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Should Dundee's neighbours merge?

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Jim Spence | 20:07 UK time, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Is there an argument for the merger of Dundee's two clubs?

With Dundee United and Dundee riding high in their respective leagues, the future looks bright for both, but could it be even rosier if the two city rivals combined their resources?

It was a Kilmarnock fan who asked me the question recently in a spirit of openness and mischief-making. His other suggestion was that Auchinleck Talbot should join with Ayr United to create a Super League junior club.

Nevertheless, the issue is worth examining, because it's one that's often seen by those outside the city as a cure for some of the ills that afflict the two Dundee outfits.

There are pros and cons to the debate.

The key question, and it's one that could be asked of a whole host of Scottish neighbouring clubs, is this: is there substantially more to be gained than lost by a merger of two historic rivals, each with their own rich history and tradition.

Let's deal with the 'potential' upsides first. In theory, the crowds of the two clubs would be aggregated. United's average crowd at this early stage of the season is around 7,700, while Dundee have been pulling in over 5,000 at Dens Park.

In theory then, a joint city side could attract crowds of around 12,000 to 13,000 for home games. A highly successful side could probably add another couple of thousand to that figure, thereby matching anyone outside of the Old Firm at the turnstiles.

A shared stadium would reduce current outlay and maximise revenue - and one team would require just one training facility.

denstannadice595.jpg

Meantime, advertisers and sponsors might be more inclined to back a joint city side, while the city council, which in the past has been reluctant to back one side for fear of offending the other, could find ways to lend support without any accusations of favouritism.

Add to that other economies of scale in terms of a shared merchandising outlet, one set of catering facilities, ticketing arrangements, etc, and the pros appear to mount.

However, football isn't rational. Economics are one thing, passion and tradition are another and they take no account of what might or might not make good business sense.

There is no guarantee that the two sets of supporters would simply combine their numbers and go to see the new city team, a club without the history and tradition to sustain fans through the bleak periods, which are the reality for most supporters outside of Celtic and Rangers.

In fact, it's possible that a new merged side could be less than the sum of its parts. As fans recoiled at the notion of having lost a part of themselves, a new team could attract fewer fans jointly than either did separately.

There is also no guarantee that a merged side would make any more impact on Old Firm dominance than sides like Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts currently do.

Even before you decide which colour of strip to play in, which players will be kept and, crucially, what name the new merged side would adopt, there is one huge and burning question that would be critical to any possible success. Where would the team play ?

Neither side's fans would accept a move to their greatest rival's ground. Tannadice and Dens Park are non-starters. The leaving of the spiritual home to set up camp at the enemy's abode would be like swallowing a cyanide capsule for diehard Blue Noses and Arabs.

A new stadium then. Great idea, but who pays. The value of the two Dundee grounds combined would be between £3m-£4m in the current depressed land market. A new stadium might cost anywhere between five and seven times that figure. That's before you count the £6m of debt that United are carrying and the fact that Dundee don't even own Dens Park to sell.

History too plays a huge part here. United and Dundee have changed dramatically in the last few decades. There was a time when United were the smaller by some way of the two city clubs. In those days, a great many fans were happy to traverse the two grounds, watching a free-flowing Dundee at Dens in the top league and then paying one and sixpence to watch United at Tannadice in the old B division the next week.

They would have their favourite team, of course, but saw little wrong in lending support to the neighbours who were no real threat to them.

That changed dramatically when United emerged as a serious force to rival Dundee, firstly under Jerry Kerr in the 1960s and then rising to become the city's prominent team under Jim McLean.

I think that's when battle lines were drawn. For the first time, United were a serious and potent threat to Dundee's dominance and a harder-edged relationship between the fans emerged.

Dundee had their glory years in the sixties, winning the league and making the semi-final of the European Cup. United's great years came later, also reaching the European Cup semi-final, a Uefa Cup final and winning domestic honours.

That set in train a different dynamic for the relationship between the fans of the clubs and, as a result, makes any hope of a merger an almost impossible one to sell.

It has been talked about in the past and, on at least one occasion, was only a signature away from happening. The fact that it didn't happen tells its own story.

The first city derby in five years will have been played by the time you read this. It's ostensibly a friendly to raise money for youth development. In truth, though, it will convey bragging rights to one side or the other until they meet again.

A merged city side might make sense to a business student, but to Arabs and Blue Noses alike, it would signal the death of their club, which no artificial reproduction could ever replace.

Dundee and Dundee Utd will, I think, be around for a long time yet.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Neeeeeeever ever going to happen surely?

    Though the team could play in tangerine and navy stripes.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yup, brain says one thing, heart says the complete opposite. I would miss the rivalry between the teams as was demonstrated by the friendly last night. A shared stadium is something I would not object to personally. This is an issue for all of Scottish football though, as we surely have too many teams. Maybe we could form new clubs to compete in our top league with the existing clubs feeding these sides. This might attract more investment into our game which can be filtered down to grass roots level. I'm not an expert but something drastic does need to happen to revitalise the game in Scotland.

  • Comment number 3.

    This is a complete non-starter as the fans wouldn't support the other club. Dens is supposedly built on a former landfill site so the environmental clean up costs would outweigh any gain from housing. What would Utd gain? They are already top 4 in the league and whilst Celtic & Rangers remain in the league the best that can be achieved in 3rd place. Surely the best use for Dens would be as a car & coach park for Tannadice.

  • Comment number 4.

    Don't be daft Jim. Nothing to be gained. I agree with Craig Robertson above...for as long as the Ugly Sisters stay in the SPL, it doesn't matter if your crowds are 8000 or 12000, you're never going to win the league anyway. A united Dundee team (hey there's a suggestion, it could be called Dundee United, and play at the bigger ground which is Tannadice...) might have a marginally better chance of getting into europe occasionally, but that's about it.

    On the downside we'd lose the rivalry and all the laughs at their expense.

    No thanks.

    Shed rule.

  • Comment number 5.

    It's never going to happen, but it does stop and make you think.

    This also shows up why football isn't exactly suited to being run as a business; when at least one of two similar businesses are in dire straits, they look to merge. With football clubs, that's never going to happen.

    But what's the answer? Run the clubs as charities? That'll never work...can you see players "volunteering" to play a couple of times a week?

    Wage caps is probably the idea with the most logic behind it, but you can see the legal challenges coming a mile off.

  • Comment number 6.

    #2 This is an issue for all of Scottish football though, as we surely have too many teams. Maybe we could form new clubs to compete in our top league with the existing clubs feeding these sides.

    Definitely. There are a lot of teams I would think of merging before we came to the Dundee clubs, who are both bigger than most of the Scottish league clubs. For instance, how about Montrose, Arbroath, Forfar Athletic and Brechin City combining to make an Angus FC? There's potential for a club with an SPL-sized crowd there. The same could be applied elsewhere - Moray FC for example? We should have no more than two divisions of 16 teams, bringing in teams from the Highland, East of Scotland and South of Scotland leagues and amalgamating them so we have up to 32 professional teams covering the whole country.

    A lot of histories may be lost, but we're not exactly going to be making history in the future if something isn't done. Four divisions of 10/12 teams just doesn't work.

  • Comment number 7.

    Mr Spence must be hard up for something to write about this week , him being a United fan this was talked about years and years ago!...Anything new to write about lol?

  • Comment number 8.

    #6

    I don't think an Angus team would create the crowd you think. Where would it be based? Arbroath? What would that do for the itentity of people from Brechin for Angus FC. IMO these small club exist not to win trophies or to search for glory or riches, this may happen once every couple of generation but it's not their raison d'etre. These club exist to be an integral part of the COMMUNITY in Brechin, Montrose etc.. and are part of people's identity with the place they come from. All the history and community is worth far far more than size and honours. The club is the town and the town is the club. I don't think any of these teams should merge and I don't think many of their supporter would want it really. They live for seeing their team win in whatever division they may find themselves in at that point in history and although smaller the passion is by no means less. You can't take that away. This is sadly something Rangers and Celtic fans from the hinterlands will never get and tbh they are missing out imo.

    As an Arab, I don't want a merger, I don't even wan't a takeover by my team United, because the derby would be gone and that would be a crushing loss as it's an integral part of football in the city of Dundee.


    Football in Dundee would be poorer without both Dundee senior club. I will always believe that. Sod winning baubles, there are things more important than that.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm unaware of any meger or relocation that has ever turned out to be a sustained and unqualifed success. If football was at all a rational form of self and/or collective expression and not driven by irrationality, sentimententality not to mention the conservative impulse within us all; most fans (including me) would not be so attracted to the game.

  • Comment number 10.

    Merge the two teams, then play home games alternately between the two stadia - when they play at Dens, the team can be called Dundee, and at Tannadice, they can be called Dundee United. Hey presto, one combined, stronger team whilst keeping all the tradition and history.

  • Comment number 11.

    I won't even be rational in my responce to this one.
    Why would I as a DFC fan want to see my club join with the Debt ridden one down the road. It's bad enough that I have brothers who support Utd and I love them, the thought of having to stand with total strangers who used to support Utd, well I can think of few worse things in football. I am a proud Dee, proud of the history, proud of the fans, proud of the players. Even utd fans who have a wee bit of history, some decent players who learned how to play at Dens, and an average astro turf wouldn't want to merge, they would feel intimidated being surrounded by DFC fans with the knowledge, passion, history, dress sense, good looks, better pies and just overall a sense of grace and stature they will never develop while they support the little team in the City.

    Enough said.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think that a new stadium, and other facilities, shared by both clubs would be an excellent idea, but that full scale merger would be unlikely to be as successful as either side at the moment.

    A new stadium woudl surely also help chances of Scotladn hosting (or part hosting) a Euro tournament?

  • Comment number 13.

    When the Welsh rugby union teams merged everybody thought that crowds would increase, and results would improve, but this has not been the case.

    The four new regions (Llanelli Scarlets, Swansea-Neath Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons) have had similar size crowds and similar success in europe to the 4 big clubs that formed them. Meanwhile, fans of proud clubs such as Pontypridd, Ebbw Vale and Bridgend have been left with no proper team to support - very many pontyprdd fans would rather cut off their own arm than go to watch a Cardiff Blues match.

    The region that was set up to represent pontypridd and bridgend eventually went bust, partly due to bickering between the 2 clubs as to where to play home games, and also due to low crowds.

    Overall, I believe that reducing the number of professional teams in wales has improved the quality of play slightly, and the national team has become more successful (due to players being centrally contracted to the WRU and therefore being obliged to train together more often) but the fans of individual clubs have lost out.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm not sure about a merger, but I have another suggestion - maybe Dundee United could be persuaded to employ the services of an interpreter to help out their new Slovakian goalie Dusan Pernis. See Jim Spence's video for more! Yes, I work for a language company - Prestige Network - and we've already offered our services!

 

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