THE plan was for this to be, at least in part, a preview of the Champions League semi-final between Liverpool and Roma at Anfield. But I got my days wrong. I thought it was on Wednesday night because of idiocy issues, and so I’m clattering my keyboard writing about a game still to take place but which will be done and dusted by the time this column comes out.

An obvious way to deal with such a dilemma is to completely ignore the subject matter, a good columnist would, but my brain doesn’t allow for two different ideas in the same week.

All of this means the following is a sort-of look ahead to a match there is every chance you have already watched and most certainly will know the result of. AA Gill I am not.


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I proudly wore my Kenny Dalglish jersey when in 1984, Liverpool, inspired by a wonderful Graeme Souness performance, beat Roma in the European Cup final in Rome. It went to penalties, Bruce Grobbellar’s legs went all bendy and the home side’s bottle crashed.

Our front room celebrated, but all of us were conscious the final had been rigged. Dundee United should have been Liverpool’s opponents that night but were robbed in the second leg of the semi-final, having won 2-0 at Tannadice.

Now, there has been plenty written this week about the shenanigans of 34 (gulp) years ago which led to the Italians winning 3-0. The accusations of officials being bribed, at best leaned on, the hate which greeted the Scots from the moment they landed at the airport, it’s all gone down in Scottish football folklore.

I have nothing more to add except to say had United faced Liverpool, I honestly believe they would have won the European Cup – simply because of who the manager was.

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In another life, a colleague and I took it in turns to ghost a newspaper column for Jim McLean, the mastermind behind that Dundee United team. It was a privilege and often, unintentionally I’m sure, the funniest half hour of the week.

The first time I got the nod to phone “wee Jum” his wife Doris answered and asked me to give her a minute because “Jim is doing the hoovering.”

Queen’s video of their song “I Want to Break Free” with a dragged-up Freddie Mercury vacuuming popped into my head. I didn’t dare ask Jim if he was wearing a pinnie. That’s a regret.

When on form and on a subject close to his heart, he was a fantastic columnist. Despite having been away from the game for a few years, his knowledge of football and footballers was second to none.

Interestingly, McLean never looked to excuses for that game in Rome once telling me: “They were a good team and we didn’t play well over there . . . only Maurice Malpas was at his best.” But he and his players were done.

Dave Bowman, whose time came just after that season, accompanied his old boss to our Christmas lunch. McLean had just returned from his holiday home in Florida. “It was paid for by all the fines dished out to us,” was Bowman’s assessment.

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McLean had spent time in hospital that year and fellow columnist Ally McCoist revealed he’d paid him a visit. “I knew right away which bed was yours, Jim, it was the one with no visitors,” which got a great laugh from a man who used to boast that he never smiled.

When last week Arsene Wenger announced he was leaving Arsenal, he was hailed as a “revolutionary” and “genius” but, with respect, in the list of the greatest managers to have worked in British football, McLean is easily several places above Wenger.

Just imagine what this great, if difficult, man could have done with the tens of millions given to Wenger. I can’t imagine wee Jum allowing selfies in a dressing room or any of his players to wear gloves. In March.

Wenger was good, don’t get me wrong, but could he have handled Ralph Milne?

I have always felt McLean was under-valued even up here and certainly in England. Sure, he was a difficult, verging on impossible , but what a unique talent.

Had Dundee United won the European Cup, it would have been the greatest achievement in European football history. This is why I hope Roma got gubbed and Andy Robertson, an ex United player, had a Malpas.