Jim McLean’s achievements as manager of Dundee United were remarkable enough at the time.
But, with finance king in football and modest provincial clubs struggling to break through the money ceiling, they look even more incredible today.
Ian Roache reflects on the moments that made McLean – who has passed away at the age of 83 – a Tangerines legend.
1 – Premier League title win
This is the club’s greatest achievement by the greatest ever United side. We are unlikely to see their likes again.
As every United fan will happily tell you, the title was clinched at Dens Park, the home of their city rivals Dundee, with a 2-1 win on Saturday, May, 14, 1983.
The team that faced the Dark Blues reads like a who’s who of Tannadice legends.
It was: Hamish McAlpine, Richard Gough, Maurice Malpas, Dave Narey, Paul Hegarty, Derek Stark, Billy Kirkwood, Ralph Milne, Eamonn Bannon, Davie Dodds, Paul Sturrock. Subs: John Holt (came on for Sturrock), John Reilly.
The dearly-departed Milne started the ball rolling with his classic chip then Bannon converted a penalty at the second attempt.
Future United star Iain Ferguson got one back for the home team but McLean’s men held on to clinch the crown in front of almost 30,000 spectators.
2 – Reaching the Uefa Cup final
It all started in the French town of Lens on September 17, 1986. They lost the first leg 1-0, only to go through with a 2-0 win at Tannadice.
A trip behind the Iron Curtain to secure a 3-1 aggregate victory over Romanians Universitatea Craiova followed, then came a 2-0 aggregate win against Hadjuk Split of the then Yugoslavia.
That set up the never-to-be-forgotten quarter-final against Barcelona, whom Jerry Kerr’s United side had done the double over in 1966.
That United not only defeated the mighty Barca but did so home and away – again – stands proudly as one of the finest achievements by any Scottish club side.
Kevin Gallacher’s cross-shot put them 1-0 up after the first leg at Tannadice and then it was on to the Nou Camp, where late goals from John Clark and Iain Ferguson gave them a historic 2-1 win.
The team was: Thomson, Holt, Narey, Malpas, Hegarty, Clark, Redford, McInally, Sturrock, Gallacher, Ferguson.
The semi-final was against old foes Borussia Monchengladbach, whom they beat 5-0 in the Uefa Cup in 1981.
A 0-0 Tannadice first leg had some worried but United were fantastic in the return and goals from Ferguson again and Ian Redford booked their place in the final.
Gothenburg were the opponents and United left the Ullevi Stadium in good shape after the first leg, only 1-0 down.
The return was the first and only time that a Scots club has played a European final on their own park. The date was Wednesday, May 20, 1987 and a crowd of just under 21,000 packed into the ground.
United never really recovered after Lennart Nilsson scored for Gothenburg on 22 minutes. Clark equalised on the hour but it stayed at 1-1 and 2-1 on aggregate to the Swedes.
At the end of the game, the United fans did themselves and Scotland proud by applauding their opponents as they took a victory lap. The gesture was rewarded with the FIFA Fair Play award.
3 – Reaching the European Cup semi-finals
No less an authority than Paul Sturrock once told me that he believed this to be the club’s greatest achievement bar the league title. It does give the Uefa Cup final campaign a run for its money.
It all kicked off in Malta on September 14, 1983 with a 3-0 first-leg win over Hamrun Spartans that was seen as a disappointment for a Scottish club – those were the days! United finished the job at home with another 3-0 victory.
A trip to play Belgian champions Standard Liege was next and they earned a 0-0 draw before one of the many Milne master-classes helped secure a 4-0 victory in the return.
The quarter-final against Rapid Vienna was much tighter and they lost the first leg 2-1 in Austria, with Derek Stark on target for a crucial away goal.
The home match was tense and it was lit up by Davie Dodds’ goal in front of the Shed midway through the first half and the 1-0 win sent United into the semis.
Awaiting them were Italian champions Roma, packed full of stars from the side that had lifted the World Cup less than two years earlier.
United lined up: McAlpine, Stark, Gough, Malpas, Hegarty, Narey, Bannon, Milne, Kirkwood, Sturrock (Coyne 82), Dodds.
The hosts weren’t fazed by their glamorous opponents and played Roma off the park at Tannadice.
Dodds put them 1-0 up just after the break then Stark hammered in the second on the hour.
It was one of the club’s greatest displays and, when the final whistle blew, United were strong favourites to make the final.
However, it all went wrong in the Olympic Stadium in front of a hostile 68,000 crowd as McLean and his players were subjected to abuse from Roma fans, players and officials.
There was also a stench of corruption around the fixture that still lingers. A double from Roberto Pruzzo and a penalty from Agostino di Bartolemi sent the Italians through 3-2 on aggregate to play Liverpool in the final back in their own stadium.
Every United fan was cheering on the Reds as the English giants won on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
4 – League Cup win against Aberdeen
This was the club’s first major honour and all the more special because of that.
After a scrappy goalless draw at Hampden, United and Aberdeen moved to Dens Park for the replay on Wednesday, December 12, 1979.
A crowd of 29,000 looked on as United romped to victory over a quality Dons side that included stars like Willie Miller, Alex McLeish, Gordon Strachan and Steve Archibald. Not to mention that their manager was a certain Alex Ferguson.
Willie Pettigrew put the Tangerines ahead on 15 minutes then the striker made it 2-0 on 65 minutes.
As Aberdeen scrambled to get back into the match, McLean’s tactics worked a treat as they hit on the break with a clinching third from Sturrock on 79 minutes.
It was party time for the United fans for the closing stages.
The victorious line-up was: McAlpine, Kopel, Stark, Holt, Hegarty, Narey, Bannon, Fleming, Kirkwood, Sturrock, Pettigrew. Subs: Phillip, Payne.
5 – League Cup win against Dundee
United returned to Dens the following year to make it a double with a 3-0 win against their rivals on December 6, 1980.
Scottish football had taken the imaginative decision of hosting a major final in Dundee and even the referee, Bob Valentine, was from the city.
A toss of a coin had decided which side of the street the match took place on but United didn’t mind and went 1-0 up on the stroke of half-time when Dodds headed into the Dundee net.
Sturrock put the Tangerines two up on the hour then sealed the deal with his second and the team’s third eight minutes from time.
United’s side was: McAlpine, Kopel, Phillip, Holt, Hegarty, Narey, Bannon, Payne, Pettigrew, Sturrock, Dodds. Subs: Stark, Kirkwood.