italian free-kick - was set to be an all day event that began in Aberdeen for me and ended in Mount Florida, with multiple pub stops, sorry, rail transfers on route. That is one thing that The Tartan Army were probably more upset at missing out on than the 90 minutes of football. For me, though, as a twenty-something, Scotland’s men have not reached a major tournament in my recollective lifetime - I was not going miss this match for anything. Well, so I thought.
With regards to Arbroath vs Dundee United, a match scheduled just 23 hours and 20 minutes following Scotland’s would-be success, was probably a match I am glad was delayed - Lawrence Shankland would have been knackered! But what’s not to love about watching your club under the lights? This Friday evening encounter the night before the clocks went forward was due to be the perfect tonic, or the second shot in the arm that I didn’t need, depending on how we fared the night prior, as an excuse to get back on the beers for the rest of the weekend. Straight to Tutties Neuk? You bet. United were on course to secure the league title with 3,000 United fans in tow at the best away day in the country; you can’t beat that.
This would be my 438th Dundee United game (there or there abouts) but it would be the first, and most likely only, time I would witness United win a Championship - it’s just a shame it was The Championship. Of course, if Shankland manages to get a hit the ground running next season then… no, I can’t even bring myself to say it.
As I’ve touched on, watching the games from home will always be odd for me, especially at Tannadice. One of the main reasons being that the camera gantry sits in The Jerry Kerr Stand, directly opposite from my seat in The George Fox. You know when you watch your team’s highlights on the television from a different angle and it completely changes the full complexion of the stadium? Although, the DUTV coverage does do a lot to alleviate the peculiar nature of watching United from home. I should, at this point, praise the various clubs’ efforts in making this even possible and the professionalism of the coverage, making it feel more like an effort akin to BT or Sky rather than a Partisan Club TV effort. Not to say there haven’t been some problems encountered, however; BBC ALBA managing to somehow mute the DUTV commentary and replace it with Gaelic on the opening day. But I’ll let that slide; teething issues, right?
I’m sure that, whoever you support, you will have a similar story to mine, and if your club resides in the lower leagues of Scottish football, such as Dundee or Heart of Midlothian, then you had to wait even longer to see your team in action, even if that was from home. The good news is that we will probably get to see our respective sides in body rather than spirit very soon; albeit with the caveat of restricted and socially distanced crowds to begin with. And while that day still might be some months away for you and I, it’s one that can’t come soon enough.
Words: Alex Marr
Locations: Gayfield Park / Hampden Park
Photography: Connor Stewart