Dens Park: Why do games keep getting called off at Dundee's stadium?

Dundee have had five home games in the Premiership postponed this season.

Dens Park: Why do games keep getting called off at Dundee’s stadium? SNS Group

Dundee’s rearranged fixture against Rangers became the Tayside club’s fifth postponement of the season when it was called off on Wednesday afternoon.

All season the Dens Park pitch has found it difficult to cope with any heavy rain with the club’s return to the top flight being overshadowed by the struggle to get games on.

There have been games due to be played at the stadium called off in October, December, January, March and April with issues such as the Covid pandemic, climate change, a new stadium and gaining a sporting advantage all being blamed.

STV meteorologist Sean Batty said there have been several months of above average rainfall with storm systems tracking further south recently – meaning particularly wet conditions in the east of the country.

But it’s not just this season that there have been issues with the pitch; as Dundee have now had 15 home games postponed since January 2021.

Meanwhile city rivals Dundee United have only had one league game called off in that time, despite the grounds being around 200 yards apart – that was for a frozen pitch.

So why does Dens Park struggle so much when it comes to rain and drainage?


Dens Park during a pitch inspection on Wednesday morning.SNS Group

Before the SPFL season 2019/20 was brought to a premature end, the pitch at Dens Park didn’t seem to have as many problems as it has had since.

It has been reported that the club cut the budget for the playing surface’s upkeep when the campaign came to a close as football and all major spectator sports were halted worldwide.

Since football restarted for the 2020/21 season four years ago, there have been 15 games postponed at Dens Park.

‘A new pitch for the Premiership season’

After securing promotion from the Championship last year the club posted on social media that they were installing a new pitch for their return to the Premiership.

They said: “Our work for next season continues as a new pitch is installed.”

It was initially hoped that this would put an end to the issue surrounding the surface.

But the drainage system has continued to find it difficult to cope with heavy rainfall with managing director John Nelms recently stating that there are three areas of concern that they have to keep dry as best as possible.

‘Climate change’ and the weather

Referee Don Robertson calls the match off during a secondary pitch inspection ahead of a Premiership match between Dundee and Rangers. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)SNS Group

On Wednesday, the effects of climate change were blamed after the Rangers game was called off with club secretary Eric Drysdale saying: “This year’s rainfall is 35% higher than the last ten years’ average – that shows the effects of climate change”.

“Through October to December was very wet for the east of Scotland, with Dundee seeing more that twice the rainfall it would normally expect,” said Sean Batty.

“Dens Park pitch is 100 metres by 64 metres, which means for every 1mm of rain that falls on it, this equates to a total of 6,400 litres of rain on the pitch, so you can see how this can become a problem when we get excessive rainfall.”

And April is heading towards being one of the wettest months with one million litres of rain falling in just the last several days.

“While the excessive winter rainfall has probably made the water tables in the ground higher than usual, it’s the rainfall of the last few weeks which will have really exacerbated the issues here,” Sean said.

“When it comes to climate change this is in line with what’s expected. A warmer climate means the air can store more water and therefore dump more rainfall, however, this is not linear as some months have of course been drier than usual, although for Dundee you have to go back to last May to find a month which was significantly drier than normal.”

Plans for new stadium

New Dundee stadiumHolmes Miller/Dundee FC

In February Dundee secured the backing of the Scottish FA and SPFL as they take steps towards a new stadium.

The Premiership club previously shared its long-term intention to move from Dens Park to a new purpose-built complex at Camperdown Park, with the club’s hierarchy working on developing the plan over several years.

If there hasn’t been the same level of investment into the pitch at Dens as there had been previously, this be down to the plans to move.

Critics argue that the club must focus on its current obligations while it develops its plans for the future.

Sporting advantage?

Motherwell boss Stuart Kettlewell insisted that the ongoing issue of the pitch was due to Dundee investing heavily in their playing squad in a move that has allowed them to compete for a top-six spot.

But that’s not the only sporting advantage the club may have gained from the ongoing situation.

Dundee, Hibernian and Motherwell are locked in a battle for a top-six place.

Only one of the three can make it and with Hibs and Motherwell meeting at Fir Park on Saturday while Dundee travel to play Aberdeen, the issue should have been settled this weekend.

Instead, the latest postponement means Dundee could face Rangers next Wednesday knowing exactly what result they need in a crucial game.

From Rangers’ perspective, the match is important in the race for the Premiership title and the new date for the game will effect their preparations for the Scottish Cup semi-finals.

This has angered the Ibrox club who have been heavily critical of Dundee and the SPFL.

Advantage: Kettlewell claims neglecting the surface to spend more on playing staff has helped Dundee reach top-six. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)SNS Group

What’s being done?

Dundee have made promises to fix the pitch, but the Dens Park club faces short-term concerns.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement says he’s been told a decision will be taken on Tuesday as to whether or not the pitch is playable.

Dundee are set to play Rangers on Wednesday, April 17.

Sean said that the weather remains showery with some heavy bursts at times this weekend but that later next week, there are signs it may settle down a bit and become drier.

That could mean the game being moved to another venue and being played behind closed doors.

And Dundee are also in hot water with the SPFL.

There is a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday – the day before the rescheduled match – and that could see sanctions imposed on the club if they are found to have broken the rules.

Official reasons given for games being called off

October 7: Dundee vs Ross County

The first match at Dens to fall foul of the conditions was back in October when Ross County’s visit was postponed.

Dundee said: “Constant rainfall throughout the night and more forecasted has meant this match has been called off.

“The safety of travelling fans has been taken into consideration.”

December 23: Dundee vs Aberdeen

When their game against Aberdeen was called off in late December, the club said they were disappointed at the decision and believed the game could have went ahead.

A statement said: “Dundee Football Club are extremely disappointed and frustrated at the decision to call off this afternoon’s match against Aberdeen. The club had monitored the condition of the pitch and were not concerned that the match would be postponed. The weather forecast was also closely monitored and it was to be dry and windy come 2.30pm which it was.

“When half of the refereeing team arrived, later than would normally be expected, between 1.40pm and 1.50pm, they indicated that they would carry out a full pitch inspection.

“Following the inspection the referee decided that the game was not going to take place and called the match off.

January 2: Dundee vs St Johnstone

A statement from Dundee said: “Recent rainfall has meant the pitch has become waterlogged and the match has been called off.”

March 17: Dundee vs Rangers

Just before the international break the first attempt to play the Rangers game came a cropper when the game was called off just 90 minutes before it was due to kick-off.

Dundee said: “Recent rainfall has meant the pitch has become waterlogged and the match has been called off.”

April 10: Dundee vs Rangers

The rescheduled fixture was again called off with Dundee saying “the match referee has deemed the pitch unplayable after heavy rain this afternoon and tonight’s match has been postponed”.

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