1923-1930 The Brownlie Era
The Top Division
Within two years of Brownlie's appointment of manager, United had won promotion to Division One for the first time in the club's history as they won the Division Two championship. By this time Borwnlie had retired as a player to concentrate on the roles of secretary/manager, and he convinced the board that, if United were to compete at a higher level it had to be on an equal footing with the top clubs, and that this meant full-time football at Tannadice for the first time.
After United's promotion to Division One for the first time, the Scottish League Management Committee informed the club that Tannadice would be subject to an inspection during the close season to ensure that it was up to the standard required for the higher level, and this clearly concentrated the directors' minds.
Since 1909, Tannadice had been leased, but the board now decided to buy the ground, paying £2,500. Extensive renovations were then begun, the first to the pitch. There was a steep upwards slope towards the corner where the George Fox and East Stands now meet, and this necessitated solid rock being blasted to enable it to be levelled. For the first time, proper terracing was constructed, using the time-honoured method of disused railway sleepers, while the pavilion was given a facelift and new turnstiles were built.
These improvements made the Scottish League's inspection a formality, but, along with plans for a new 3,000-seat stand, the total cost was reported to be £7,000, a huge sum at the time. The intention was that a share flotation would cover the cost, as well as providing money to improve the playing staff, but it realised only £5,000 when five times that amount had been anticipated. As a result, it was announced that the new stand was to be delayed.
Old Firm Double
United met Celtic for the first time in September, and capped a great day by winning 1-0 with a goal by Jimmy Howieson in front of a then record crowd of 20,000 at Tannadice. The club's first meeting with Rangers came in December at Tannadice, and goals by Malcolm Campbell and Tommy Simpson gave United a 2-1 win and an amazing double over the Old Firm in their first season in Division One.
It was in this first season in the top flight that United met Aberdeen, Hamilton, Morton, Hearts, St Mirren, Motherwell and Kilmarnock for the first time, and was also the first meeting with Hibernian since their first match as Dundee Hibs.
The first League derbies against Dundee were each won by the home club and, interestingly, United's average home attendance for the season was greater than Dundee FC's.
Brownlie brought in 8 new signings for that first season in Division One, one of them was Jimmy Simpson from Ladybank in Fife. Signed from Newburgh West End Juniors, he made his debut in Division One at the age of seventeen. He was both mobile and fast despite his height of six feet, and quickly matured beyond his years as an inside forward, becoming regular during the club's survival from relegation - finishing in 17th place, just 2 points above relegated Raith Rovers.
United defeated Rangers again on Christmas Day 1926, with Simpson putting in a fine performance in a 2-0 win, and Rangers began to show their interest in the talented teenager. Unfortunately, United finished bottom of Division One at the end of the 1926/27 campaign and were relegated back down to Division Two, and it was inevitable that Simpson would be sold, and was transferred to Rangers for the then record fee of £1,250. Simpson was eventually moved into defence, and make over 400 appreanaces for Rangers and became their club captain. He also became the first ever player to become an internationalist after starting their career at Tannadice.
The return to Division Two signalled another rebuilding process, and Brownlie brought in a number of new players including another Fifer, Duncan Hutchison from Dunfermline Athletic, and Jacky Kay from Motherwell Juniors. In his first season with the club, Hutchison rattled in 27 goals in 35 matches as United narrowly missed out on promotion, only two points behind 2nd placed Third Lanark.
However the club once again won the Division Two championship in 1928/29, beating Morton to the top spot by one point. Hutchison played a vital role in the clubs promotion, scoring a staggering 34 of United's 99 goals, taking his tally to an amazing 61 goals in 70 games - all this in just two seasons.
After another 3 goals in 3 games at the beginning of the 1929/30 season, United received a bid from newly crowned English Champions Newcastle United. It was a figure that United couldn't refuse, and sadly Hutchison left Tannadice for a fee of over £4000 - more than trebling the club's previous record transfer fee. It was a decision that provoked a furious reaction among supporters, including a match boycott against Dundee and season tickets being torn up outside the ground. He was held in such esteem by the fans that hundreds of them travelled down to Newcastle to present Hutchison with a lucky horseshoe on his debut for the English club.
With their star player gone, United dropped back down to Division Two after just one season. However, the Yo-yo effect continued the following season, as United finished in 2nd place, three points above Dunfermline, to gain promotion once again. However, United lost the services of two of their most important men since the days of Dundee Hibs. After eight years in charge and taking the club back to the First Division, Brownlie was surprisingly dismissed following a disagreement with the board, and in protest of this William Hutchison resigned as a director of the club.
It was at the end of this decade that Ernest Robertson, the son of a local businessman, inherited his father's 50 shares in the club and began an association with the club that lasted over 50 years.