After months of speculation it has finally happened. Dundee United Football Club are now owned by American businessman Mark Ogren and a new era has begun. What happens next is anyone’s guess but as of today we are now all supporters of a team who have an overseas owner and the landscape of the club has changed beyond anything that has come before it. For the first time in our history we have someone in charge who has no direct connection with the club.
As a football fan my default settings in a situation like this are both ‘wildly optimistic’ and ‘incredibly sceptical’ and right now I am definitely a bit of both. As we welcome our new owner a big part of me is very excited to see new faces bring a fresh approach to Tannadice but there is also a big worry that they miss the mark or, and this is genuine fear, the motivations are misguided. To invest in a club like United is a serious risk and is it a particularly attractive one? Scottish football isn’t known for its money making potential and we are not a business that is likely to turn much of a profit anytime soon. It would take huge investment to get us anywhere near the level of financial success currently seen at places like Pittodrie, Tynecastle and Easter Road, so the question that will be asked many, many times over the next few weeks, months and years is – Why? Why now and why Dundee United?
American owners also kick-start the rumour mill when the club over the road have, in recent years, been run by John Nelms and Time Keyes. Financially Dundee are not in a particularly great position and their owners have continually ploughed vast sums of cash into the club in order to maintain its financial position. Their long-term ambitions are still a little unclear and the complications over their new proposed stadium (as well as performances on the pitch) mean that the ‘American Dream’ isn’t exactly alive and well at Dens Park.
This takeover comes with a Donald Rumsfeld level of ‘known unknowns’. Things will be happening at board level that we will not know and may never know. Unlike when Eddie Thompson arrived on the scene, we don’t really know what may or may not be behind this takeover. We all knew who Thompson was and we all knew that regardless of how good his ownership might be he definitely had the right intentions. It is also apparent that as fans the majority, or at least a significant chunk of us feel the same. Maybe it is the long line of rogue traders that have arrived in Scottish football over the last decade or so but the general opinion on social media seems to be excitement mixed with trepidation and concern. It doesn’t help that we have had incredibly turbulent last decade or so and it is only natural for fans to welcome this news with a dose of suspicion.
Maybe I’m wrong (and I desperately want to be). Maybe we have a new owner who simply has the club’s best interests as heart. If so then please show it and return us to what we can be. Make the changes, invest the cash and work with the fans.
Until we have a clearer picture of the plans ahead for United then it is natural to feel a bit wary but the new owner will have the chance to show immediate intent by doing two or three things that could get things off to a great start. It is also true that for this to work Mr Ogren must have a plan of steady changes and changes that are sustainable and long-lasting. In the immediate and short-term he will need to look at the following…
We need quality players in January. Robbie Neilson has managed to lift a squad with more than a few average footballers but he will need at the very least, three or four high calibre additions during the window to allow us to make a sustained challenge for the title. We can probably get 70-80% of the way there with the players we have but we need extra bodies to get us over the line (and we also need to cut some deadwood from the squad). If Ogren can say “look, here are some marquee signings that will help us win the league” then fans will be on his side. At the end of the day we only care about results and, in this case, a Championship title. This would be the obvious and quick-fire way to win over supporters.
Decisions will need to be made about who does what on the United board. We have seen Jimmy Fyffe and Mike Martin take the reigns but we also still have David Dorward and other Associate Directors on the board. We also still have David Southern at the club. The new owner will need to have their own ideas about what the club needs at an operational and business level so maybe this is a time to re-shuffle things and introduce some fresh ideas. I would say that Jimmy Fyffe, out of all of the regular names mentioned, seems to be one who has fans onside. He has introduced a number of hospitality themed ideas and is largely behind the new planned sports bar. He seems an obvious choice in terms of him continuing at Tannadice and the indication is that this will happen. David Dorward has been confirmed as remaining at the club.
The Fans (including the DUSF and ArabTRUST)
From the outside it has been a case that in recent years the United support has been accused by others of being exactly the opposite. There have been factions, there have been protests and there have been endless arguments. At the moment things seem to have settled and fans are behind the team and manager but there is still an undercurrent, probably motivated by anxiety, that feels like we are still all very much ‘on edge’ and that the fans still need to be brought together under one singe cause. This might be the biggest job the new owner has. Convincing all fans to get behind him will be a huge task but he must do this and do it in a way that can increase attendances and bring back that ‘United’ feeling at the club. As I mentioned earlier it has definitely felt like there is more togetherness but we need to get the club back where it belongs and the fans back to being the reason I started to follow this club in the first place.
This then brings us on to the DUSF (and by association ArabTRUST). For me the DUSF have been the most visible and pro-active of the supporters groups in recent months. That isn’t to say that ArabTRUST are silent in all of this but they have been a part of the current board for a few years and pressure will be on them to prove their worth and clarify what their vision is for the club. As for the DUSF we are now at a crucial time for them. If the new owner is willing to work with groups like the DUSF and ArabTRUST then this can go a long way in helping the fans feel more involved and it could help heal some of the issues at Tannadice. The DUSF in particular have funds available to help support the club and some projects that maybe the new owners have in mind. That might be a good start in strengthening fan relations at Tannadice.
So, with all of this in mind it is now over to you Mark Ogren. You now own 85% of the club that I have adored for nearly my whole life. Bring the fans together, invest properly, invest smartly and then deliver a Championship title. After that get us back to a strong footing in the Scottish Premiership and get the fans and atmosphere back to Tannadice. Easy…