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17 October 2014

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Dundee Utd reach the UEFA Cup Final 1987

Iain Ferguson

© SNSpix

In the days before the Eastern Bloc flooded European competition with teams which had previously been consumed by Soviet or Yugoslav leagues, Scottish teams trod a slightly easier path through continental competition. However, even in these less-taxing conditions prior to pre-qualifying rounds and seeding, ultimate success was restricted to the Old Firm's exploits in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the east coast's "New Firm" changed all that. Aberdeen's charge to the Cup Winners' Cup in 1983 - and a near-miss the season before - was remarkable not only in terms of the much larger teams they knocked out along the way, but also in the way it paved the path for their neighbours Dundee United to have a crack at the bigger prizes.

United had already established a European pedigree in the early 1980s, and of course as their near-neighbours up the coast were beating Real Madrid in Gothenburg, United were celebrating a first-ever league championship. This entitled them to a crack at the Champions Cup in 1983-84, and a majestic run ended unluckily at the semi-final stage, with only a hotly-contested penalty denying United a 'British Championship' decider, and mighty Liverpool in the final.

But the Euro success did not begin there - United had reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1982 and 1983. The 1984 run was followed by something of a barren spell on the continent, but Jim McLean was simply preparing for perhaps his greatest achievements as a manager in the 1986/87 UEFA Cup.

In those days, first-round entry was a given, and United were paired with French side RC Lens. This tie nearly sounded the death-knell for their entire Euro run, with the French club wasting chance upon chance to put the tie beyond reach in the first leg. Billy "The Fish" Thomson somehow managed to limit Lens to a single goal, then back at Tannadice Ralph Milne and Tommy Coyne's strikes in a 5-minute spell, soon settled matters.

Romanian opposition was drawn for the next round in the shape of Universitea Craiova. Gaining confidence as the rounds wore on, United stormed the first leg 3-0 with two from Ian Redford and one from John Clark. A 1-0 reverse in the second leg saw United safely into the third round and a trip to the Balkans. Again, a home draw was purloined and Jim McInally's strike, followed by another from John Clark, settled the tie ahead of a 0-0 away draw - ensuring a long winter break before competition resumed in March 1987.

Kevin Gallacher

© SNSpix

And so came the ultimate test, and a glamour quarter-final tie against Terry Venables's Barcelona side, then en route to the Spanish championship. The opposition featured a star-studded international line-up, with Brit exports Lineker and Hughes providing domestic interest, plus notables such as Zubizaretta and Victor.

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