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Billy Hainey: How the first man of Tannadice set Dundee United on their way in Europe

Billy Hainey’s playing career was marked by a remarkable series of footballing firsts. Then, in 1966, he secured his place in the Tangerines’ Hall of Fame by scoring them their first ever European goal in a giant-killing Fairs Cup win over Barcelona.

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This article first appeared in Issue 28 which was published in June 2023.

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One of the Spaniards poked me in the eye with his finger. They were all milling around and I couldn’t see but I knew who’d done it and I reached him and gave him a backhander right across the jaw! The ref never saw it and nothing happened. But that’s the kind of thing the Spaniards did.
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It was pandemonium. I just remember the sheer joy, the absolute joy of it all. United’s first trip into Europe and they beat the holders, Barcelona ... To do it 4-1 on aggregate was absolutely stunning.

Something stirs in the minds of older Dundee United supporters when they hear the name Billy Hainey, as though it conjures up the ghostly images of two floodlit nights in 1966 when the Tannadice club produced their own version of shock and awe.

Hainey’s goals lit a fuse which brought Dundee United to the forefront of European football with a bang. They sent shockwaves across the continent as the virtuosos of Barcelona were dumped from a competition they had just recently won.

The Paisley-born player scored in both legs of a double victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, bringing elation to Hainey and his team-mates and unbridled joy to United fans. It was the precursor to United’s triumph 20 years later in the UEFA Cup which afforded them the unique status of having a 100% record against the Catalans across four European ties.

Hainey’s part in this unexpected act of giant-killing was the climax in an extraordinary series of firsts – he was the first substitute used by Dundee United in a competitive game and their first substitute to score a goal. He had also previously been the first player to score in Europe for Partick Thistle when they made their debut in the 1963/64 season.

Hainey, now a chirpy 83-year-old, describes himself as an old-fashioned inside right.

“I always had a bit of ability, and I was fit,” he says. “I was up and down the park. I had some terrific tussles with Jim Baxter of Rangers. He used to say, ‘Are you no gonnae stop runnin?’

“I remember scoring Partick’s first European goal in the Fairs Cup. It was over in Northern Ireland against Glentoran and I think it was early on in the game. We won 4-1 and then 3-0 at Firhill so it was a great start.”

But what happened next made his initial appearances in the competition pale in comparison. Despite having scored 45 goals in 169 appearances for the Jags he was surprisingly allowed to leave for Dundee United in March 1966. United fans were soon to appreciate his eye for a goal. In only his third game, he grabbed the winner in a 1-0 victory over Rangers which helped to put the kibosh on their efforts to win the league. But it was in the following season, 1966/67, that Hainey established himself as a legendary United figure.

Dundee United’s first substitute

Following the World Cup in England and a final which saw the host nation and West Germany slug it out on an energy-sapping Wembley pitch, and without the aid of substitutes, the 12th man was introduced to the wider game. When Hainey came off the bench at Tannadice on August 13, 1966, he became United’s first ever substitute, following that season’s introduction of subs to the Scottish Leagues. He made full use of his arrival by scoring United’s second goal in a 2-0 derby win against Dundee, also becoming the first substitute to score for the club.

The man who had brought him to Tannadice was Jerry Kerr, a manager who was perhaps the polar opposite of his eventual successor, the dictatorial Jim McLean. A pipe-smoking avuncular-looking figure, Kerr was most definitely of the old school variety of bosses. The Dundee Courier’s chief football writer Tommy Gallagher described him thus: “Jerry Kerr is one of the few remaining managers who doesn’t detail individual players on exactly how he wants them to play. He picks the team on its capabilities and then expects them to go out and do the job, using the natural talents at their disposal.”

“The people who organised that team were senior players like Jimmy Briggs, the captain, centre-half Doug Smith and inside forward Dennis Gillespie,” Hainey recalls. “They did more of the tactics. There was a load of experience there.”

But Kerr was a shrewd operator and in late 1964 he followed in the footsteps of Hal Stewart at Morton by bringing a group of Scandinavian players across the North Sea. The aptly-named, no-nonsense wing-half Lennart Wing and talented forwards Finn Dossing, Mogens Berg and Orjan Persson sprinkled stardust on a squad that needed a boost to take the club forward.

Dossing, in particular, scored a barrowload of goals and the contribution of the two Swedes and two Danes had been crucial in United securing a place in the Fair Cities Cup at the end of the 1965/66 season – their first foray into Europe.

Veteran United fan Tom Cairns, who was a teenager at the time, was mesmerised by their presence. “They were Gods,” he says. “That is the right expression to use. They were Gods and they’re still Gods to me.”

There was something of an anti-climax when United were given a first-round bye in the Fairs Cup. That was then completely eclipsed when they were drawn in the next stage against the holders of the trophy, Barcelona. For the players and the fans it could not have been more compelling.

Trust us to get Barcelona

“We thought ‘trust us to get Barcelona’,” says Hainey. “But everyone was excited about it and the lads were confident. There wasn’t anybody who was wary.”

Up until that point, Dundee United had lived in the shadow of their Dens Park neighbours Dundee who had become Scottish champions and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup just three years before. It was something that supporters like Tom Cairns desperately wanted to rectify.

“Getting Barcelona was great, but the worry was that we were going to get a hiding,” he says. “I had left school at 15 and was working in a garage workshop office and the lads there were mainly Dundee fans and merciless. On the day we played Barcelona I was wondering whether I could go into work the next day.”

The wily Jerry Kerr, however, was quietly confident as the first leg approached in the giant Nou Camp stadium on October 25, 1966.

“United supporters won’t have to worry about the result,” he said prophetically. “The players feel that it is within their capabilities to do well and bring back a result which will give them a chance and keep the second game very much alive.”

Incredibly, Kerr was not only juggling with preparing his players for a historic European occasion, he was also helping the small contingent of travelling United fans with their flight and hotel arrangements. Such was a manager’s role in those days.

Kerr was having to bring all his managerial talents to bear as the United players marvelled at the Nou Camp facilities, the vast dressing room, its huge sunken bath and, of course, the stadium’s famous chapel. The pitch was the broadest they had ever played on – 12 yards wider than Tannadice and six or seven yards longer.

Dundee United’s first European goal

Yet United were undeterred and it only took them 13 minutes to open the scoring through Hainey – their first goal in their first European match.

United’s squad had been augmented by another Scandinavian, winger Finn Seeman. It was the Norwegian whose pass assisted Hainey to drill in a left-foot shot from just inside the penalty box.

“We were playing really well and were keeping possession and stopping them from playing,” says Hainey. “Barcelona were getting upset that things weren’t going their way. They started to get a bit naughty with some of their tackles.”

In the 60th minute, United went further ahead when Hainey was brought down in the penalty box after chasing another Seeman pass.

“Finno could play a bit but he sometimes disappeared from the game if he wasn’t in the mood. That night when we got the penalty, he said ‘I take it, I take it.’ He was a fair player. He didn’t lack confidence.”

Seeman took the spot kick and scored with aplomb but the referee ordered a retake after a United player encroached into the box. Seemingly unconcerned, he coolly dispatched his second attempt.

Barcelona pulled one back with eight minutes to go and nearly scored again. The home side’s desperation was evident in the last five minutes when their goalkeeper tried to drag the injured Orjan Persson off the field after he had lain injured in the penalty box.

Tempers erupted and there was a melee of players round Persson and trainer Andy Dickson. Blows were exchanged between Billy Hainey and the Barca centre-half Galleco.

“One of the Spaniards poked me in the eye with his finger,” says Hainey. “They were all milling around and I couldn’t see but I knew who’d done it and I reached him and gave him a backhander right across the jaw! The ref never saw it and nothing happened. But that’s the kind of thing the Spaniards did.”

The final whistle heralded a momentous result that made those involved in European football sit up and take notice.

“We were absolutely delighted,” says Hainey. “But I wouldn’t say we were surprised. An awful lot of energy and effort went into that game. I remember Orjan when he came into the changing room after the game. He could hardly breathe. He had to lie down on the floor to get himself together again.”

Radio silence back home

Meanwhile back in Dundee, United fans were oblivious to history being made. That night there was not even a radio commentary, never mind television coverage. Future chairman of the Federation of Dundee United Supporters’ Clubs, Mike Barile, was only nine at the time.

“The first game against Barcelona was on a Tuesday night and there was no coverage on the radio,” he recalls. “I remember my mum and dad sending me to bed and I didn’t know what the score was!”

Tom Cairns was also on tenterhooks.

“It was nerve-wracking. There was no teletext, no internet, no radio. A lot of people today don’t understand that. As the night unfolded you were watching the telly, but you weren’t watching the telly, if you know what I mean. It was a late kick-off in Spain and eventually I got the latest score on the BBC Scotland news bulletin late at night. It was time to go to bed but they said it was 2-0 to United.

“I just went mad. My father was an older man who wasn’t a football fan and he didn’t like me conducting myself wrongly but I was dancing round our flat in Pentland Crescent. It was ridiculous. It was like getting a phonecall to say you’d won the lottery. Actually, it was like winning the lottery. How I got to sleep I have no idea.”

Mike Barile got up early the next morning and headed to the newsagent on his way to school.

“I could see the billboard and it read ‘United Cha Cha Cha.’ I bought my first Courier just to read about it. The hairs on the back of my neck still stand up when I think about that.”

When the return leg took place on November 16, excitement had reached fever pitch.

“I just remember the buzz about the whole day because it was a huge, huge game,” says Barile. “There were thousands of people in the streets before the game. It was one of the first all-ticket games I’d been to – except I didn’t have a ticket.

“Me and my pals got a sneaky-in under a turnstile. It was just the done thing then. The biggest difference was that in normal games we would change ends at half-time to see United attacking the goal we were behind. But that night that there was a 28,000 crowd and it was so packed that we couldn’t move.”

Like Barile, Tom Cairns was in The Shed, the covered enclosure behind one of the goals.

“The crowd was massive. The glamour, the drama, the floodlights, it’s unforgettable. The atmosphere was truly electric.

“One of the big things that night was that it was freezing cold. It was bone dry, one of these black nights – and it was windy. It gave me hope that the Spaniards wouldn’t like it.”

Spanish giants caught cold

United shocked them again by taking the lead after 17 minutes through their talented young inside-forward Ian Mitchell. It meant that Barcelona had to score three times to have any chance of winning the tie. But Billy Hainey put the
result beyond any doubt four minutes into the second half with a wonder goal.

“I was about 35 yards out, wide on the right, and a lot of people compare it to Kevin Gallagher’s goal at Tannadice twenty years later when United also beat Barcelona in the UEFA Cup,” says Hainey.

“As I remember it the keeper was off his line and I just hit it and I caught it perfect. And that was that.”

According to the Dundee Courier, it “was a cannonball shot, so powerful, so unexpected, that it’s in the net before the keeper can move. And considering this is against the wind, it’s a miraculous goal.”

For fans like Barile and Cairns, who had the perfect view behind the goal, Hainey’s strike was like a dose of ecstasy on steroids.

“It was pandemonium. I just remember the sheer joy, the absolute joy of it all,” says Barile. “United’s first trip into Europe and they beat the holders, Barcelona. Dossing didn’t play in either game and we’d been worried about who would score for us. To do it 4-1 on aggregate was absolutely stunning.”

The euphoria was infectious. “The dressing room was bouncing after the game,” says Hainey. “It was a full house and the lads played very well and we deserved to win. Dennis Gillespie described my goal as a cross. How could it have been a cross? I gave him laldy for that!”

Though they were eliminated in the next round against Juventus, United’s first European tie set them on the road to being an instantly recognisable name across the continent over the next twenty years.

To call it a first class achievement might be a bit of an understatement. But with Billy Hainey in the side, how could it be otherwise?

This article first appeared in Issue 28 which was published in June 2023.

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