Dundee United’s longest-serving and most successful manager, Jim McLean was a totemic figure for Dundee United throughout his twenty-two year period with the club. Collecting three major honours during him time, in addition to a series of iconic European ties and runs, McLean’s name remains one of the most venerated in Scottish football today.
Birthplace Larkhall, Scotland
Date of birth 02/08/1937
Date of death 26/12/2020
Playing career Hamilton Academical, Clyde, Dundee, Kilmarnock
Teams managed Dundee United
Crossing the street
Jim McLean had been a first team coach at Dundee for 18 months, with the expectation that he would take over the reins when John Prentice departed. Instead, McLean walked across Sandeman street to take over from Jerry Kerr at Dundee United in 1971.
McLean took little time to exert his influence over the Tangerines, signing up promising youth talents like Ralph Milne, John Holt and Davie Dodds, cornerstones of his United sides for a decade. McLean consolidated United’s position within the top flight, and as McLean’s youth policy began to prove effective, players such as Maurice Malpas, Paul Sturrock and David Narey began to show their first team worth.
A title challenge
By the end of the 1970s, United began to challenge the upper reaches of the Premier Division, and the latter stages of Cup competitions. McLean secured his first trophy as United manager in December 1979, defeating Aberdeen 3-0 in the replay of the final, repeating the feat the following year, defeating local rivals Dundee in the 1980 final at Dens Park by the same 3-0 scoreline.
As United had fallen short multiple times at the end of the 1970s and start of the 1980s, it looked like they were once again set for disappointment in 1983, after defeat to Celtic in April ended a lengthy unbeaten run. A return to Parkhead a fortnight later saw a spirited, ten-man United win 3-2, and with Celtic losing their following game, the title was United’s to lose. 29,106 (officially, at least) crammed into Dens Park as United needed a win to lift the league title. A stunner from Ralph Milne and a second from Eamonn Bannon ensured the title was Tangerine
In his own words
If you ask for any less than perfection you most certainly will get less. We’ve only won three trophies and obviously I’m supposed to have asked for perfection. I think if I’d have asked for less then most certainly we would have lost some of the trophies we won.
As league winners, Dundee United made their debut in the 1983-84 European Cup, defeating Hamrun Spartans of Malta, Standard Liege of Belgium and Rapid Vienna of Austria to meet Italians AS Roma in the Semi-Finals. United dominated the first-leg, defeating the Romans 2-0 at Tannadice. The return leg saw a frantic crowd whipped up to a frenzy, a game described by McLean himself as the “worst atmosphere of any football match I have ever attended”. In the oppressive midday heat, United were defeated 3-0, exiting the competition.
Three years later, United made it a step further in the UEFA Cup, defeating Lens of France, Universitatea Craiova of Romania, Hadjuk Split of the then Yugoslavia, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach of Germany (a team unbeaten in Europe since 1970!) to reach the final. The two-legged affair saw IFK Goteborg of Sweden lead 1-0 after the first leg, and double their advantage early in the first-half of the second-leg. John Clark pulled one back for United, but in their 67th game of the season, they were unable to get back on terms in the tie.
Upon his death in December 2020, Dundee United stated that Jim McLean had been; “An integral part of our history and rise to the forefront of European football, Jim was simply a titan of Dundee United folklore, cherished by the United family the world over.”. A unique man, with a remarkable six-decade career in Scottish football from player, to manager and on to director.
Honours as a Manager
Scottish Premier Division
Scottish League Cup