You Never Forget Your First Love

Ray Stephen was a popular player during his seven years at Dens during the first half of the 1980s and while it was a surprise to the Dundee support to see him leave in the wake of a famous derby win at Tannadice in 1986, it turned out to be a terrific move for Ray.   He left the Dark Blues to sign for AS Nancy-Lorraine in November 1986 for a fee of £150,000 and joined the Ligue 1 side when their national side were champions of Europe and French football was at its pomp.

“These were the best years of my life”, says Shaky (nicknamed after Eighties singer Shakin Stevens of the ‘Green Door’ fame). “I not only loved the football and loved the club but also loved the French lifestyle. The neighbours were great, the fans were brilliant and the kids were wearing shorts and t-shirts all the time unlike back home in Scotland.”

Stephen is a cult hero in north-east France where the Nancy website describe him as “the most sentimentally remembered foreigner to play for AS Nancy-Lorraine who was at the heart of some epic moments in the club’s history” The striker however was also a hero at Dens before he performed his own ‘Brexit’ having scored 60 goals in 226 appearances.

Born in Aberdeen, Ray was a product of The Dee’s youth system and made his debut in August 1980, coming off the bench to replace the mercurial Jimmy Murphy in a 2-0 League Cup home win over Arbroath. He made his league debut in November later that year when he again came off the bench and made an immediate impact by scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Clydebank at Dens.

“I had a great time when The Dee beat Dumbarton to win the Championship a few seasons ago. You never forget your first love and I still love Dundee FC.”

His debut season would see him line up for Dundee in the League Cup Final against United at Dens in December, earning his place in the side after five goals in seven games and he would help The Dee win promotion back to the Premier Division, scoring a crucial winner in the penultimate match at Falkirk. He topped the scoring charts in 1984/85 and would make more Dark Blues appearances in his Dundee career than other striking legends such as Alan Gilzean, Billy Pirie, Charlie Cooke, Tommy Coyne and Claudio Caniggia to name but a few, scoring more goals for the club as than the aforementioned Cooke and Caniggia as well as more than Billy Steel and the same number of goals as Tommy Coyne.

Upon Dundee’s return to the Premier League, Ray became a key player in the side and in 1982 was rewarded for his displays with a Scotland Under-21 cap against Belgium ‘across the road’ at Tannadice. 

Tannadice was a fairly happy hunting ground for ‘Shaky’ as he was on the winning side away to United on four occasions, most memorably in a 4-3 win in November 1984. 

Against the Old Firm, Stephen also had an excellent record, playing in fourteen wins, scoring nine goals. Against Rangers, he played in ten victories, scoring three goals including the third in a superb 3-1 victory at Ibrox in March 1985. 

Ray in action against Dundee United

His goal scoring record against Celtic was much better, scoring six times against the Parkhead side and played on the winning side four times. One of those wins, in which he scored, came in a 3-2 win at home in March 1984 and this match came in a third successive game against the Old Firm, with the previous two outings against Rangers in the Scottish Cup.  Ray played the full ninety minutes in all three games which saw a 2-2 draw with The Gers at Dens in the quarter-final before winning the replay 3-2 in Glasgow a week later, three days before another 3-2 win, this time over Celtic. 

After that quarter-final win at Ibrox, Dundee faced Aberdeen at Tynecastle and Stephen started on the bench.  He came on in the second half to replace Lex Richardson but couldn’t prevent Alex Ferguson’s Dons from reaching the Final with a 2-0 win. 

That semi final would be the furthest Ray would go in the Scottish Cup with The Dee but in the next two seasons, he would score in consecutive 2-1 quarter final replay defeats away the Celtic and Aberdeen after both matches were drawn 1-1 and 2-2 respectively at Dens. 

Stephen twice topped the Dundee goal scoring charts when he was top league scorer in 1984/85 and was overall top goal scorer in all competitions the next year with eighteen strikes in thirty-seven appearances. 

However it is not just scoring goals that the Dundee support might remember Shaky as two years previously he was forced to go in goal after Bobby Geddes was stretchered off against Aberdeen in a League Cup sectional tie at Dens. Dundee were in a League Cup section alongside Aberdeen, Meadowbank Thistle and St Johnstone and went into the last match at home to Aberdeen on November 30th 1983 with a good chance of topping group as they were just a point behind The Dons.

The Dark Blues had battled to a 0-0 draw at Pittodrie against a side who would win the Premier Division that season but their hopes of reaching a money-spinning semi-final were dealt a savage blow just after half-time when goalkeeper Bobby Geddes was taken to hospital with a gashed mouth caused by a reckless Neale Cooper challenge.

Ray Stephen then took over in goal having previously had some experience between the sticks with the reserves. When the Dundee goalkeeper didn’t turn up for a Reserve League East match at Muirton Park, Ray went in goal against St Johnstone’s ‘A’ team, played the full ninety minutes, had a blinder and kept a clean sheet.

In the days before keepers were named on the bench Albert Kidd came on to replace Bobby Geddes with 35 minutes left and Stephen was the obvious man to go in goal after his heroics in Perth,

However within minutes of putting the gloves on, Ray was picking the ball out of the net when a Dougie Bell shot doubled Aberdeen’s lead after they had opened the scoring midway through the first half. Bell hit a speculative effort from thirty yards and when it didn’t bounce off the soaking surface, Stephen had no chance and was in no way at fault. However it was a controversial goal as the linesman’s flag had gone up for offside but the referee over ruled him and allowed it to stand. 

Stephen however composed himself and proceeded to make some good saves, none more so than when Mark McGhee was through one-one with him. Ray bluffed him to make him go one way but dived at his feet the other to retrieve the ball and make a superb save. The Dark Blue support had a new cult hero in the already popular striker.

“Needless to say the Derry went mental”, says Ray of his moment of goalkeeping greatness but while Cammy Fraser pulled a goal back late on, The Dee’s chance had gone and The Dons won 2-1 to progress to the semis where they lost over two legs to Celtic.

His surprise departure came after seven years at Dens in the aftermath of a 3-0 win over Dundee United at Tannadice and it was a shock to the euphoric support when they picked up their papers on the Monday to revel in the derby win. The fee was a more than decent £150,000 and Ray points out that although the fans were disappointed he left, it allowed manager Jocky Scott to shortly afterwards splash out on buying Tommy Coyne and Keith Wright. It is intriguing however to think how good Dundee’s forward line would have been with all three in the side.

A young Ray at Dens

The man to take him to France was none other than Arsene Wenger, then making his way in the game as manager as of Nancy and the alert Wenger had been motivated to make the trip to Tayside by memories of seeing Stephen play for Dundee in pre-season games in Germany. They met in the Swallow Hotel on the Kingsway (now the Double Tree Hilton) the day after the derby and after the clubs agreed the fee, he was on his way to Lorraine. 

The move came about says Ray when Dundee went to Germany pre-season and played close to Strasbourg where Wenger was from and Arsene hopped across the border to see Shaky score a few goals. Dundee toured West Germany in the summers of 1984 and 1985 and Ray scored eight goals on these trips including a hat-trick against FC Mayen in a 4-0 win on July 27th 1985.

Stephen became an instant hit at the Stade Marcel Picot scoring twice on his debut against Toulouse and the Nancy website describes it by saying. “From his first game under the colours of Nancy, Ray felt transported by burning sensations of intoxication, as he scored twice against Toulouse. In an hour and a half, Marcel-Picot realised it had before it a new darling. The club Dundee from the land of the thistle (Nancy have a thistle on its badge) was not swimming in financial euphoria from the fee and did not appreciate his value but this gift from heaven, brought by Arsene Wenger appreciated his true value.”

“It didn’t take long to settle in”, recalls Ray, “as I scored two goals against Toulouse who were second top of the league. Nancy hadn’t scored in the thirteen games before I joined and the fans took to me right away.”

Stephen scored seven goals in 22 appearances in his debut season in France (after scoring six times before he left Dens) and in his first full year with Nancy scored 23 times in 37 appearances, beating his best seasonal total at Dens by five. It total he would score 58 goals in 161 appearances over five seasons which make him fifth on Nancy’s all time goal scoring list; a list headed by Michel Platini who played for Nancy for eight years during which he won two French Player of the Year Awards and scored the winning goal in the 1978 French Cup Final against Nice.

Ray even played in Platini’s testimonial match in Nancy in May 1988 when France drew 2-2 with a World XI in a game raising for money for drug awareness and drug abuse charities in front of 35,000 at the Stade Marcel Picot

“I really had to pinch myself sharing a dressing room with the likes of Maradona, Zico, Matthäus, Tardelli, Pfaff and a boy named Strachan and the night out afterwards wasn’t too bad either! It was an unforgettable experience to play in Platini’s farewell match and a highlight of my time in France.”

His highlight with Nancy however came when he helped them win the Ligue 2 title to get promotion back to the French top flight. Stephen formed a potent partnership with David Zitelli who would play for Hibs from 2000-2002 and between them the pair scored 31 goals on the way to winning the title with Ray netting 17.

Stephen had been appointed captain that season by manager Robert Dewilder and in an “unforgettable match”, Ray scored twice as Nancy defeated nearest rivals Strasbourg 4-3 to win promotion. “It was match I will never forget and the celebrations at the end were incredible. They will live me forever!”

Stephen had a decent record in the Dundee derby and he loved the Lorraine derbies for Nancy against Metz, one of the fiercest rivalries in French football. “I loved the local derbies with Metz where I lined up against Eric Black who was there at the same time as me. Scotland played against France in Metz before the Euros and it brought back a lot of great memories watching that match.”

“Every time I go back to Nancy I am treated like a lord and love going back when I can and try and take in a derby with Metz if I can.”

Stephen left France in 1991 to join Kilmarnock and after a year at Rugby Park joined Cove Rangers back in his hometown Aberdeen where he finished his playing career and now resides and is still a regular visitor to Dens.

“I enjoy coming back to Dens Park and catching up with everyone including Scrimmy and Glennie who did the hospitality and I had a great time when The Dee beat Dumbarton to win the Championship a few seasons ago. You never forget your first love and I still love Dundee FC.”

“Nancy like Dundee are a club close to my heart” says Ray. “These are the results I still look for first every weekend. I went to France at time that not many players went abroad to play and it was a wonderful opportunity and a fantastic time that I will never forget”

Honours at Dundee:

Bells’ Scottish League Cup runner-up: 1980/81
Scottish League First Division runner-up: 1980/81
Scotland Under-21 caps: 1

Appearances, Goals:

League: 156 + 31 subs, 47 goals
Scottish Cup: 14 + 1 sub, 5 goals
League Cup: 25 + 2 subs, 8 goals

Totals: 226, 60 goals

Article by Kenny Ross