Dundee Sport St Peters

Letter from Australia 65 – Caniggia and Christ

Letter from Australia 65 – Caniggia and Christ

 Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Sometimes I miss Dundee.  I miss Baxter Park, the Ferry, the Dighty, Balgay observatory, St Peters, the Tay Bridge….and much more.  But this week I was especially missing Dens Park…when I saw the documentary commemorating the great Claudio Caniggia coming to humble Dundee.  I miss football – I haven’t quite managed to get into Australian Rules, or Rugby League here.  I miss the walk along Clepington Road, down past Tannadice (the field of nightmares) on to Dens, the field of dreams.  I miss the Bovril and the Peh!  I miss the terrace banter.  I even miss the Arabs!

It was an extraordinary time.  I was chaplain at the club which means, as far as Peter Marr the owner told me, I was like a priest in confessional – I couldn’t speak about what went on in the inner sanctums.  I would love to.  I doubt anyone would believe me – but it was surreal beyond measure.  Maybe after twenty years the vow of silence can be broken – a little!  There are some things I will have to take to my grave!

One of the stories I can tell is one that I think is apocryphal but was doing the rounds when I was at Dens.  Caniggia, who had a previous history with drugs, was in the Riverside Tesco’s and approached one of the assistants – “Where can I find the coke?”.  The young man responded –“You can’t get it here, but if you wait until I knock off, I can get you some.”!  Another story (told in the documentary) was how Caniggia used to nip into the toilet for a ‘roll up’.   Or the time that Mrs Caniggia came up to the Tully journalist with an incredulous look on her face as she held out a tin of canned macaroni! “Macaroni in a tin? That’s not possible!”.  She was clearly a woman who lacked taste for the finer things of life – she even insisted on living in Edinburgh rather than Dundee!

One of the great surreal moments was standing in the Bobby Cox (normally the away end) for the home debut of Caniggia.   The atmosphere was electric – not least when he scored!


Although we went on to lose I knew we were in for an incredible season.  Like many other Dundee fans, I could not believe that a world superstar was actually playing for us.  There was one moment in particular which has stuck in my memory.    Two Motherwell players gave Caniggia a ‘welcome to Scottish football’ tackle!  He went crunching to the ground – then, belying the South American stereotype of rolling around as though he had been shot – he sprang to his feet and got on with running rings round them.  I will never forget the big grin on his face.  He just loved football.  As Barry Smith, the team captain, says in the documentary – there were no airs and graces.

Stevie Milne talks about how they were on the training ground in Broughty Ferry and Caniggia just came running on.  He trained at the Michelin and just down from our house at Caird Park.  And it wasn’t just Caniggia.  We had the likes of Nemzadze, Cabellero, Fan Zhyi, Nacho Novo, Speroni, Brent Sancho…..and of course Juan Sara.

So why does any of this matter?  Because sport is a great gift – and sport, especially football in Scottish towns and cities, is a form of community involvement which brought great benefits to the community.  It is significant that many football teams started with churches – the other big community uniters.  Football used to be the last bastion of working-class solidarity (it spread throughout all classes but was always rooted in the working class) – but now it is being gentrified, commercialised and turned into a corporate product, rather than a community unifier.

Sometimes sitting in the stands at Dens, I would see three generations together.  This was more than watching 22 men kicking round a ball.  It was more than glory hunting (we were after all following Dundee.  This was about community, ritual, friendship, entertainment, collective joy and mourning.  It is little wonder that for some it became a replacement for religion.

The only problem is that when you invest your hopes, time, money in a football team and have players or managers as your heroes/functional saviours – they will let you down.  I did not know Caniggia well, but even from the beginning I knew it would end it tears.  It did – although we had some fun on the way.  He went to Rangers – in circumstances that were not good.   All I will say is that the level of politics, corruption and greed in Scottish football were high in those days.  For anyone who doubts the doctrines of original sin (we are all sinful) and total depravity (sin affects every part of our lives) I could provide plenty proof from Scottish football!

The reasons why the great Dundee experiment, of which Caniggia was just a flamboyant part, did not work are many.  I won’t list them here (that is for another day) – but at the end of the day it just simply boils down to the fallibility of human saviours.  The bible tells us that we not to trust in ‘princes’ (ie.politicians).  Equally we should not trust in footballers to meet our needs.

One of the things about Scottish football in general, and Dundee FC in particular, is that it is not the losing, but the hope that kills you!  Every game you head to you have a vague hope you might win.  Every new season you almost believe the hype about the new players, and wonderful pre-season the team have had.  You head in with some hope.  So, it was this week. Our opening game was against Hearts – I thought we had a good chance.  Because of the timing I was even able to listen to some of it before heading to the men’s breakfast at church.   My hopes lasted 13 minutes – the time Hearts scored the first of six goals against us!

During these years of chaplaincy, I had opportunities to share the good news of Christ with many people – staff, players, fans.   And there were Christians who ministered to me.  One Wednesday night I was heading home from the prayer meeting, and unusually I was quite discouraged (prayer meetings invariably have the opposite effect for me!).   Dundee were playing at home and I knew I was in time to get the second half.  I slipped into the main stand (I had an access all areas pass) and sat close to the home dugout, feeling quite flat and pleading with the Lord to grant some encouragement.  Juan Sara (another Argentinian) scored and ran towards the dugout and, as was his wont, lifted up his shirt to reveal a t-shirt with a slogan on it.  Normally it said, ‘Jesus Loves You’, but this time is was a quote from Philippians – “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’.  God can speak to us in the strangest of places!

Australia, like Dundee, is sporting mad.  I love sport and do consider it to be a gift from God.  But, like any of God’s gifts, if we worship the gift, rather than the Giver – we end up losing both.   Is it not also the case that we identify with a particular sporting team so that we can boast (Rangers, Everton and All Blacks fans will be boasting today)?  Annabel and I listened to  this wonderful sermon today – Boasting in Nothing Except the Cross by Tim Keller….stunning and beautiful….


Enjoy and have a great week – may you know what it is to boast in the Cross.

Yours in Christ,


Dundee v Ross County- the Chairman, the Chaplains and the Crack

Decades in Dundee – Part 1 – Jim Spence Talks about Football, Dundee and Faith

Letter from Australia 64 – Rivers of Tears







Dundee stories –

Ej and the swearing ….

Jim Duffy –


The Italians wanting a cappuccino.


The request to scatter ashes.


Khisanishvelli – 5 million player.   Eammon Bannon ….on the train because they thought I spoke Russian and Italian –


The hair man?  Brent Sancho….Tam Cowan…Rasta….


Julian Speroni…..


Nacho Novo – new pair of boots for every game…


DI Stefano’s chaplain – wanted a dog collar – with a gun.




Nemnzadse –

Fan Zhyi – China…..


You people are like the mafia – you are everywhere….Bob Hynd.

The t-shirts and the 100 skinheads.


Juan being booked at St Mirren for his Jesus Loves You t-shirt.


Giving thanks at the fundraiser.


The funeral (see blog).


House broken into and access all areas past left.


4:0 against Hibs….



The Bonetti brothers – useless manager.


  1. (Rangers, Everton and All Blacks fans will be boasting today)?

    After what Pickford did to Van Dyk they should hang their heads in shame!
    The fact that Pickford will ‘walk’ from this without so much as a caution is disgusting.
    And he most certainly should not be allowed to pull on an England jersey.

    1. I think we know why Pickford made that ridiculously late and dangerous tackle – he’s been handing goals to the opposition for the last few weeks with silly mistakes and generally playing poorly which has seen him on the end of some deserved criticism…..that stupid tackle just reeks of someone who has lost confidence and reacts by rushing out rashly and foolishly at the slightest sign of danger. It’s a wonder he didn’t break Van Dijk’s leg.

      Why Ancelotti hasn’t dropped him is beyond me.

  2. For purposes of visiting Melbourne, you need to bone up on AFL – and choose a team, and you better have a good reason for it. (Any team but Collingwood.) A lot of Pressies seem to follow Geelong, which has strong support down there and in all points west. Sydney Swans might be appropriate, but there’s still residual resentment they were banished from Melbourne to Sydney a few decades ago. Perhaps GWS? I decided to follow Essendon when we moved down here because a family called Daniher from Ungarie, my first parish (draw a saltire on the map of NSW and it’s just below the intersection) supplied them with a family of boys who became champions. Neale Daniher now has MS and is making valiant efforts to survive and raise funds for research. The more you watch it, the more the game grows on you. If you know anything about the Irish variant you’re off to a flying start.

  3. Hi David

    I would like to have a little of your freedom in areas I struggle with… sport can be one… banter another. I seem to have grown much stricter as I’ve got older… Depression doesn’t help.

    1. Thanks John – we have freedom but we need to ensure that we don’t misuse our freedom. Sometimes we are free to do things – but they are not profitable for us….and yes you are right – depression does not help.

    2. Hello John (T),
      Depression: As one who was Consultant diagnosed with existential clinical depression, ( stemming from the death of my mother) before becoming a Christian far be it from me to offer advice. Personally, then, I was greatly helped by friends who were mental health social workers who pointed me in the direction of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Being a solicitor who knew Mental Health law, I was able to press my reluctant Consultant for a referral.
      A key learning point is that before there is a feeling, there is a thought; feelings come from thoughts, even if they are very basic, deep and unarticulated.
      Next, is the idea: what is the evidence for the thought -test it’s truth against the evidence.
      From a Christian point of view, it is akin to renewing the mind with the washing of the word.
      Early Christian teaching I received was based, I think, on the work of Frank Lake, and his “Clinical Theology”. With scripture references on the person of Jesus the questions were where did Jesus get his identity, significance, acceptance, safety, security? As for Jesus, so it is with believers.
      Along those lines, if you haven’t already done so, could I support David’s endorsement of the link to Tim Keller’s talk.
      My wife and I did this morning
      At the end she pointed out that we’d previously listened to it, a year or more ago. But as Keller said, quoting Luther on Galatians the truth of the gospel needs to be “beaten into us” . A pointed reminder to us all how repeatedly we need to hear it with a centrality of justification by grace alone. From that place Keller moves into longings and identity.
      3 Sport and banter.
      I played soccer for school, college and minor non league, poorly. On a Saturday pm the school team, would decamp to the match. There was always banter in the team, Mickey taking, and self – deprecation and at the match at a time home and away supporters mingled together all around the ground.
      As an adult convert to Christ I have found little banter in church, where a lot seem to be achingly earnest. It becomes refreshing to hear the banter out and about, even at the petrol filling station. There is no need to join in with the corseness of some of it and it may require walking away, as you can not, unhear nor undser some things.
      During lockdown earlier this year I passed into a new decade, after being made redundant in conjunction with a stroke 10 years ago. There are times of despondency, over the past with comparisons with earlier years and with people, unrealised or overrealised dreams, and purpose of life now and contribution in life in general and church, even to look into the near future, but it is not trite nor pious to mediate, feed on scripture, promises, on Christ and in particular our union with Him. To hear scripture, as if for the first time.
      Some years ago my Godly, Christian GP, now retired “prescribed” reading Romans 8 three times a day.
      4 None of this is new to you, and I hope it doesn’t come across as patronising nor makes light of your depression which sucks out energy and motivation and can bring something of a cotton-wool mind.
      Martyn Lloyd Jones sermon series on Spiritual Depression may be worth listening to, free on the MLJtrust web site.

      Every blessing in Christ Jesus.

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