It’s been 13 months since Dens Park saw a home crowd cheering Dundee on due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s not the first time Dens has been eerily silent when the Dark Blues have been the home team, however.
That’s because the visit of Dick Advocaat’s title-chasing Rangers took place just a few metres down the road at Tannadice.
Yes, Dundee played a home Premier League match at the stadium of their great rivals, Dundee United.
On this day in 1999, after seeing his all-star Gers side held to a 1-1 draw, Advocaat was full of praise for Jocky Scott’s side.
“Any team in the world could play against this Dundee team and drop points,” he said after the game in which he had fielded the likes of Stefan Klos, Lorenzo Amoruso, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Jorg Albertz and Andrei Kanchelskis.
Dundee’s results against the Old Firm that term included 5-0, 6-1, 4-0, 3-0 and 6-1 scorelines.
Rangers led Celtic in the title race by three points with six games to go but had seen a big lead slip away thanks to defeats to Dundee United and St Johnstone.
With the Dark Blues favourites for the drop at the start of the season and Rangers the bookies’ choice to lift the title, that there would be anything other than a routine away win was unexpected.
However, Jocky’s side that year had something about it – their first point of the season came against Jo Venglos’ Hoops.
They were still in a relegation fight but had picked up form heading into the contest in strange surroundings.
And would go on to finish in fifth place thanks to a late flurry of wins, no doubt spurred on by an excellent display against the Gers at Tannadice.
‘We didn’t want there to be any excuses because the game was at Tannadice’
“We were on a good run at that time and we were desperate not to make a big deal about playing the game at Tannadice,” recalls Barry Smith, Dundee captain at the time.
“All we wanted to do was keep the results coming so we treated it as a normal game – even though it wasn’t at Dens.
“Not playing at Dens was a big deal though, not having the crowd and playing in front of the South Enclosure.
“There was a decent crowd there that day, even if I remember a few Dundee fans said they were going to boycott the game because it was at Tannadice.
“But we were feeling good about things and just wanted to get playing games, no matter where.
“We didn’t have any superstars in the team, we were really hard-working but it took us a while to gel that season.
“There were a lot of good lads in that dressing-room and we really stuck together when it mattered.
“That day we defended really well and were well-organised.
“We didn’t want there to be any excuses because the game was at Tannadice – we had to make sure we got something.
“It was an excellent Rangers team but we caused them problems and that came from playing with confidence.”
Why the move?
Dundee had to play home games at the end of that season with reduced capacity as the Bobby Cox and Bob Shankly Stands were erected.
The two stands had to be built in super-quick time to be ready for the start of the following season to meet new SPL rules.
However, with Rangers the opposition, that meant missing out on a likely six-figure sum and denying thousands of fans the chance to see their teams in a crucial part of the season.
The compromise was to shift the match to Tannadice.
Of course, that angered fans of the Dark Blues and brought talks of boycott. To add fuel to that fire there were rumours swirling of a takeover attempt being planned by United.
‘We thought it was a great place to play!’
However, it became clear that this particular Dundee team very much enjoyed playing at Tannadice.
They had already beaten United 1-0 on their own patch earlier in the season.
And they would go on to beat their old foes once more two weeks after the Rangers clash.
Dundee would also finish well clear of United in the table.
“We beat United at Tannadice a couple of weeks later – we thought it was a great place to play!” adds Steven Boyack, a new signing that season.
“That Dundee team worked as hard as it could. It was as honest a team as you could find.
“We defended well that day and don’t forget we had a great goalie in Rab Douglas.
“I set up the goal – it was probably one of few times I got out of my own half.
“Playing Rangers or Celtic was always really tough but you would get space to play and we made the most of that.
“I made the run forward and played it across for 5ft 4in Iain Anderson to head in.”
It may have been a different experience for the players than they were used to at Tannadice, this time getting changed in the home dressing-room.
But it was much the same for the fans as they took their usual derby sections.
“The Dundee fans made plenty of noise after we went 1-0 up even though there were probably more Rangers supporters there,” continues Boyack.
“In these games, you have to score first and it gave us something to hold onto.
“I think we were around 10th or 11th in the league at that time with Dunfermline behind us.
“We drew that one and were on a really good run that kept us up.”
Chance to show Rangers what they were missing
For Boyack, it was a big match – this was his chance to show Rangers what they were missing.
The 22-year-old had been bought by Dundee from Ibrox to bolster their fight against the drop in February of that year.
And he would play a big part in the revival of Jocky Scott’s team that season.
Boyack’s debut on March 20 saw a 2-0 win over Hearts and they would go on to win five of the next seven matches to shoot right up the table.
“That was my first game against Rangers after leaving Ibrox so I was desperate to be in that team,” he recalls.
“That was one of my better games for Dundee so I definitely remember it!
“It might have only been my third or fourth game since joining.
“I think the gaffer may have played some of the squad players and left some of the main players out for a big game against Kilmarnock coming up.
“That wouldn’t have been said out loud but that was the way the gaffer went.
“Jocky Scott would always say games against Rangers or Celtic weren’t our fight really.
“At that point the Rangers and Celtic teams were so good and you could easily take five or six.
“There was no point getting a result against them but losing to say Dunfermline and them going above you in the table.”
Stick from a Rangers legend
Boyack was a real menace for his old side that day.
He created the opening goal for Anderson in the first half and almost set the same man up for a winner late on with a deft backheel.
Tony Vidmar would head in an equaliser for the Gers in the second half.
But that didn’t stop Boyack getting it in the neck the very same evening from an old team-mate, Rangers legend Ally McCoist.
“It was a 6pm kick-off on TV but after the game was the PFA dinner and we all jumped into James Grady’s motor to get there.
“I remember bumping into Coisty at the bar – he was at Killie at the time – and he’s giving it ‘what did you go and do that for?!’ because Rangers were neck and neck with Celtic for the title.”