After his dismissal in 1931, Brownlie was a hard act to follow. Ex-Rangers and Motherwell centre forward Willie Reid was given the managerial reigns just weeks after United had won promotion but was unable to keep them in Division One and the decline continued on their return to the lower division.
The 1932/33 season saw United finish 13th as Lothian clubs Armadale and Bo'ness were expelled from the League after failing to meet match guarantees, and the following season saw United finish 2nd bottom as the club faced bankruptcy. As all seemed lost, the directors submitted the club's resignation from the Scottish League.
Ironically, William McIntosh - the ex-Dundee FC director who had caused the club so much trouble ten years before - emerged as one of Dundee United's saviours. Along with local councillor and tobacconist George Greig, they put up the necessary finances to prevent Dundee United from going out of existence. The two reached agreement with the club's major creditors and re-scheduled the remaining debts. Fortunately the League agreed to tear up the resignation letter and McIntosh became chairman at Tannadice.
The new board saw Jimmy Brownlie as the saviour and he returned to the manager's seat in 1934. Although lack of available finances prevented him achieving another promotion bid, he did give the club the on field stability it had been lacking since his departure.
Brownlie signed Arthur Milne from Brechin Victoria, but Brechin City protested claiming they had signed him first. The matter was referred to the S.F.A. who ruled in United's favour, fined Brechin City and suspended two of their officials.
The 19-year-old centre forward had a sensational start to his senior career, scoring four times on his debut in a 9-6 win over Edinburgh City - a match that still stands in the club record books as the highest scoring - and three weeks later he did it again, ironically in a 6-2 win over Brechin City. He quickly established a reputation as a natural goal scorer, and formed a partnership with Bobby Gardiner up front, earning the nickname "The Mighty Midgets" as both were under 5'6".
A consistent run saw the same team fielded in 17 consecutive matches and the team scored 138 goals in 44 games. Milne finished his first season with 23 from only 18 League matches, as United finished 4th in 1934/35, just 6 points away from a promotional place.
pulled off another great signing when he shrewdly negotiated
the return Duncan Hutchison to Tannadice in 1935 after spells
with Newcastle, Derby County and Hull City, and he continued
where he left off. Although United failed to reach a promotion
place during the 1935/36 season, they were fantastic value
for money - winning the last 6 league games back to back and
produced an astonishing 42 goals for United with only 11 against.
began a slow recovery both on and off the park, but by the
autumn of 1936 debts again began to rise. Clearly a wealthy
man, George Greig offered to underwrite these debts, but only
in return for the other directors resigning, thereby allowing
him to run the club as a one-man operation. Despite having
had no experience of professional football either as a player
or as an administrator, he astonished everyone at Tannadice
by dismissing legendary manager Jimmy Brownlie in October
1936, taking over himself in a role he described as manager-director.
He left all training and what tactics there were to trainer
Johnny Hart, but Greig himself insisted on selecting the team
After scoring 85 goals in 81 matches - including six instances of
scoring four times and five hat-tricks - Arthur Milne's stay
at Tannadice was cut short following a pay dispute with Greig.
After turning down a £3000 offer from Chelsea, Milne
was sent on trial to Liverpool in March 1937, but this resulted
in a registration mix-up that left the player a free agent
and he signed for Hibernian for nothing. There was great disappointment
among Tannadice fans at losing yet another hero.
Greig's leadership, United finished in 14th place in both
1936/37 and 1937/38, before he made his exit in 1938, selling
his shareholding to a group of businessmen that included Sam
Irving and non other than United legend Jimmy Brownlie. The
two men adopted the unprecedented role of joint manager-director
for one season as the club finished in 9th place.
and Irving stood down in July 1939, but remained as directors
as former Scotland Internationalist Bobby McKay took over
as manager. McKay immediately signed two players who would
go on to become major characters in the future of Dundee United.
Ex-St Johnstone centre half Jimmy Littlejohn was signed form
Cowdenbeath, and Alloa Athletic full back Jerry Kerr was made
Kerr and his colleagues were to play only four League matches
under McKay before the outbreak of World War II caused the
Scottish League to be immediately suspended and a meeting
was convened at which regional leagues were organised for
what was hoped would be just one season.
was decided to abandon the League programme McKay's contract
was terminated and he left the club, just three months after
arriving. Ex-Cowdenbeath and Falkirk player Jimmy Allan was
then appointed United manager.
Kerr was one of only three players who remained with United
after the outbreak of the war, but the relaxed registration
conditions of the time enabled a much stronger squad to be
assembled. They played in the Eastern Regional League and
had a good season, making full use of the professional players
who had returned to the area, including previous United stars
Arthur Milne, Bobby Gardiner and Thomas Adamson.
War Cup Final
to the semi-final of the Emergency War Cup - which, to all
intents and purposes, was the Scottish Cup - where their captain
Jerry Kerr was unlucky to sustain a shoulder injury that kept
him out of the final at Hampden.
appeared in its first national cup final, which was played
against Rangers at Hampden and attracted an attendance of
around 90,000. Stand in captain Jimmy Littlejohn marshalled
his team well and they gave an excellent account of themselves.
United's Arthur Milne had a goal disallowed before Rangers
scored what proved to be the winner - Littlejohn was man of
the match and very unfortunate not to lift the trophy.