Day 2 of the Groundhoppers Gathering and despite one or two nursing slight hangovers the clan devoured some bacon butties, packed up their belongings and readied themselves for the first division clash between Dundee and Dunfermline. As we stood outside Dens Park Jamie dropped the bombshell that he was defying one of the founding rules of the Groundhoppers and would be taking his seat in the home end alongside Jim, Nicola and Emma (he claims he never agreed to this rule, I smell a bit of a glory hunter in him). With the splitters heading off into the bowels of the main stand, Kieran, Matt and I opted to join the Pars in the away end.
Dens Park is a bizarre mix of the antiquated and the modern. The single tier stands behind either goals are relatively new whereas the ‘Derry’ stand only runs halfway along one side of the pitch and consists of little more than benches as seats, the other half of that side is just an empty hole. If that’s bad the main stand is a sight to behold – in a strange V shape which seems a million miles away from the pitch it has the resemblance of a Victorian cricket pavilion and the players emerge on to the park from a small doorway that looks like a back door of a council house.
The visitors Dunfermline had endured one of the most miserable weeks in their recent history prior to the game when after a 7-1 mauling of Stenhousemuir in the Scottish Cup they were promptly expelled from the competition for fielding an ineligible player. However as is with all football fans when the chips are down the true supporters come out fighting and there was a fair turnout of Pars fans occupying the stand as we took our place amongst what seemed the diehard crew. As the teams warmed up they vociferously advised the SFA to shove their Scottish Cup up their arse and exchanged some friendly and not so friendly banter with their first division rivals. By the time the teams ran out they were in full battle cry behind their side in what was an important clash.
With that loyal backing one would have expected Dunfermline to come out all guns blazing but it was Dundee who started the brighter and indeed just two minutes in Mallone rolled the ball across the box, past the static Pars defence to Leigh Griffiths who had the simple job of tapping home. Dunfermline looked shell shocked and were chasing shadows but out of nothing they found themselves level when David Graham unleashed a ferocious thundering shot from 25 yards which soared past Rab Douglas into the net. I especially took great delight in seeing Douglas beaten after his often comical performances in goals for Celtic.
Then came a moment of controversy off the park as the already over officious stewards proceeded to advise Kieran that he had to stop taking pictures whilst the game was in action. Granted it is within the SFA rules that he needs permission to do this but after visiting more illustrious grounds than Dens it was somewhat embarrassing that they couldn’t turn a blind eye on this occasion. However in a wonderful act of Groundhopping unity several Dunfermline fans behind us promptly held up their camera phones in unison – it was an ever so brief moment of sticking two fingers up to the man. He was allowed to take pictures again at half time by which point Dunfermline had found themselves behind again.
In fact they only managed to hold the score at 1-1 for five minutes before their rather shambolic defence had allowed Griffith through again, this time he squared it to Colin McMenamin to tap in, much to the glee of the splitters in the home end. The opening half had been an intriguing game with neither side seeming capable of defending their own box so instead resorting to an all out attack approach. The Pars fans weren’t happy with the referee’s performance (prompting them to sing ‘You’re a bigger cheat than us’) but in truth it was probably more down to their own team’s inability to get a grip of the match.
The second half was a completely different prospect with Dunfermline coming out fired up, they bombarded the home side’s goal from the off and within just four minutes of the restart Andy Kirk had them level with an easy a chance as he will ever get after a great header back across goal by David Graham. The home support was becoming increasingly frustrated as Dunfermline continued their assault, peppering the Dundee box with shots and crosses although the final ball did often let them down. Despite the excellent pace and high energy levels there were signs that this may not be the Pars day as it seemed every ricochet and bounce fell to a Dundee player and sure enough with just eight minutes left Griffith struck again, this time a rebound effort after his initial shot was parried by Fleming in goals.
In a frantic desperate last five minutes Dunfermline pumped high balls into the box and even player manager Jim McIntyre made an appearance to try and salvage a point but it wasn’t to be. Dundee completely stole the three points and moved a massive 17 points ahead of the Fifers and surely a step closer to the SPL but on this evidence they will not be around for long. Credit to the Pars fans for applauding their team off despite the defeat in what had been a hellish week.
It had been a great game for the neutral, full of endeavour, determination and graft which more than made up for the lack of raw talent on the park. As we met up with the splitters post match even diehard Dundee boy Jim admitted his team had got lucky, guess that’s why they will be champions. It had been a great weekend and although Tannadice is by far the better stadium it was Dundee and Dunfermline who served up the more exciting game. The Groundhoppers Gathering had come to a close, leaving the three of us to battle on with the remaining 16 games.
Journey - 6
Pie - 7
Bovril - 6
Ground - 4
Game – 8