Dundee United hero Paul Hegarty recalls halcyon days of trophies and Scotland caps

Paul Sturrock (left) celebrates with Paul Hegarty and Davie Dodds.
Paul Sturrock (left) celebrates with Paul Hegarty and Davie Dodds.

Legend is a word banded about all too loosely in football nowadays.

Dundee United icon Paul Hegarty, though, is a man befitting of that title. And he admits, it is only now looking back at his 16 years at the club from 1974-90 that he realises the impact he and others from that era had on its identity.

Originally a striker, signed from Hamilton Accies in 1974 for £40,000, he was turned into an excellent goal-scoring centre-half by legendary manager Jim McLean.

Heggie, now 64, went on make 707 appearances for the Terrors, scoring 82 goals, lifting two League Cups in 1979 and 1980 and winning the Premier Division in 1983 before leaving Tannadice a legend in 1990.

Behind only Dave Narey (872) and Maurice Malpas (830) in all-time appearances, he returned to the Tangerines as boss for a brief spell in 2002.

However, it is his playing days – which included eight Scotland caps and European adventures with United – former St Johnstone and Forfar Athletic man Hegarty recalls with most fondness.

“It’s nice to look back and it’s really only once your career is over you realise the impact the club has had on you and you it,” he said.

“It was exceptional for about 10 years. We were in semi-finals, finals and winning trophies. The impact we had on people was phenomenal, even now I get people talking to me about their favourite games.

“Our team was brilliant. You could call on 14 or 15 players during a game and you would trust them to deliver.

“When we won the first League Cup in 1979, that was the catalyst. It took us four or five seasons but it was easier once you got that first trophy. You have more confidence in yourself and your team-mates.

“We could have won a hat-trick of League Cups but Rangers beat us in 1981.

“It took us a couple of seasons before we came to find out what European football was all about.

Paul Hegarty in 1978.

“We needed intelligence to play against the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach, Barcelona and Werder Bremen. I think we did all right! We had great players and a top manager in Jim.

“The tried and tested players like Paul Sturrock, Dave Narey and Maurice Malpas were brilliant. Those guys, myself and Eamonn Bannon often took the headlines but Derek Stark, Billy Kirkwood, John Holt and Davie Dodds were the unsung heroes.

“They were the engine-room of the club but probably weren’t as well thought of.

“However, we in the dressing-room as players knew they did the hard work. You need a mixture of players to get success.”

Those halcyon days seem a distant memory for most but former Scots cap Heggie is pleased to see the likes of former players Andy Robertson, John Souttar, Stuart Armstrong and Johnny Russell continuing the tradition of the national team having a tangerine tinge.

However, he accepts, in other ways it is changed days from his time. He added: “Those lads did ever so well at United but they have had to go on to pastures new to become better players and push on to the international stage.

“That is what you are hoping kids at United will do in the future but they need to get out of the Championship first for that to happen.

“No players in that division are in the Scotland set-up, you need to at least be in the Premiership or kicking on down south. It has changed since my days and it’s unfair to look back at the past.

“Players only stay at clubs for a few years now, generally.

“In my days it was a minimum of 10 years, the likes of Narey and Malpas were there longer than me – over 20 years.

“Those guys often kept me out of the Scotland side!”