On this day in 1911 St Johnstone played their first ever match in Division 2 of the Scottish Football League.
Also on this day in 1989 Saints played their first match in their new McDiarmid Park stadium against Clydebank.
The 1911 fixture saw Saints meet Arthurlie ( from Barrhead ) at the Recreation Grounds in Perth with Saints winning by 4 goals to 1.
The Recreation Grounds are no longer there but were situated at the foot of the South Inch opposite Perth Prison and behind the present Shell garage.
The previous 1910/11 Season had been a particularly successful campaign for Saints winning both local competitions – the Perthshire Cup and the Dewar Shield. However, of much greater prestige was their success in winning the Scottish Consolation Cup ( a competition for teams knocked out of the Scottish Cup proper before the 4th round ) by defeating Second Division champions Dumbarton 2 – 1 in the final at Ibrox. Saints came back from a one goal half time deficit with goals by Albert Cunningham ( who was on loan from Rangers for the match ) and George Mackay bringing the cup to Perth. Press reports at the time state that the £143 “gate” was a record for the Consolation Cup final. On their way to this success they also overcome strong Second Division opponents in Ayr United, and Cowdenbeath. Of equally significant importance, Saints fans had turned up in large numbers to Central League and Cup matches, both at home and away.
So when the opportunity presented itself during the close season to join the Scottish League their application was supported by strong credentials both on and off the park. Confirmation of their acceptance was received on 6 June 1911 resulting in much activity to improve the pitch, the supporters facilities and the team for the new season.
During the summer period the trainer John McVean along with a number of players sought to improve their financial rewards and unfortunately two of Saints all time greats, Bert Sampson ( a centre back ) and Johnny Cameron ( a midfield player who had been with Saints for over 13 years ) had a slight difference with the Directors regarding terms. Although they were to resolve matters shortly thereafter, regrettably, they did not appear in the historic opening fixture against Arthurlie, instead their places being taken by new recruits William Macpherson who had signed from local junior club, St Leonard’s and Alex Stewart who was previously with Dundee Stobswell juniors.
From the Consolation Cup winning team 3 notable players had departed. Full back John Ferguson joined Dundee, George Bennett had gone to England with George Mackay moving to Kilmarnock. “The real mackay” as supporters affectionately called him had proved to be a prolific scorer during that Season with over 20 goals in League and Cup matches.
Goalkeeper Robert Aitken, Tom Jackson ( a former Scottish internationalist with 6 caps whilst at St Mirren ), Willie Wilson, George Steven, and Henry Brown had all remained. Added to the squad were Alex Page from Rangers, Walter Anderson from Montrose and Arthur McGowan, a soldier from the local barracks.
In an attempt to replace Mackay’s goals and to be prepared for stiffer opposition Saints paid Hearts, for what was then, a substantial fee of £20, for the transfer of Bail Colombo.
Accordingly, the team that turned out before a large attendance that auspicious day was : – Aitken, Jackson, McGowan, Anderson Macpherson, Stewart, Wilson, Page, Colombo, Steven, Brown.
The local press were somewhat disappointed with the standard of play on show with one reporter suggesting that there had been a better standard in both the Central League and the Northern League. However Perth fans were soon celebrating Saints first ever League goal when Alex Stewart fired the homesters ahead in the first half. Stevenson equalised for the visitors with a free kick from outside the box which went straight through the Saints defence and past Aitken into the net. So at half time the match was all square at 1 goal each. On resumption George Steven put Saints in front quickly followed by a Colombo header. This effectively ended the contest before Willie Wilson scored late on to give Saints a comfortable 4 – 1 win and both points.
New striker Colombo was unfortunate to be injured twice in the early stages of the match and was very much a passenger for a large part of the game. His first accident took place immediately from kick off and after treatment he resumed only to receive another kick on the same knee. This effectively rendered him a passenger. The Perthshire Constitutional reporter was clearly unimpressed with the new man and suggested that “it would be no surprise to learn that this was his first and last game for the Saints.” Colombo then missed a couple of matches and Saints Directors decided to get expert medical advice on their big money signing. Accordingly, they paid for the player to see an Edinburgh specialist whose report on the player’s injured knee proved favourable. However, from match reports it was clear that Colombo’s performances were still very much below par. The Saints Directors were not slow to take action and when it appeared that our old friend Mackay had not settled in Ayrshire he was brought back to Perth where he again showed his eye for goal by scoring winning goals against both Dundee Hibs in the league and Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Qualifying Cup.
The second historic day came in 1989 with the first match to be played at McDiarmid Park.
Saints had moved from the Recreation Ground to Muirton Park in 1924 but in the late 1980’s it was clear that following the Bradford Fire disaster and the Taylor report on football grounds that the Dunkeld Road stadium was in need of substantial refurbishment. Chairman Geoff Brown succeeded in negotiating a wonderful deal with Asda which involved the sale of Muirton Park ( and the Ice Rink next door ) to the superstore group with St Johnstone moving to a new purpose built stadium on the Crieff Road.
Clydebank were the first visitors to the new ground and a crowd of 7,267 turned up to see Saints win 2 – 1.
The kick off was delayed to let the large numbers of spectators gain entrance. However, when the game did get underway the flow of the game did not follow the pre match “script”, as the Bankies caused a shock when they opened the scoring in just 7 minutes through Jim Hughes.
Harry Curran soon levelled matters and ten minutes from full time Don McVicar scored from the penalty spot to ensure that the points remained at home.
The Saints team that day was: – John Balavage, Paul Cherry, Don McVicar, Kenny Thomson, Keith Nicolson, Sammy Johnston, Allan Moore, Harry Curran, Roddy Grant, Grant Jenkins, Ian Heddle. Subs Gary Thompson, Stuart Sorbie.
McDiarmid Park is now in it’s 26th year and has hosted 551 competitive matches in which Saints have scored 804 goals.