1920-1923 Dundee United
A New Start
As a result of Dundee Hibs' resignation from the Scottish League, the Club went into the independent Central League, which thrived to such an extent that it was instantly accepted back under the umbrella of the Scottish League as the Second Division with automatic promotion and relegation. Thus League football returned to Tannadice in August 1921 after a lapse of seven years. This reunion was to prove all to brief as Dundee Hibs found themselves one of the first victims of the automatic promotion and relegation they had campaigned so hard for - they finishing second bottom in the Second Division and were relegated from the League.
Having lost their Scottish League place, it was not at all clear where the Hibs would spend season 1922/23. Ironically, it was the Irish connection that came to their rescue. Celtic had decided to withdraw their reserve team from the Scottish Alliance League - a League made up mostly from the First Division reserve teams - and suggested that the Hibs apply for the vacancy. The two clubs had always enjoyed a good relationship and, with Celtic's support, the Hibs were successful in joining the Alliance League.
Dundee Hibs could not hope to compete with the drawing power of Dundee FC, at the time one of Scotland's top clubs, and attendances at Tannadice were at an extremely low level, leading to serious financial difficulties. When an offer was forthcoming to take over the club and pay its debts in November 1922, one of the conditions attached was that all of the then committee had to stand down. Pat Reilly appreciated that ensuring the continued existence of Dundee Hibs was of greater importance than his personal position and stepped aside. He became a shareholder of the Club, though never a member of the new board, and remained a regular visitor to Tannadice.
In December 1922 the new board approached ex-Celtic, Burnley and Bradford City player Peter O'Rourke to become their new manager. As manager of Bradford City, O'Rourke had won the FA Cup in 1911 before dropping into non-League football, and he agreed to lend his vast experience to help turn the club around. However, after only a few months in charge he soon recognised that, without the necessary finance to bring in good quality players, the task was beyond him, and he departed, along with his sons Michael and Peter whom he had signed as players, and eventually returned to Bradford City. Half-back Willie McAndrew took charge of the team for the remainder of the campaign, but the poorest season in the club's history saw them finish third bottom in the Alliance League at the end of the 1922/23 season, and the Clubs' future looked bleak.
The club had been bought by a group of city businessmen, most of whom carried neither the religious nor cultural attachments of their predecessors. By this time, it was clear that the club commanded something less than the undivided attention of the city's Roman Catholic community. Allied to the fact that the treaty providing for the partition of Ireland - for long a contentious matter in Scotland - had led to the civil war then raging in that country, it was clear that the Irish associations of Dundee Hibernian were becoming unwelcome baggage as far as the club's committee members were concerned. They were in no doubt that the Irish connection was preventing the Clubs development and were aware of people in Dundee who were willing to invest, but would not do so until the Clubs' image was changed.
One of the new directors, a publican by the name of William Hutchison, had became club treasurer, a vital position given the club's precarious financial state, and he became a driving force in 'modernising' the club. A limited company was formed for the first time but, despite having the necessary finances to resurrect the club, the new directors and other investors were unwilling to do so until the Club had regained it's Scottish League Membership.
To carry out the change in image, and draw a veil over the past, the board decided that all vestiges of the Club's origins had to be removed. That meant a change of name and club colours, both of which required the permission of the Scottish League. The Irish influenced green shirts and white shorts were replaced with a more liberal colour scheme of white shirts and black shorts and socks.
Various options were considered for the club's new name, but eventually Dundee City FC was decided upon. Dundee Hibernian Football and Athletic Company Ltd was then dissolved and its assets were utilised to form a new company, for which debenture shares were issued in the name of Dundee City Athletic Company Ltd.
Prior to the change, Dundee Hibernian had applied to the Scottish League for re-election. However, it was made clear that, if the application were to be made under the name Dundee City, allied to the fact that the club had new owners, the League would regard the application as coming from an entirely new club and as such it would stand little chance of succeeding. The application therefore remained in the name of Dundee Hibernian. By that time, the Board of Trade, had already endorsed the new company name of Dundee City with the result that, for six months, all business and correspondence had to be conducted under the name Dundee City, while the club continued to play as Dundee Hibernian.
Although they had been offered a place in the newly formed Third Division, the new board had greater ambition and not for the first time in the club's history, launched an intensive campaign to gain Second Division status, and at the Scottish League's AGM in May 1923, Dundee Hibernian were re-elected to the Second Division. Had League membership not been regained, the necessary finance to restructure the club would not have been forthcoming and it is quite likely the club would have gone out of existence - and Dundee United would never have existed.
William McIntosh, a director of Dundee FC, had made several attempts to prevent Dundee Hibs being re-elected to the Scottish League, arguing that the city could not support two League clubs, but in the process was clearly protecting Dundee FC's interests. Fortunately his objections failed, but even after the Hibs had been readmitted, McIntosh then led further objections to the proposed change of the club's name to Dundee City, offering the reason that it could cause confusion in relation to the two clubs' correspondence. This dispute over the new name carried on into the start of the 1923/24 season, with the result that the new season commenced with Dundee Hibs playing in black and white.
The new board had appointed 38 year old ex-Third Lanark and former Scotland goalkeeper Jimmy Brownlie as secretary/manager at Tannadice, with Brownlie also registering himself as a player during his first season in charge. He had spent the last 17 years with the Cathkin Park club, his entire playing career up to that point, and had been Scotland's regular goalkeeper between 1909 and 1914, making 16 International appearances in total.
Brownlie quickly made his presence felt at Tannadice and was provided with funds to rebuild the team, using his extensive knowledge of the Scottish football scene to sign a complete new squad of players. One of his first signings was Third Lanark full back Jock Kay who who immediately established himself in the United team and would go on to make nearly 200 appearances for the Club. Other notable signings in Brownlie's first season were Dave Richards from Port Vale, Eddie Gilfeather and Joe O'Kane from Celtic, Sandy Gimour from Hearts and Bobby Bauld from Raith Rovers.
When the club was finally given permission to change its name at an SFA Council meeting in October 1923, the SFA surprisingly upheld the objections of McIntosh. Hibs treasurer William Hutchison and chairman James Dickson travelled to Glasgow for a meeting with the SFA Council on 17 October 1923 to suggest the name Dundee United as a compromise, and it was only then that McIntosh and his fellow directors relented.
Ten days later, Dundee United took the field for the first time on 27 October 1923, and although they were beaten 3-0 by Dumbarton at Boghead, this heralded a dramatic turnaround in the Club's fortunes. The team that day: Brownlie, Kay, Swan, Richards, Gilfeather, Stirling, O'Kane, Mackie, Gilmour, Cottingham, McEwan.