“It felt like we had won the league” – Dundee finishing sixth in the second tier wouldn’t usually spark frenzied celebration but nine years ago today the class of 2010/11 cemented themselves in club folklore.
‘Deefiant’ status was confirmed with a 1-0 win at Ross County on April 23, 2011 – a single goal from 18-year-old Leighton McIntosh causing “an explosion” in the stands, according to the Dundonian.
Months after administration had seen the Dark Blues given a huge 25-point penalty by the league, Barry Smith’s beleaguered side beat the odds by avoiding the drop to the Second Division.
The campaign had begun with swingeing cuts across the club’s staff, leaving a skeleton squad to battle against what seemed like the rest of the world.
Current Dens youth coach Gary Irvine had not long been signed by Gordon Chisholm from St Johnstone before the club was plunged into a financial crisis.
He told the Tele: “The 25-point penalty came in and it felt like they were kicking us when we were already down.
“From our point of view, it felt like they were trying to put the club under with that – I think it is the biggest points penalty ever handed out. We felt very hard done by.
“The boys who were kept on were feeling really fortunate because they were still getting paid.
“I don’t know if it was the plan from the bosses to pick a team that could compete but we ended up with a really good team with some good youngsters left behind.
“There was real quality and we said ‘let’s have a go’.”
Despite being left with a threadbare squad, former club skipper Smith had some real talent to choose from that season with a good mix of youth and experience.
The older heads included former Scotland internationals Rab Douglas and Neil McCann as well as experienced campaigners like Rhys Weston and Matt Lockwood while the younger ones included future Scotland star Leigh Griffiths, Dens hero Gary Harkins and defender Craig Forsyth among others.
Called up from the youth team was also striker McIntosh, who hit a purple patch of goals at a critical point in the season – an equaliser against Stirling Albion followed by a double at Morton – before the Dark Blues went north to Dingwall.
The match that clinched their unlikely survival turned out to be his final one of the season, however.
McIntosh said: “When the match started I actually felt my hamstring go because of the demand of all the games before Ross County.
“I think I actually tore the muscle and it was only about 10 minutes in. I knew the gaffer could tell something was wrong but, being young and naïve, I played through it.
“It got worse and worse but it got to the point where I forgot all about it and then got the goal after half-time.
“I was always motivated to chase down long balls and this time the goalkeeper took his time.
“I nicked it from him and I don’t think I even considered anything about what to do next, it was natural. It was a great feeling despite the pain in my hamstring.
“It was a really nice day up there I remember and the supporters were there in their numbers, it was an electric atmosphere.
“I scored right in front of them and it was like an explosion.
“There won’t be any other games with that kind of circumstance I don’t think, it was unique.
“I remember the celebrations on the pitch – it was like we’d won the league. Everyone was ecstatic and it was just pure relief.
“I don’t think I realised at the time how significant it was. My focus was only on playing well and trying to make it as a first-team player.
“It was a massive game looking back.
“I still get Dundee fans coming up to me in the street to say they were there.”
On the game itself, McIntosh’s then team-mate Irvine admits it was all a bit of a blur looking back.
He added: “I remember Leighton’s goal, he was one of the really good young boys who did just as much as the older experienced lads.
“It was the only goal of the game and, at the end, it felt like we had won the league. The feeling and the celebrations afterwards for what we achieved were amazing.
“I’ve always said nothing comes close to that season. I’ve won three league titles and won Challenge Cups where you get a medal at the end for your hard work – there was no medal at the end of that one but I still class saving Dundee and keeping them in the league as my best achievement.”
Irvine went on to spend six years at Dens Park as a player before returning as a coach where he took the U/18 side before the coronavirus shutdown.
McIntosh, meanwhile, has had spells at Montrose, Peterhead, Icelandic side UMF Selfoss, Arbroath and Airdrie before signing for National League side Wrexham.
Following the departure of manager Bryan Hughes, the now-27-year-old joined Lee Clark’s Blyth Spartans on loan until the pandemic hit.
Despite his contract in Wales running down this summer, McIntosh is sanguine about his future.
He added: “I took the opportunity to go down south and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s very competitive and the full-time setup was a big plus for me, too.
“Everything is up in the air right now and I’ll have to wait and see what pre-season brings, whenever it starts.
“I am out of contract this summer but I understand the furlough scheme will cover out-of-contract players for a time so I’m not overly concerned.
“It is what it is, everyone is in the same boat.”
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