Claudio Caniggia is best remembered for the flicks, tricks and goals that brought delight to the Dark Blue masses – but patrons of one particular pub have their own special memories of the Argentine enigma.
The Argentine World Cup superstar made his Dundee derby debut on Remembrance Day 20 years ago with a stunning display at Tannadice as he opened the scoring and helped his side to a 2-0 win in front of 11,454 fans and an international TV audience which stretched from South America to the West Indies.
Caniggia then famously turned up in the Hilltown and got behind the bar to pull pints for thirsty punters in the High Corner as the players celebrated together with the fans in chairman Jimmy Marr’s pub.
Marr said: “The pub was quite busy – maybe 40 or 50 people in it when he arrived – but within 10 minutes word had got around and 200 supporters were packed in.
“The road outside was blocked and traffic couldn’t get past another 200 folk standing outside.
“Caniggia stayed for about a good hour singing songs and pulling pints.
“When it was time for Caniggia to leave, we couldn’t get through the crowd – it was packed like sardines – so we had to sneak him out the fire exit door.”
Caniggia had played four games for the Dark Blues and scored two goals going into the Tannadice clash.
While Caniggia’s individual performances were just the tonic, Dundee themselves were in poor form having lost their last three games.
Dundee’s woes were small beer compared to United who had failed to win in the league all season and it had also been an incredible 11 months since the Tangerines had actually managed to pick up all three points from a home game.
Caniggia was no stranger to derby games having played for both Boca Juniors and River Plate in the Superclasico in Argentina and the Derby della Capitale for Roma against Lazio in Italy where the blue flashing lights of police riot vans add to the atmosphere.
The violent history of both fixtures was a world away from a game which Caniggia discovered was probably the only derby in world football where players and management of the opposing team would walk to their opponent’s ground amongst the fans on the morning of the game.
Opposing fans can meet for a pint before and after, and trouble outside the ground is extremely rare.
It wasn’t all sweetness and light though.
Caniggia’s extraordinary spell at Dundee is relived in a feature-length documentary from The Courier which includes contributions from former team-mates Lee Wilkie and Barry Smith and former Dee owner Peter Marr
Dundee manager Ivano Bonetti had described United as the dirtiest team he had played against after star striker Fabian Caballero was pole-axed in the previous derby in September at Dens.
Caballero being ruled out for six months following Dundee’s 3-0 win had prompted a search for a replacement which ironically culminated in Caniggia’s arrival at the start of October 2000 which was a signing which shocked the footballing world.
Ivano gave his team talk at Dens before the team made their way on foot down Tannadice Street with the kit hampers being wheeled behind.
Caniggia had been struggling with a rib injury which flared up again and he needed an injection to start against a United side that was marooned at the bottom of the table with just two points.
The manager was hoping Caniggia’s influence would help Juan Sara get back among the goals again after he had failed to score since his hat-trick heroics in that first city derby.
Fans in South America were able to watch live coverage of the Dundee derby for the first time when cable channel ESPN International decided to screen the match and Derek Rae went back to his Scottish roots from the commentary box.
The Caniggia factor also saw the game being shown live in Australia and New Zealand, while audiences in Latin America and the West Indies received delayed coverage.
The injured Caballero had flown back from his base in Italy to watch the match and was given a standing ovation by the away support as he took his seat in the Tannadice stand before kick-off.
United started brightly but Dundee had a chance to take the lead on 10 minutes when Caniggia’s close range shot was blocked by United goalkeeper Alan Combe.
Dundee were creating a string of chances from open play but when the first goal arrived it was with the help of a mistake in the United ranks after Jamie Buchan misjudged a hopeful punt up the park from Barry Smith.
Buchan chested the ball down into the path of Willie Falconer who played in Caniggia and the ageing gunslinger clinically drilled the ball low past Combe and into the bottom-right corner of the net from 16 yards.
Dundee fans sang a song for Caniggia to the tune of Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’.
They sang: “Can-a Can-a, Can-a Can-a, Can-a Caniggiaaaaah…
“He comes and scores, he comes and scores.”
Georgian international Georgi Nemsadze also hit the right notes when he put the contest beyond doubt and ended United’s hopes on 73 minutes.
The goal was started by a brilliant back heel from the magical Caniggia whose delicate flick helped lay captain Barry Smith’s ball into Nemsadze’s path.
The midfielder then beat David Partridge and Hasney Aljofree before chipping Combe from 12 yards.
The Dundee fans taunted their bottom-of-the-table rivals throughout the encounter with their chants of: “Two points, you’ve only got two points”, which even merited a mention in Rob McLean’s BBC Scotland commentary.
Dundee’s fans greeted the Tannadice victory just as loudly as Caniggia’s debut goal at Pittodrie and after the match Ivano dedicated the 2-0 victory to the 5,000 Dundee fans who had made the short journey.
He said: “We scored two wonderful goals to repay the wonderful support we received from our 5,000 fans at Tannadice.
“When our players concentrate, we are a difficult team to beat.
“However we don’t think about being the best team in the city.
“We want to be among the best in Scotland.
“If Dundee finish in third position and United in fourth, that would be wonderful for the city.”
United manager Alex Smith was understandably dejected at his team shooting themselves in the foot and bemoaned the fact that “you can’t give the ball away to a world-class striker like Caniggia”.
After the match Caniggia said he was so happy with life in the City of Discovery that he was ready to finish his playing days at Dens Park.
He said: “The way I’m feeling just now I’d like to finish my career with Dundee.
“I certainly want to stay for at least one more season after this one, perhaps even longer.
“As time goes on, the option of staying becomes more and more real.
“I’ve been made to feel so welcome in Dundee, remaining longer than intended has now become a definite possibility.
“I know Argentina coach Marcello Bialsi has been watching me, as Dundee’s games are being shown live in Argentina at present.
“My ambition is to play in the finals of the World Cup one last time.”