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Tim Akinola's Dundee Confusion And The Peculiar Link Between Scotland And Nigeria

Dundee United might not be well known outside of the United Kingdom, but the club is something of a cultural icon in Africa's most populous country.

A bit of confusion arose when Arsenal U-23 midfielder Tim Akinola received an offer for his first senior loan spell with Dundee United, and understandably so.

"A few days ago my agent rang me and said 'I spoke to Dundee and they are interested in you,'” Akinola said in an interview with Dundee United TV. “There are two teams in Dundee and I didn’t even ask him what one. I looked at the table to see there were two Dundees. I thought it was the other one, not Dundee United and I was like: 'Oh.'

"They are a decent club, but I found out a day later it was United when he told me their position. I said: ‘No, they’re not seventh.’ Then he told me it was Dundee United and I knew it was a really good club."

Akinola thought he would be signing for crosstown rival Dundee FC — which sits two points above the bottom in the Scottish Premiership and are usually referred to as "Dundee" — when in fact he was actually talking to seventh-place Dundee United (which is typically called "United").

The Nigerian midfielder admitted he was not too familiar with the Scottish Premiership, but once he cleared up his confusion, Akinola expressed excitement about joining The Terrors, saying: "I did my research and said: ‘Let’s get this moving forward.'"

This transfer saga does not end there though.

Dundee United might be an afterthought outside of Scotland's fourth-largest city, yet ironically the club might be even more popular some 3,000-plus miles away in Nigeria — just not in the way you might think.

In much of Nigeria, calling someone a "Dundee United" (sometimes shortened simply to "Dundee") is the equivalent of saying they are a fool or an idiot.

This usage wasn't widely unknown in Scotland until a 2010 BBC documentary called "Welcome to Lagos." 

In an interview, a local resident named Chubbey described how a certain cunningness is required to survive in Africa's second-largest city.

"Anybody who came to Lagos and he didn’t learn sense, he cannot get sense ever," Chubbey said. "Because here if you are a fool, they will learn you how to get sense. If you are a ‘Dundee United,’ when they start to pour shit on you, you will get sense."

So how did the name of a Scottish soccer team become a popular insult in West Africa, and was Tim Akinola aware of this connection when he signed for the Premiership side?

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There are a few popular theories as to how this expression came to be. One points to the 1989 FIFA U-16 World Championships as the origin. Nigeria's team played four matches at Dundee FC's Dens Park and the African side also trained there during the tournament — which has led to suggestions that local fans of the Dark Blues made the visiting players believe that the phrase "Dundee United" meant "idiot" in the local dialect.

Another suggestion stems from the 1983-84 European Cup semifinals, where Dundee United faced off against Roma. The story goes that Roma attempted to bribe the officials the night before the second leg, and United blew a 2-0 first-leg lead to lose 3-2 on aggregate in the Italian capital. 

This angered Nigerian bettors, who heavily backed United to advance. In the end, Dundee United only succeeded in making itself look foolish — hence the association with idiocy and underperformance in Nigeria.

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Yet the most likely explanation derives from Dundee United's two-week tour of Western Africa in May and June of 1972. Playing against local amateur sides, the top-tier Scottish side only managed one win and two draws alongside a pair of embarrassing defeats. 

"Football followers in this country were very happy in the sense it would give them another opportunity to witness a first-class Scottish team,” wrote an article in the Nigerian Daily Express titled "Don't Come Back." 

“But alas, what we saw was in fact a direct opposite of what we expected. They are not the first English team to tour Nigeria under the same weather conditions. We must agree that they are just not good. They had nothing to offer Nigeria as far as football technique and artistry are concerned, it is as simple as that."

One newspaper even went as far as to fall for a public inquiry into Dundee United's failings, questioning why a second-rate side came to Africa in the first place.

In short, United looked like fools. According to The Guardian: "Aided by media coverage, the name stuck, and from early June 1972 onwards, a Dundee United was a fool in Nigeria."

The 83-84 European Cup semifinals and the '89 U-16 World Championships likely served to further cement the phrase among Nigerian slang, and it was even used in an ad for an anti-malaria drug in the late 1980s ("don't be a Dundee United...").

Akinola is only the fourth Nigerian player to suit up for Dundee United, and his initial confusion presents the possibility that his knowledge of Dundee United did not extend beyond the Nigeria insult. Let's just hope though he doesn't make a Dundee United of himself in Scotland.

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