1961/62 – Scottish league champions

1961/62 – Scottish league champions

1961-62 was a golden season for Dundee Football Club when they became Champions of Scotland by winning the Scottish League title for the first and, to date, only time in their history. For any club outside of the Old Firm to win the Scottish Championship takes something special and the Dark Blue side of that time was exceptional. The names of Liney, Hamilton, Cox, Seith, Ure, Wishart, Smith, Penman, Cousin, Gilzean and Robertson slip as easily off the tongue for younger fans as for those old enough to have witnessed the greatest team in Dens Park history.

After a pre-season tour of Iceland from which Dundee returned with a 100% record, the season aptly kick off on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ with a home League Cup sectional tie against Airdrieonians. The League Cup had been the traditional season opener almost since its inception and Dundee’s glory season got off to a flyer when Bobby Wishart struck from the edge of the box, to give The Dee the lead after just three minutes. Admission to the terracing was three shillings (15p) but the 13,000 crowd had to wait until the second half for the clinching goal when Alan Cousin netted from close range.

Dundee however failed to get out of a section which also contained Rangers and Third Lanark, finishing second to the Ibrox men with a record of played 6, won 2, drawn 2 and lost 2.

After playing everyone once in their League Cup section, the Scottish League Division One campaign got underway on Wednesday 23rd August with a trip to Brockville for Dundee. Despite having lost 3-2 to Third Lanark at Cathkin Park in the League Cup four days earlier, manager Bob Shanky kept faith with the same XI who would soon be household names.

Thirty-seven year old Gordon Smith, who had signed on a free transfer from Hearts in the summer, rediscovered his rhythm and dashed up the wing in his old accustomed style, scoring his first goal for his new club. The Courier described him as “back to his gayest” and he set up Dundee’s two other goals in the 3-1 win with deft crosses that were planted into Falkirk’s net by firm headers from Cousin and Wishart.

With the League Cup section now to be completed Dundee had to wait over two weeks until they were back in league action and it was by far the biggest game of the season so far with the visit of neighbours Dundee United. Dundee had never lost to United in the league at Dens and didn’t intend doing so in the first derby of the season and with supporters of both sides generally starved of derbies thanks to United’s existence in the lower tier until recently, the build-up to the game reached fever pitch.

A crowd of 20,000 turned up at Dens and it was a wonderful day for those of a Dark Blue persuasion as Dundee romped home to a 4-1 win, thanks to their short passing game and pacy attack which ripped holes in United’s defence.

Andy Penman opened the scoring with his third goal in four games against United and Gordon Smith scored his first goal at Dens. United full-back Johnny Briggs netted an unfortunate own goal to make it 3-0. Gillespie pulled one back for the Tannadice side before half-time before Hugh Robertson scored a fourth before the end to give The Dee their biggest league victory over United since 1926.

Dundee and Rangers now shared the lead with a maximum four points from two games (it was two points for a win) but Dundee slipped off the top the following week with a disappointing 3-1 defeat at Aberdeen. Future Dee Charlie Cooke was the star man for The Dons but the defeat to Aberdeen would be the last match Dundee would lose for the next nineteen league matches (twenty-one in total if you include a Dewar Shield win over St. Johnstone and victory in a friendly against Swedish champions Elfsborg at Dens).

The next few weeks would see wins against Hearts, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle at home and Third Lanark, Motherwell and Dunfermline away with the 4-2 win at Fir Park being described by Bob Shankly as “our finest all round display of the season.”

By November Dundee were five points clear over Rangers (who had two games in hand) at the top of the table but the next couple of matches would seriously test Dundee’s title credentials as they were due to play both halves of the Old Firm in consecutive weeks.

On November 4th 1961 Celtic travelled to Dens and the match was an end-to-end thriller. Bobby Wishart gave Dundee the lead after eight minutes before Bobby Carroll equalised just before half-time but the points were to stay on Tayside when Alan Gilzean nodded a Cousin head-flick past Frank Haffey to give The Dee a vital 2-1 win.

Gilzean’s winner was his eleventh goal of the season but he was to sensationally to add another four to his tally in the next match away to Rangers. A huge crowd was expected to descend upon Ibrox with over a 1000 expected to make the journey from Dundee but come matchday, Glasgow was shrouded in fog and rumours quickly circulated that the game had been postponed. The weather forecast had been for the fog to clear by midday and when it didn’t, numerous Dundee supporters’ buses were turned away by police less than a mile from the ground.

The worst of the fog cleared half an hour before kick-off and it was only then that the referee decided that the game should go ahead. Dundee were a full strength and obviously high with confidence but they were facing a Rangers side that boasted seven internationalists in their line-up, were unbeaten in 21 games and already won that season’s League Cup.

Visibility was still poor on the terracing when the game kicked off at 3pm and forty-five minutes later it was still goalless. With Jim Baxter running the show for the home team, Bob Shankly ordered Andy Penman to adopt a more attacking stance in the second half to force Baxter to track back and the tactical change paid immediate dividends when Gilzean finished off a move involving Penman and Cousin by heading past Billy Ritchie in the Rangers goal.

Within seconds Gilzean added a second but worryingly the fog was returning. Visibility had deteriorated to such an extent that Pat Liney in the Dundee goal didn’t know that his team were 2-0 up until skipper Bobby Cox shouted back to him as the players lined up to restart!

If the score was a treat, it was about to get even better. Gilzean completed his hat-trick and although Ralph Brand pulled one back for Rangers, Gilzean immediately thundered in his fourth. Nor were Dundee finished as Andy Penman completed the rout with a fifth goal, with all five goals coming in the second half. Dundee were victorious by five goals to one and Rangers’ unbeaten record in all competitions had been obliterated as Dundee recorded their greatest ever league result.

Ever the realist, Bob Shankly wasn’t fully convinced about his side’s championship potential until the following week when more drama unfolded at home to Raith Rovers. In front of 15,000 fans who expected big things after the Rangers win, Dundee found themselves 4-2 down with only twenty-seven minutes left against a side who were struggling next to bottom of the table.

It had been a topsy-turvy game. Raith led 1-0 at the break but two goals in two minutes gave Dundee the lead. There then followed five minutes of Dark Blue madness in which Rovers netted three times as the match saw five goals in just thirteen second half minutes.

What transpired however was, as Bobby Seith described “a key moment in the title-winning year” as “Dundee’s never-say-die attitude, allied with our undoubted skill, was able to rescue a victory from the jaws of defeat.”

Bobby Wishart pulled a goal back with an unstoppable shot before Bobby Seith uncorked another rocket with four minutes left on the clock and then in the dying seconds Gordon Smith hit the winner before being mobbed by team mates as they celebrated the 5-4 win.

At the end of the season Bob Shankly refereed to the Raith game as his “number one match” and said that “Dundee’s terrific fight and last gasp winner are surely amongst the greatest feats recorded all season.” The win over Raith, coupled with the rout at Ibrox, finally convinced Shankly that he had potential champions in his charge.

In the weeks that followed the Dundee players went about justifying their manager’s faith with wins over Hibs (a), Airdrie (h), Falkirk (h), Hearts (a), Aberdeen (h), Third Lanark (h) and St Johnstone (h) as well as draws against Stirling Albion (h), St Mirren (a) and Kilmarnock (a) to record a club record nineteen league games undefeated.

The only blip during this remarkable run was a Scottish Cup home defeat to St Mirren on January 27th but it was a sign of a ‘Winter of Discontent’ to come. Two weeks later Dundee went down 3-1 at Dens to Motherwell to lose their first league game in five months and followed that up with a 3-0 loss at Partick Thistle in the next match.

Consecutive back-to-back 2-1 defeats away at Celtic and at home to Dunfermline knocked Dundee off of the top of the league for the first time since September and seriously derailed their Championship challenge. In just five short weeks Dundee had gone from eight points clear of Rangers to three points behind after a shattering loss of form and the next match up on Wednesday 14th March 1962 were the men from Govan, desperate for revenge for their Remembrance Day humiliation.

Despite Dundee’s bad run and the game being midweek, the Dark Blue’s largest home crowd of the season of 35,000 turned up at Dens but the only winner was the tension. The contest drifted to a disappointing 0-0 stalemate and although it was Dundee’s seventh game without a win, it had stopped the rot and prevented Rangers pulling five points clear.

It was now vital for Dundee to pick up momentum as being still three pints behind there could be no further slip ups. Three days later Dundee travelled to face Raith Rovers and having put a brake on the slump against Rangers, returned to winning ways with a 3-2 victory in Kirkcaldy.

The momentum continued the following week on a wet and windy day at Dens with a 1-0 win over Hibs thanks to a Bobby Waddell goal and the pendulum started to swing Dundee’s way from an unexpected source when Dundee United surprisingly won 1-0 at Ibrox.

Dundee were now just a point behind and were able to reclaim top spot on March 31st with a 3-2 win at Stirling Albion as Rangers were on Scottish Cup semi-final duty. Alan Gilzean was back from injury at Annfield and capped his return with the winning goal after Stirling had twice equalised.

The ‘Winter of Discontent’ had robbed Dundee of key players to injury and their loss of form could be attributed to the absence of not just Alan Gilzean but also Bobby Wishart, Bobby Cox and Hugh Robertson for a number of games. They were back to full strength however on April 7th when they faced Airdrie in the next match and would remain unchanged for the rest of the season.

By then Rangers had been restored to the top after beating St Johnstone in midweek and continued to drive towards the title with a 1-0 win at home to Dunfermline. Dundee however kept on the Light Blues’ tail with a 2-1 win at Broomfield thanks to a Penman double; the second coming from the spot after the referee consulted his linesman and changed his mind to award the penalty after Airdrie left-back Shanks punched an Alan Cousin shot over the bar.

Easter Monday, two days later, was when derby games were traditionally scheduled and with three games left and one point separating the top two, Rangers were at Parkhead while Dundee had to cross the road to face Dundee United.

Tannadice was full to the rafters with a 20,000 all-ticket crowd and the match lived up to expectations. United took the lead through Jim Irvine but Gilzean pulled the sides level before the break. It looked to be heading for a draw but with just four minutes left Gilzean broke away and thundered a 25-yard shot towards the United goal, which bounced over United keeper Ugolini and into the net.

It gave The Dee a precious 2-1 win and the news come through from the west was that Rangers had been held by 1-1 by Celtic which put the clubs level on points with two games left, with Rangers ahead on goal average.

The last home game of the season took place on Wednesday 25th April against St Mirren, put back to midweek because of The Buddies’ involvement in the Scottish Cup Final and their opponents at Hampden had been Rangers who played their outstanding fixture away to Aberdeen the same night.

Dundee had yet to beat St Mirren that season with a 1-1 draw in Paisley and a 1-0 defeat in the Scottish Cup and it was to be a night of high drama. St Mirren were desperate for points to avoid relegation and were eager to bounce back from the disappointment of losing the Scottish Cup Final four days earlier but three minutes before half-time were behind thanks to an Alan Cousin header.

The news from Pittodrie at half-time was exciting as The Dons were leading Rangers 1-0 and if results could stay the same, Dundee would need just a draw from their final match in Perth.

However with just twelve minutes left disaster struck when Gordon Smith handled in the box and no amount of Dundee protests could prevent referee Willie Syme – who consulted his linesman – confirming the penalty.

Up stepped St Mirren skipper Jim Clunie to take the kick and he would face Paisley born Dundee keeper Pat Liney. Liney’s father was a St Mirren fan and when the sides met in the Scottish Cup earlier in the season, Liney Snr. told his son that if Saints were awarded a penalty, Clunie would hit it to his right.

Clunie duly did so and aimed his penalty towards the top right-hand corner and remembering his father’s advice, Pat somehow twisted in mid-air and clawed the ball to safety. Almost immediately Dundee went up the park and scored a clincher through Andy Penman and at full time the fans streamed onto the pitch to celebrate the 2-0 win.

The news from Pittodrie took an age to come through but when it did, it was confirmed that Aberdeen had hung on to win 1-0, meaning Dundee were two points clear going into the last game. A roar went up that was probably heard in the Granite City as it meant the Dark Blues just needed a point to become Champions of Scotland in their last game against St Johnstone.

And so onto Perth on Saturday 28th April 1962 for arguably the greatest day in Dundee FC’s history. Just over 20,000 Dundee fans made the short trip along the Tay to see if they could realise a dream and the result was never really in doubt. Two goals from Alan Gilzean (his 27th of the season making him Scotland’s top scorer) and a third from Andy Penman gave the Dark Blues a comfortable 3-0 win and with it the Scottish League Division One title.

Dundee Football Club were Champions of Scotland and legends were born; legends that will live forever in the folklore of Dens Park.

Article by Kenny Ross

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