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Danny Stewart: Edinburgh has shown the way. Dundee can now follow suit

© SPORTPIX.ORG.UKHearts keeper, Craig Gordon, was far from statue-like in front of Hibs fans last Sunday.
Hearts keeper, Craig Gordon, was far from statue-like in front of Hibs fans last Sunday.

The unveiling of a statue to honour Jim McLean outside Tannadice today will add a bit of extra shine – quite literally – to the return of the Dundee derby.

Among the most-exciting things to look forward to in the 2021-22 Premiership was the knowledge that, when it came to great rivalries, it would offer more than just the annual Old Firm set-tos.

With Hearts promoted as Championship winners, their all-Edinburgh encounters with Hibs were back on the table.

Likewise, Dundee’s play-off success meant there was the anticipation of clashes between the country’s two closest neighbours.

If this afternoon’s 90 minutes produces anything like the spectacle Tynecastle witnessed last weekend, the broadcasters – and neutral observes – will be delighted.

While there were no goals in Gorgie, all agreed it was a tremendous spectacle.

The football was end-to-end, with the two keepers, Craig Gordon and Matt Macey, both hailed for pulling off a string of spectacular saves.

Just as exhilarating was the atmosphere created by a stadium packed with fans of both teams.

The only complaint was that Hibs felt the need to play in their away kit when the clubs’ colours do not, and never have, clashed.

Of all images on the day, the sight of Scotland No. 1, Gordon, launching the ball upfield towards a stand filled with Hibs supporters lingers in the memory.

It will be a similar story today, with Dundee United’s ground set to be packed, Dundee having requested, and received, additional tickets for their followers.

© Steve MacDougall / DCT Media
The new Jim McLean statue at Tannadice (Pic: Steve MacDougall / DCT Media)

Yet as welcome as the universal enthusiasm for our city’s derbies has been, it has underlined the continuing disappointment the country’s best-known fixture – the Old Firm clash – has now become a no-go zone for away fans.

Traditionally in recent years, the clubs gave other an away allocation of around 7,500.

In 2018, that was cut to 900 by Rangers, with Celtic responding in kind the next time they entertained their oldest rivals.

This season, the Hoops were to get some 700 tickets for the first Ibrox meeting on August 29.

The offer was withdrawn, however, after Celtic were unable to guarantee a similar arrangement would be in place for the next derby at Celtic Park on January 2.

Now, the first head-to-head between Steven Gerrard and Ange Postecoglou was, it has to be said, a raucous affair.

It was noisy from referee Kevin Clancy’s first whistle – and off the scale when Filip Helander headed home Rangers’ winner.

But it would have been a very different story had the visitors ran away with it.

A couple of goals from Kyogo Furuhashi and Odsonne Edouard would certainly have quietened the home support.

In that scenario, instead of the traditional footage of celebrating supporters that TV companies love to run at the end of games, they would have had only the sight of thousands glumly heading for the exits early.

That would have done our game no favours at all.

The Old Firm fixture is Scottish football’s biggest-selling point.

Not always for the standard of the football that can survive the intensity of the occasion, but for the fervour from fans of both sides that can convince neutrals down south that it’s one to mark down in their diaries.

Of course, the same holds true in reverse.

Covid-restrictions allowing, Celtic Park will be an unbroken sea of green-and-white when Rangers first-foot Glasgow’s East End.

If they witness a home win, there will be scenes of joy aplenty to focus in on.

If, however, they witness Connor Goldson and Co extending the Light Blues’ winning run in the fixture, it will be a very different environment.

One positive of having fans from both teams at the games is that all eventualities are covered.

The highs and lows of the action on the park are matched, and complemented, by the reactions from those who follow the teams from the stands.

Take one of the parties out of the equation, in any derby, and you lose something special.

Prior to the latest restriction on Old Firm fans, there had been optimism the clubs were poised to return to traditional arrangements.

At a time when supporters of all the country’s teams were getting excited about going back to stadiums, it would have been a hugely-positive step.

It can still happen.

Should Rangers and Celtic need evidence of the benefit having both sets of fans at games brings to the party they do not have to look very far today.

Just some 80 miles up the road, where a likeness of Jim McLean – a man who played for Dundee before managing United – will make its first appearance on a street shared by both clubs, and inside a stadium swathed in both tangerine and dark blue.