Bombshell hits Dundee
As NATO began bombing Yugoslavia at the end of March, a corner of Dundee was reduced to rubble. The old-fashioned terracing at Dens Park, home of Dundee Football Club, was demolished to make way for the new stands required by the Scottish premier league. But how would the cash-strapped club pay for the redevelopment? Enter Giovanni Di Stefano, not an exotic foreign striker but a Brussels-based businessman with a son at school in Dundee, a dodgy Midlands accent, a Serbian connection and an £800 000 investment.
After Di Stefano was publicly linked with Arkan, the notorious Serb militia leader wanted by the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, his declared intention to take over Dundee provoked outrage on the back pages of the Scottish press. His agent tried to calm things down by explaining that, as a Yugoslav airline executive and an Italian Nationalist candidate for the European elections, Di Stefano was also familiar with Gerry Adams, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. Strangely, this did not calm things down at all.
Eventually the man himself admitted in TV interviews that he was Arkan's legal counsel and a member of the Serbian Guard of Volunteers. An off-the-cuff suggestion that NATO bombs should 'boomerang back to 10 Downing Street and to Scotland' did not go down too well, either. Di Stefano said that his investment in Dundee was in trust until the cessation of hostilities; Dundee's vice chairman denied that there was any deal.
Archie Macpherson, an expert on international relations who doubles as a football commentator, argued in the Herald that since Di Stefano was unacceptable, Dundee would be better off with the devil they know. That devil is Jim McLean, chairman of Dundee's mortal rivals, Dundee United. Rumours have long been rife that the two clubs plan to merge. And despite the fact that Dundee is the older club and currently the better side, for commercial reasons a merger would inevitably mean dominance for United.
This is where things get complicated, because Dundee fans would welcome investment from the devil himself rather than merge with United, who are known for obscure reasons as the Arabs. So, only hours after BBC Radio Scotland urged Dundee fans to 'make their opposition known' to Di Stefano, they actually chanted his name at Dens Park. Players Eddie Annand and Jim McInally also voiced their support. As one fan told me, 'Di Stefano sounds like someone prepared to invest well in Dundee. It is an exciting prospect'. Indeed, during his TV interviews, Di Stefano said that the next step for Dundee was to advance into Europe (in a football sense).
Dundee's owners have now ruled out both a merger with Dundee United and a takeover by Di Stefano, but the club's future remains uncertain. Di Stefano, who has since put up a £100 000 reward to help catch the killer of TV presenter Jill Dando, obviously has no intention of disappearing.
Meanwhile, we are left to reflect on whether sport and politics should be allowed to mix. One cheeky correspondent to the Dundee Evening Telegraph suggested that the city should embrace the opportunity to promote international cooperation, perhaps by opening a Saddam stand at the new Dens Park. Ridiculous; Dundee fans will never allow part of their stadium to be named after an Arab.
Reproduced from LM issue 121, June 1999