On the 23rd of March 1996, Jim Duffy turned to the bench and called for 18 year old Gavin Rae to prepare himself to get ready as Dundee led Hamilton Accies 1-0 at Firhill. Just over 18 years later, Saturday past saw Gavin – now in his third spell with the club – make his 300 appearance for the club.
We sat down with Gavin at Dens this afternoon and he talked us through all three spells of his eventful Dundee career. The midfielder has played under seven different managers since being spotted playing a youngster in Aberdeen. After being scouted by then Dundee boss Jim Duffy – it was a quick process which saw Gavin sign on at Dens.
He told us of how it all came about first time round, “Coming towards the end of my schooling, I was playing juvenile up in Aberdeen. Jim Duffy and John McCormack came to a game because they had been recommended by one of the scouts up in Aberdeen to come and watch us. I actually played very well and basically they offered me there and then to come down. I came down with my family and met Jim Duffy in the board room and signed that day. That was basically it, came down and stayed in digs and just got stuck into the YTS.”
In the 95/96 season Gavin got his first taste of first team football in a match against Hamilton, “The manager just chucked me on towards the end for wee Andy (Cargill). I just remember I wasn’t nervous or anything coming into the game. I know obviously it was my first game but didn’t feel nervous at all.”
It was his first competitive appearance for the first team, but young Gavin had already been involved with the first team during pre-season, “We had a highland tour that pre-season and I was involved in that, so I had played a few games up there.”
After a handful of games in his first season, he was more involved in the 96/97 season, in which he got his first goal in Dark Blue. During his 10th game for the top team at home to Falkirk, looking out on the park where it happened, he told us “I remember that, it got knocked down and I was able to lob it over the goalie – got absolutely smashed in the process, but was obviously delighted to get my first goal.”
1997/98 saw Dundee march on to promotion as Champions but Gavin featured less than he had the previous year due to a change in manager. He explained “It was disappointing because the year before I had played all the youth games, all the reserve games and five or six times for the first team and then John McCormack got the job due to ‘Duff’ going to Hibs. When McCormack got the job he signed a lot of his own players so I didn’t really get much of a chance.”
Another changed in manager saw Jocky Scott in charge by the end of the season and one match he was involved in was at home to Ayr United when Dundee were presented with the Championship trophy, “It was good to end the season with that Ayr game and being involved in the couple after that. Good to get involved in the end and be involved in something like that.”
The following season was when he really made his name, despite not being involved right at the beginning, he broke through within the first months of the season and was a regular throughout the season which also included his first appearances in derbies. “I just wanted to try my best that season and it was great to be involved in all the games in the Premier. We ended up finishing strongly, I enjoyed that and it was a great experience for myself getting to play so many games.”
“Derbies were awesome. Really, really good. Great atmosphere, great games to be involved in. Biggest games of my career at that point, it was great.”
After Dundee had finished 5th in the Premier League with Gavin in the heart of the midfield the following season again saw him as a regular – infact he only missed one game – in his home town of Aberdeen. He said, “I remember playing all the games and I remember the one I missed. I had a muscle spasm in my back, I tried so many treatments to try and get through it to play that game. I actually went for a fitness test myself up in Aberdeen that day. Just in a field, I tried to do a run to see if i was alright but it keep on stiffening up so I just had to tell the manager that I wouldn’t be able to play.
“I was gutted with that because I think there was only one other player who played every game that season in the SPL which was Pressley. I remember them mentioning it on TV during a Scotland game, so I was gutted but delighted to have played so many games.”
One big highlight that season for the club and for Gavin personally was his 90th minutes winner against Rangers at Ibrox. he fondly recalled, “Yeah it was great. It was actually my birthday that day as well, tied in for a really good day. We played well, we went in front through Craig Ireland then they equalised but we got the goal just at the right time. They didn’t have much time to come back. Great feeling, just managed to keep the ball down low and it went in. A massive highlight of that time. We had a good squad of young lads that were playing, good to get a chance and to get a result like that was amazing.”
Big changes were afoot for Dundee in the summer of 2000 with Italian brothers Ivano and Dario Bonetti taking over. A fresh start which Gavin told us started in a strange manner, he said, “When Ivano and Dario came in they didn’t really know anyone. We went to Italy, I had played the majority of games the season before and they didn’t even know my name. Number 12 was my kit so he’s basically called me ’12’ and I was like ‘wow!’. We played a practice match, we had a full 22 out and I wasn’t even on either team so I was sitting thinking ‘What’s going on here?’.
He wasn’t involved in the first matches under the Bonetti’s but soon got his chance and ended up loving his time with Ivano. “After the start, Pat Billio got sent off I came into the team and after having a strange sort of start with them when I wasn’t even getting on the bench. I remember watching games from the stand. I got my chance and took it and from then he was absolutely brilliant for me.
“He was so positive towards me, boosted me up and I absolutely loved that time. A great team we had playing great football to be part of it was brilliant.”
His only sending off of his career came at Pittodrie on Claudio Caniggia’s debut day for the club. “Only time i’ve been sent off in my whole career. Phil McGuire came through me and I thought he tried to do me when I was on the ground but i’ve actually seen it since and he didn’t, it was just a strong tackle but I’ve flicked out and got myself sent off. I was absolutely fuming with myself but great to have somebody like Claudio come on and produce a goal.”
Bonetti’s team undoubtably was full of talent and on one occasion, at home to St. Mirren – they ran out 5-0 winners when everything seemed to click. Gavin was on the score sheet that day, “Artero that day was outstanding, Giorgi Nemsadze as well. I caught it well for my goal, a great performance by that team showing what we were capable of.”
One midweek when it all clicked into place again was away to Rangers. After a 2-0 win, Ivano labelled Gavin as a ‘£10 million player’ in his press conference. A compliment Gavin was delighted to hear after a fantastic team and individual performance, “It was probably one of the best games I have played in my career. I was on fire at that point, playing really well and full of confidence. Ivano had given me that confidence, I don’t know how much that was true but he was just showing how much he valued me in the team and as a player. It was great to hear that. As a player thats all you want to hear from the manager, somebody backing you, it was a great time for me playing really well.
2001/02 saw Gavin experience European football for the first time as Dundee entered the Intertoto Cup, he was involved in the team which played Sartid in Yugoslavia, “I think we only had two weeks off from the season before. We played them here, 0-0 then 5-2 away. Fabian got sent off and I remember just thinking ‘What’s going on?’, a bizarre game. They were actually alright, they were good but we were playing well, but it wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen from a referee.”
A few weeks later Dundee opened the season with a derby and Gavin scored his only goal against rivals United, “It was a tap in but great to score in a derby, I’ve got quite good memories of derbies to be fair. I’ve not got a bad record in them.”
Jim Duffy took over again the following summer and he guided Dundee to the Scottish Cup final. Gavin hit the net during the cup run, “I scored at Partick Thistle on the cup run. We had just come back from Trinidad where we went for the winter break. Getting to the cup final was awesome, it was a roasting hot day at Hampden, just what you remember from being a kid watching them. We actually played quite well, gutted the way it finished, it was frustrating but a great thing to be involved in for the club and to have all my family there as well was brilliant.”
That led to Dundee qualifying for Europe and they were drawn against Albanian side Vllaznia, “Where we stayed in the hotel was alight but getting to the hotel from the airport was bizarre, didn’t have any roads or that, wasn’t the greatest place but was alright for us. The hotel and training wasn’t too bad and we got a good result as well.”
In the return leg, Gavin scored his finest goal for Dundee with a beauty at Dens. He said, “I had my sisters wedding on the Sunday and I wasn’t able to train on the Monday. I had to go see the manager and ask him which he agreed to so I didn’t actually train until the Tuesday before. I just felt amazing in the game and I managed to connect, probably the best I ever have with a ball in my whole career and it’s gone in off the underside of the bar.”
The next round Dundee were paired with Italian side Perugia, “Great for the club to have all the fans go over there. I thought we played alright as well. We probably didn’t do ourselves justice over the two legs but we played alright over there. Big Jay Bothroyd was playing for Perugia and I actually ended up at Cardiff with him so we spoke about it then.”
Shortly after the European run, Dundee entered administration. The news broke while Gavin was with Scotland out in Holland. “One of the worst 24 hours ever. We had just been beaten by Holland, well not beaten, absolutely trounced. I think we made them angry at Hampden and they came out and just destroyed us. Then you do the press after the game and basically they are telling us the club were in administration straight after. So we had been bullied off of Holland and coming off to be told club was in admin and having to fly back to that the next day it was a terrible time.”
A really difficult period for the club, Gavin continued, “I had been with boys here for ten years from YTS right through to professional to get told they were surplus to requirements due to administration which was very tough to see and tough to take. My brother in law got let go and big Jamie Langfield, horrible time.”
Gavin left the club shortly after, moving to Rangers which brought in much needed funds at Dens. He spent three years at Ibrox before moving to Cardiff and in 2011 returned to Dens for his second spell, he explained how that came about, “I had been out of contract at Cardiff and they had changed management so I was without a club. I looked at staying in Cardiff or round about due to us having two young kiddies as a family. We were hoping to stay around that area but didn’t work out. It got to September/October and I’d been in touch with Barry. I know Barry well and still be friendly with him he said ‘Why don’t you just come and get some games, get your fitness back up?’ so i decided just to take the chance and it worked out well. I really enjoyed it. Enjoyed playing in the team at that time. We played some really good stuff and went on a really good run. The way Barry had us playing I was enjoying playing football.”
As well as enjoying his football, Gavin impressed enough to earn himself a move to home town side Aberdeen, he took his chance to move back home and a year and a half later returned to Dens for his third spell. Gavin told us that Dundee moved quickly following him leaving Pittodrie, “I was told by Derek McInnes on the Monday on the last week of the season. He had taken everyone who was out of contract in and told everyone who was staying and who was moving on. Aberdeen then released a statement, I left Pittodrie and phoned my mum, dad and wife just to tell them and within about an hour everyone knew because the statement. The next phone call was Bomber saying we’d love to have you back would it be possible for you to come and meet us. I met him and Scot and basically that was it. It wasn’t a hard decision for me coming back here.”
With only three games remaining, Gavin – as captain – has played in every match this season. Dundee currently sit two points ahead at the top of the league and Gavin, like everyone involved with Dundee is hoping he will be lifting SPFL Championship trophy come May, he said “We are all hoping for the same thing, it’s a huge club and it would be great to get back up to the Premier where the club deserves to be we still have a bit of work to do so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but we are sitting in a good position and hopefully we can make that count.”
As well as being an ever present for the first team, Gavin has also taken on coaching duties at Dens. As reserve team boss, he’s had the side playing excellent football with a mix of youth and experienced players, he said of the coaching, “That was one of the things that Bomber said, he knew I was keen to do my coaching, I was doing my coaching badges and it was definitely something that appealed because I wanted to get experience in that side of things as well. Taking the reserves has been great experience for me, I’ve loved it. I’ve really loved seeing the boys progress, the young ones coming in and doing well. It’s been great experience and something I’ve really enjoyed.”