42 Grounds: Ground 27: Dens Park

Having finished the semester at university, and had my last day before a holiday from work today, it’s safe to say I was feeling happy on the way to Dundee.

The Christmas break means plenty of football to watch, and a chance to take some time to pursue other interests. The fact that those particular interests are along the lines of watching TV and the like is neither here nor there…

My hope, at the time of writing, is to do a bit of a festive triple header, with three games over the course of today, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Similarly, I don’t intend to miss much football over the new year. While I appear to be ahead of schedule, I know there’s a chance that at least one month later in the season could be a write off due to work.

Before setting off I did the (customary at this time of year?) check to see whether the game would be on. Weather forecasters gloomily predicted a storm, and as a general rule, storms and football don’t go well together. Of course, there is only so much time that one can hold on before setting off, and working on the belief that the game would be on, I set off.

Perhaps it was my imagination, but the jerky nature of the train ride, with what felt like wind battering both sides, didn’t fill me with confidence.

In the end, all was well. It seemed that the worst of the storm had evaded, or at least passed over Dundee.

Arriving in the city, this time by train, I was able to see the progress being made with the waterfront development for the first time since I moved away in June. Dundee is an example of a city doing things right.

It has rebranded itself, becoming a ‘hip’ city with big ambitions. People like to make disparaging remarks about the place, mostly in good humour, but the reputation the city has is undeserved. From expertise in games development to the first V&A Museum outside of London, Dundee is going to be an exciting city to live in over the next few years.

Anyway, having done the Dundee tourism board’s work for them, it was on to Dens Park. It’s a fair walk from the train station, almost all uphill. There seem to be two routes to get there, but if you fancy the sheer workout of a climb I would recommend taking the ‘Hilltown’ route. Of course a local might tell me that’s a ridiculous route to take, but it’s certainly good exercise.

The walk to Dens took me past Tannadice. I don’t think too much needs to be said about how close the grounds are, everyone that reads this will surely know. However it is certainly a bit of a quirk of the game, with two rival’s grounds in such close proximity.

Tonight’s match was between Dundee and Hearts. It was only as I approached the ground I realised that this would be my first opportunity to watch the ‘laptop’ manager Ian Cathro taking charge of his Hearts team. In some ways, with Paul Hartley a former Hearts and Celtic player and very much a ‘football person’, this was a clash of manager types on the touchline.

Both clubs were in need of the points, with Dundee just one point ahead of bottom placed Partick Thistle, and Hearts having slipped behind their competition in the race for second in recent weeks. I had a feeling before the match that a loss would likely pile extra pressure on the losing management team, in one case from sections of the media and the other from his fans.

The home side’s fans would be particularly keen for three points. It would be almost unthinkable for the Dees to be relegated, after having taken the opportunity to mercilessly wind up their Arab counterparts after relegating them at Dens Park last season. To go down the season after might take away some of the joy they have had from winding up friends. Of course the word might needs to be stressed…

Dens is a stadium which mixes the old with the new. The two stands behind the goals, The Bobby Cox and Bob Shankly stands are modern. The Main Stand and the ‘Derry’ opposite it are more traditional. The Main Stand is curved in in a ‘v’ shape, with most of the seats elevated quite high off the ground. The Derry on the other side is generally home to the livelier fans that might be less inclined to actually use their seat, apart from at half time.

The game was as good as I’ve seen this season. Hearts had the better of the early play. With only a few minutes on the clock the Jambos were awarded a penalty following a clumsy tackle by a Dundee defender. Jamie Walker scored it with ease, much to the delight of the travelling fans.

The Dundee fans became even more frustrated as their team looked unable to retain possession. On several occasions they made errors and gave the ball away, allowing Hearts to put them under pressure.

The Dees grew in to the game over the course of the first half, but the Jambos deserved to be in the lead. The boos from the home fans at half time suggested those in attendance were underwhelmed with what they had seen.

The second half didn’t get much better, for ¬†Dundee at least. While things were looking up for me as I waited for my pie to be pulled from the oven, a cheer erupted from the stands. Nobody was certain who scored, but the people serving pies have fine tuned their hearing over the years and suggested it was a Hearts goal. They were right.

At that point, those fans around me had given up hope of taking anything from the match. Their team hasn’t been great, and they were two goals down.

What followed was one of those things which makes watching football live in a stadium so special. A comeback.

The first goal came from an unlikely source. Defender Darren O’Dea slotting home with a placed shot. The pulled one back celebration, there was still some hope but there was no point in getting too excited.

Next, some composed play saw a ball slipped through to Paul McGowan, who managed to beat Jack Hamilton in goals from close range. The drawing level celebration, very loud, with lots of encouraging shouts.

With the clock approaching 90 minutes, the fourth official signalled for 9 (nine!) minutes of stoppage time. I don’t think I have ever been at a game with so much time added. There was one particularly lengthy stop, however the Dens Park faithful gave a collective gasp when it was announced by a shocked sounding announcer.

At that point the Dundee fans roared. Perhaps the length of additional time had a psychological effect, in the same way that ‘Fergie time’ once did. It felt almost inevitable that a goal was going to come, and sure enough, it did.

A whipped free kick from the side of the box was headed home by Marcus Haber to spark wild celebrations. In what looked like a ¬†true Christmas miracle, the Grandfather who had spent most of the game arguing with his Grandson was so overcome with joy that he couldn’t help but give him a hug.

There is nothing sweeter in the experience of a football supporter than a last minute winner. One of those can sustain interest through ten dreadful games, if not ten dreadful months. These games are rewards for all the boring 0-0s and frustrating defeats.

Leaving the ground there were a lot of frustrated and angry Hearts fans. Some were even questioning Cathro’s position.

The Dundee fans left with a spring in their step. They got the win which nobody would have predicted after the sloppy start they made to the match.

The three points were important in lifting the side away from bottom, and they showed that they can perform to a high level when required. They will hope to hit those same heights as the busy festive fixture period continues.

Dundee 3 Hearts 2

Attendance: 6160


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