Dundee travel to Kirkcaldy for their first competitive game of the season against Raith Rovers in the Betfred Cup and so we take a look at a player who played for both clubs, Nacho Novo whose time with The Dee saw him experience the most extreme highs and lows. In his two seasons at Dens he enjoyed a Scottish Cup Final and a European campaign to the ignominy of administration where Nacho survived the cull and in all probability scored the goals which literally helped the Club to survive.
Ignacio Javier Gómez Novo, simply known as Nacho Novo (Gomez being the first family name and Novo the second) was born on March 26th 1979 in Ferrol, Galicia in the north-west of Spain near the port of La Coruna and started his football career with local side Racing Ferrol. In 2000 he signed for Sociedad Deportiva Huesca in the Spanish Tercera Division (the fourth tier of Spanish football) and after twenty-two league goals in his debut season, he took a gamble to ‘up sticks’ and move to Scotland, where he joined First Division club Raith Rovers.
Soon his goal scoring record in Kirkcaldy alerted S.P.L. side Dundee and in the summer of 2002, he joined the Dens Park side for a fee of £100, 000. Given squad number seventeen, Nacho made his debut for Dundee on August 3rd against Hearts at home and with the successful partnership of Caballero and Sara, starting up front, Novo made his first start playing out wide on the right.
Before the end of the month, new manager Jim Duffy brought in striker Steve Lovell from Portsmouth to bring a dash of power to the forward line and Nacho was often given a roving commission in the side as The Dee often played with three up front. He scored his first goals for Dundee with a brace away to Dunfermline on August 17th and his first home goal a month later against Livingston in a 2-1 win.
On January 25th 2003, Dundee started an impressive fourteen match unbeaten run which helped Dundee secure a top six finish with Nacho scoring seven league goals in twenty-five starts.
That unbeaten run started away to Partick Thistle in the third round of the Scottish Cup and it was the first match on the Road to Hampden that would ultimately lead to a Cup Final appearance in May. In the fourth round at home to Aberdeen, Nacho scored Dundee’s second in a 2-0 win over Aberdeen and in the quarter-final, he scored an even more crucial goal when he netted a late equaliser at Brockville to earn Dundee a replay with First Division leaders Falkirk.
With Falkirk defeated 4-1 at Dens and Inverness dispatched in the semis, Dundee were in their first Scottish Cup Final for thirty-nine years but Nacho would start on the bench against Rangers on May 31st. Loan striker Mark Burchill was preferred ahead of the 5ft 9in Spaniard and when Nacho came on in the second half to replace to former Celtic man, he couldn’t help prevent Rangers from winning 1-0 and completing the domestic treble.
Nacho’s second season saw him return to prolific best where he would finish as The Dee’s top scorer with twenty-five goals including three in the U.E.F.A. Cup for which Dundee qualified for through their Scottish Cup Final appearance. After a twenty-nine year European absence, Dundee became the first Scottish side to win on Albanian soil when they defeated K.S. Vllaznia 2-0 with Nacho scoring the second and in the preliminary round home leg, he was again on target with a double as Dundee ran out comfortable 4-0 winners.
The first round proper saw Dundee draw Intertoto Cup winners A.C. Perugia from Serie A and a near capacity crowd turned out to watch the biggest match at Dens in over thirty years. Perugia went ahead five minutes after half-time but in sixty-three minutes Lee Wilkie made it 1-1 when he headed home a corner with the predatory Novo trying to claim the final touch.
Perugia however grabbed a second late on but it didn’t deter 2500 Dees making the pilgrimage to Umbria to Perugia’s Reni Curi Stadium. Dundee had a number of chances from Rae, Sara and Novo but they couldn’t make the break through and Perugia booked their package into round two with a goal nineteen minutes from time.
It was an enjoyable experience for The Dee but just a month later Dundee plunged into administration with debts nearing £20 million and fifteen members of the playing staff were released. Nacho however was one of the lucky ones who retained his job but there was enormous pressure on the experienced players who remained, with only thirteen experienced first teamers left.
Nacho however stepped up to the plate and continued to perform, often playing up front on his own through sheer lack of selection options for manager Jim Duffy and by the end of the season, he had performed admirably scoring twenty-five times as Dundee secured seventh place against all the odds. Finishing as top marksman saw Nacho deservedly win the Andrew De Vries Memorial Trophy for DFC Player of the Year and without his goals, there is every chance Dundee might have been relegated which would surely have seen the Club close down for good.
Amongst those goals was a strike in a derby against Dundee United in January which was key to Dundee’s bid for survival. Having endured a miserable run since going into administration, the 2-1 win on Burns Day gave the whole Club a lift and showed the nation watching live on BBC that Dundee were a club worth saving and Nacho’s goal was crucial in drawing Dundee level.
The week before that famous derby, Novo was on target at Firhill as Dundee recorded their first win since going into administration by beating Partick 2-1. With no wins in eleven, Dundee were nervously looking over their shoulder and after Nacho’s opener was pegged back by the Jags, captain Barry Smith’s injury time winner gave The Dee some much needed breathing space at the bottom.
At the end of the season it was obvious that Novo would have to be one of the players sold to help balance the books and having fended off interest from Rangers in the January transfer window, he now headed to Ibrox for a £500, 000 fee. The Dark Blues had got the money they wanted for Novo but only after the Spaniard, who had rejected overtures from Celtic, waived his £50, 000 fee to ensure that he joined former team mates Zurab Zhizanishvili and Gavin Rae in Glasgow.
Novo’s old club Raith Rovers were due 15% of the fee but with Dundee in administration, they were regarded as an unsecured creditor under the terms of the Enterprise Act and had to accept a much smaller compromise figure which was offset by Dundee with the money Novo himself gave up.
Novo’s never say die attitude and eye for goal made him a popular figure with the Dundee support and while many were disappointed with his Rangers badge kissing exploits on his return to Dens, history will record that his goals went a long way to staving off liquidation as well as giving up a substantial sum of money himself.
Honours at Dundee:
Tennents’ Scottish Cup runner-up: 2003
D.S.A. Player of the Year: 2004
League: 59 + 11 subs, 27 goals
Scottish Cup: 6 + 2 subs, 3 goals
League Cup: 3 + 1 sub, 1 goal
Europe: 4, 3 goals
Totals: 86, 34 goals