TOM DUTHIE: Dangerous to dismiss Dundee United’s lowest gate in 44 years as a one-off

Dundee United are dejected after losing the bonus point to Alloa
Dundee United are dejected after losing the bonus point to Alloa

As kick-off in the Championship looms large, almost the only certainty about Dundee United right now seems the uncertainty that surrounds the club.

On a range of subjects there are more questions than answers around the Tangerines, though, in some ways, that situation can be labelled as a fact of football life rather than a major cause for concern – at the moment anyway.

What it’s led to, apparently, is many Arabs adopting a wait-and-see approach before deciding whether or not to pledge their support, in terms of attendance at least, straight away.

Saturday’s crowd of 1,659 for the Betfred Cup clash with Alloa was the lowest at Tannadice for a competitive first-team fixture in 44 years.

Not since a meaningless final league game of the 1973/74 season, against Morton, have fewer fans turned out.

Back then it wasn’t a worry. Under Jim McLean, United were an improving team and days earlier had been in a Scottish Cup Final against Celtic. That the fans would return in numbers the following season wasn’t in question.

That the same will be the case this term isn’t so clear, though, with over 3,600 season tickets sold, it’s a given considerably more will be at Tannadice for the league opener against Dunfermline on Saturday week.

And that the weekend attendance was so low can be put down to a number of factors that suggest it was a blip.

It’s been a bad start in the Betfred.

One point from two ties against Arbroath and Ross County meant while, mathematically, Csaba Laszlo’s team could still get past the group stages, the reality was they were already out and fans were not interested in turning up for a meeting with Alloa they viewed as no more than a pre-season friendly.

It’s also holiday season, so many were either away or preparing to go and keeping their cash for other things. The fact golf’s Open Championship was taking place just up the coast at Carnoustie couldn’t be ignored either – a day out at the golf was always likely to be a more enjoyable experience.

It would, though, be dangerous to dismiss the low turnout as a one-off.

The fact United are entering their third consecutive year in the second tier is proof in itself there are no guarantees of success in the coming season and some fans will wait to see how the campaign unfolds before committing.

The failures of the past two years have left many frustrated and, consequently, reluctant to dip hands into pockets.

And while the major squad rebuild that’s taken place was necessary and the players brought in look decent, they will need time to gel. The Betfred performances have been stuttering. If that continues in the league fixtures, the supporters may stay away.

If all that wasn’t enough, off the pitch the changes over the past few months have been substantial. The other week most were delighted to see former chairman Stephen Thompson sell his majority shareholding to his successor Mike Martin, director Jimmy Fyffe and two, as yet, unnamed backers.

Even before they got hold of those shares, Martin and Fyffe were putting in place things that looked encouraging. The restructuring of the backroom staff down to youth level and some of the day-to-day working practices implemented have seemed positive. Again, however, it appears people want a stronger indication of the long-term result of those changes before giving them the thumbs up.

Football is, ultimately, a game of results and there’s no doubt the biggest help in getting fans on board will be by winning games.

If United are sitting at the top after four or five games, much of the current uncertainty will have disappeared.