DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 18: The UEFA Europa League cup is seen prior to the UEFA Europa League Final between FC Porto and SC Braga at Dublin Arena on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
It was more-so the worst of times than it was the best of times for Dundee United at the turn of the 21st century. The Terrors, or Tangerines if you prefer, were stuck near the bottom of the Scottish Premier League table and looked more likely to be relegated than to challenge for a trophy.
But oh, how different things were just twenty years before.
It's1983 and Dundee United have won the Scottish League. Not Celtic, not Rangers, and not Aberdeen, their vaunted New Firm rivals. It is the one, and only, time Dundee United have laid a claim as the best club in all of Scotland with a league title in their possession to prove it.
It's now the 1983-84 season and, as champions of Scotland, United have earned the right to participate in the European Cup. The Terrors tear through all opposition before being halted by Roma in the semi-finals. Oh what a cruel fate for United fans, having earned an impressive 2-0 victory in the home leg before sadly losing 3-0 in the away.
Later, it was discovered that the referee had been been paid off before the match, probably as an incentive to will Roma to the European Cup final, which was being played in Roma, rather than seeing a tiny club from a tiny city in Scotland sully UEFA's grandest of stages. No matter, in the record books a "semi-" will always remain next to Dundee United's name.
It's still the 1980s and Dundee United is still hanging around the top of the table with Aberdeen, making occasional domestic and European cup runs. From 1985 to 1988, United reached the Scottish Cup final three times, losing each. In 1987, they reached the UEFA Cup final, dispatching FC Barcelona in the process, before being felled by IFK Göteborg at the bitter end.
Now, it's 1995 and Dundee United have been relegated. It's 1996 and the Terrors are already back in the Premier League, finishing third in their first season back before becoming a perennial cellar dweller for the next decade.
That was, however, until the 2007-08 season, where Dundee United finished fifth. They did the same the next year, before jumping up to third, along with a Scottish Cup win, in 2009-10, and then fourth last season. Back to some consistency, stability, strength.
European appearances were scant over the last thirteen years, limited to one UEFA Cup appearance before this year.
It's now July 21, 2010, and Dundee United are set to play the second leg of their Europa League qualifying tie against Śląsk Wrocław.
Much like Dundee United, Śląsk's best years were decades ago, mainly during the late '70s and early '80s, when they won their lone Polish Ekstraklasa championship and a pair of Polish Cups.
Last year, Śląsk finished second in the league, paving their way to the Europa League and a date with Dundee United.
Śląsk took the first leg at home 1-0, scoring off of a deflected header from Dutchman Johan Voskamp in the 75th minute. Śląsk seemingly dictated play, out-chancing Dundee United 14-6, though United will feel unfortunate to have not capitalized on a pair of prime chances in the first half.
The second leg still has all to play for, and United will feel that they can show more at home. For two sides who are struggling to recapture past glories, the biggest step in the right direction is always the first.
Oh, and a prediction? Dundee United on penalties.