TANNADICE ’87 marks the 30th anniversary of Scots football club, Dundee United, reaching the final of a major European cup competition.
Made by award-winning production company, purpleTV, the documentary recalls the club’s extraordinary run in the UEFA Cup.
During the 1986-87 season, Dundee United defeated some of the finest teams in Europe, not least a stunning victory over FC Barcelona, and then a semi-final triumph against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
The programme features first-hand testimony from some of the finest players in United’s history, including Paul Sturrock, Kevin Gallacher, John Clark, Billy Thomson, John Holt, Jim McInally, Maurice Malpas and then-coach Gordon Wallace.
It also includes archive footage featuring Ian Redford and Jim McLean.
Including incredible archive footage, drawn from the success of the 1983 League title win through to the UEFA Cup final of 1987, the film’s moving action is enhanced with uniquely personal cine film and photographic archive, captured by fans who followed the team’s incredible journey that season.
Tannadice ’87 is being broadcast on BBC ALBA on Saturday, May 20, at 2100.
Here, purpleTV’s Margot McCuaig answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
The film was commissioned by MG ALBA for broadcast on BBC ALBA and is the eighth programme in a similar strand to have been produced by purpleTV for the channel in the last four years.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’
The ‘look and feel’ was central to the programme. I wanted to convey, quite literally, the way in which the characters of the programme are ingrained in history and how their achievements are integral to present and future generations of the club, and – of course – to the city’s historical landscape.
To achieve this, the theme of ‘in with the bricks’ was carried through the programme, using a white brick wall as a backdrop to the contributor interviews and using two young Dundee United fans – female and male – to physically graffiti the players’ names on the walls of Tannadice as name tabs.
I subsequently illustrated this further by using graphics to ‘chalk’ an image of each contributor onto the wall, consequently identifying the permanence of their relationship with the city, the club and future generations.
The young fans were also used to create programme stings as break points to bridge the past with present. I think it worked well and added another narrative layer to the concept.
The programme arc was created using non-linear interlinking narrative arcs that backfilled, foreshadowed, or simply ‘told’ the story of not just the football but the connections and relationship between the players, their families and the fans.
The ‘brick’ theme was also carried through to the programme titles.
All the programme drama sequences were shot in front of the white brick wall, again reinforcing the connection with the city, with Tannadice itself, and the fact that the story has a legacy and interest that extends far beyond what actually happened on the pitch that season.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The contributors where the people whose story I was telling – the Dundee United players from that particular season – who very openly shared their testimony in interviews; wonderful archive testimony of [then manager] Jim McLean who was unable to take part due to ill health; there’s an excellent contribution from Justine Mitchell who, as a 17 year-old supporter travelled with the team; and we also feature broadcaster, Jim Spence, who is a well-known Dundee United fan and experienced the run in 1987 from a professional and personal perspective.
I also sourced archive interview material shot with player, Ian Redford, before he passed away, and this was important testimony in bringing the strands together.
Monty Mitchell and Olivia Hurrell played their part in the stings and graphic shoot.
The contributors were all easy to recruit, as they were incredibly willing to participate and share their memories.
The drama actors were also pivotal and were fantastic to work with. A really brilliant bunch of people feature in this programme from start to finish.
I can’t thank them all enough. Alex O’Henley, as reporter, was adept at drawing out the detail in interviews and he was also super efficient at translating my script from English to Gaelic for his voice-over.
What kit and software?
The film was shot using a PMW500 and an EX3 and was cut in Final Cut Pro. The graphics and titles were created using Motion.
What have been the main production challenges?
To be honest, this was a relatively smooth production; but the biggest challenge was in ensuring that the story was told well.
Easier said than done – especially given that it doesn’t have the fairy-tale ending that was hoped for at the time.
I had to deal with the emotional drain of that lingering sadness and disappointment, whilst also ensuring that the audience come away from the film feeling inspired and even uplifted.
It’s also a bit of challenge deciding what to leave out. There were a lot of fantastic interviews and, great stories, but, in an hour’s programme, a lot has to go.
However, in the end, I think we have the right narrative balance.
I work with a brilliant team at purple: Neil MacConnell on camera, Steven Meechan in edit, Jenny Forbes as production co-ordinator and, of course, as I mentioned earlier, Alex O’Henley in presentation.
A tight unit helps to ensure that challenges are relished. Mind you, being stuck in snow on the M80 and having to turn back and cancel a shoot wasn’t ideal, and neither was the M6 road closure when we were driving down to Plymouth to interview [former player] Paul Sturrock. Inconvenient but we got there in the end!
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
I really enjoyed meeting all the contributors and spending time with them as they recounted their incredible experiences.
It was especially rewarding seeing the respect and love they have for one another. I’m not sure I specifically learned this, but working on this programme did remind me, and reaffirm my absolute belief, that football is carved out of and into emotions and emotional responses and that really is important to our history and our awareness of our popular culture.
It’s the old adage: it’s more than a game. It’s about people and people are amazing creatures from which to tell stories.