Six times in the final, six times defeated: Dundee United are at least consistent. While everyone else concentrates on Rangers’ treble bid, Philip Dorward asks United manager Ivan Golac how he can make it seventh time lucky.

The bells of the New Year ring in and most people are busy swapping saliva. Dundee United fans (affectionately known as Arabs) though drop to their knees and pray in a north-easterly direction towards Tannadice Park. Every year the same two wishes: world peace and for Dundee United to win the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden. Rwanda, Yemen and Bosnia seem to have put paid to the first wish. According to history the second seems just as impossible to achieve.

For Arabs, Allah has never played along to the SFA rulebook and all too frequently (six times) he‘s let a devil inside the six yard box at a crucial moment. From the drubbing by Celtic in 1974 through the 4-l replay hammering from Rangers, two more defeats from Celtic and a 1-0 reverse against St Mirren to that 4-3 extra-time sickener against Motherwell, Hampden has never been a happy venue for United or their followers. I

Desperate Arabs have tried everything - blessed scarves, underwear, fancy dress, shades, girlfriends. None work. No, this year it’s something else, the Eastern promise of one Ivan Golac. He told the fans the team would win after the fourth round victory over Motherwell, and they believed him, and will be heading west with hope in their hearts and prepared consolation in their Haddows carrier bags.

Golac’s Tannadice office is strange, with its cheap wood veneer surroundings, and only the picture of the squad of 1993-94 behind Golac tells you it’s not 1974. Ivan himself has just come back from training and it’s a tired, unshaven. strangely crinkly face that beams a large smile. Ten months into his job, it’s as demanding and enjoying as he thought it would be. ‘My philosophy in life is very simple: whatever you do enjoy it. When you go for a walk, listen to music, make a meal, chat with a friend or play football, just enjoy it - if you don’t enjoy life then you haven’t got a chance.‘

Such romantic delusions are often the work of writers, not football managers. It’s compounded at Tannadice by Golac’s predecessor Jim McLean who was in charge of the club for two decades. No-one dared break the rules of Chairman Jim’s little tangerine book, or the P45 and transfer listing were in the post. No wonder then that the media is tripping over itself to get hold of Ivan. Yet their over enthusiastic praise has to be questioned. In Scottish football nieeness is a character flaw. Still ,Golac is happy to play himself off the media if it helps take the pressure off the players.

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‘We all know that players don’t take pressure the same way, some can handle it, some can’t. I will help them in any way I can because I don’t feel any pressure, and if I can take the pressure off them then they can relax andplay good football. My attitude is just me. As a player or a manager I’ve always had a very good relationship with the press. I don’t know why the press finds it strange that I talk of football as ajoy, but that’s how it is. Since I first kicked a ball when I was two, football for me has been a joy.’

For Arabs this season’s poor league campaign has only been tempered by the joy of the cup. Victories over Arbroath, Motherwell, Airdrie and Aberdeen have been hard fought and well won, but still the Tannadice terraces harbour doubts about Golac’s ability to instill fight in a squad that is bereft of trophies.

‘What annoys me more than anything is the fact that we are a very young side. We are not a good team, we only want to be a good team and that’s the difference. We can’t be a good team until we have consistency and we will not have consistency with a young squad. I’m sure they want to win but they can’t sustain the pressure all the way through the year. That’s not only our problem but also Rangers’ and Celtic’s, but it’s even more acute for us. When we last played Rangers their players had an average age of 28. I had seven players on the park who were only 21. No team in the history of the game ever won anything with such a young squad. Some of the boys here need to be shown how to win because many of them have never been winners only losers.’

So why then persist with the youth, why not draft in the hardened club pros? Somewhere down the line Golac has made a stand for the future of the team and he sees himself as the master-builder, creating a team

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‘Building a squad is the hardest thing in football -— just ask Alex Ferguson. It took him £15 million and four-five years. Still we will go on because I want to win everything, I want to build a team that can dominate the game for years here. Just now they are too young but if they stay together we are going to be the big force in 1996; next year too they are going to do a lot of nice things.‘

Golac knows he needs a strong squad, but for that he needs money, and while they are a solid club the chunky chequebook is severely off-limits. Players are the assets and Golac is all too aware that the likes of McKinlay, Petric and Nixon will eventually help balance the books. Golac himself refuses to pay ‘silly’ figures for players. comer shop‘anitude infuriates Arabs who, with a certain mixture of hatred and envy plot to destroy the mighty powers it the west. How can Dundee United beat Scotland’s most successful club at Hampden?

‘It’s easy. We’re going to go out, play well and win it. That’s the way we beat them at Ibrox 3-0. Football is a game where you expose the weakness of your opposition, and will expose Rangers’ because they can be weak. I know how I’m going to play them in the final. We are determined to win and we will win 3-1. In my first year at Partisan Belgrade we won the cup 6-] so I’ll be happy with 3-1. Winning the cup is going to be a turning point. We’ve never won it before and it would be a big boost for next season because we want to be back and defending the cup next year. You tell everybody from me that’s the message.’

Ivan Golac: nothing if not a hostage to fortune. The Scottish Cup Final is at Hampden on Saturday May 21 at 3pm.

n The List 20 May—2 June 1994'