Saints Manager Bobby Brown signed a young Willie Coburn on 1 September 1962 from Crieff Earngrove and it would only be 3 weeks before he would get his opportunity in the first team.
This came on 26 September 1962 in a League Division 2 match against Morton at Cappielow in front of 9,000 fans. A Jim Townsend goal in 40 seconds would be enough to see Saints win 1 – 0 in what was a thrilling end to end match. Saints defence, however, held firm under a lot of pressure from the home team. The young debutant played a full part.
The team that day was: Ian Ower, Charlie McFadyen, Willie Coburn, Jim Little, John Young, Ron McKinven, Alistair McIntyre, Jim Townsend, Bobby Young, John Bell, Bobby Kemp.
The weather had a major impact during 1962/63 with no games being played between 22 December 1962 and 7 March 1963. The Season had to be extended with matches coming thick and fast in the Spring testing the Saints squad to the full. Willie would make 2 further appearances in a campaign that saw Saints finally promoted as Champions.
Willie played 9 matches the following Season as he developed his physique and knowledge of the game. In 1964/65 he made the left back position his own and would be first choice for the number 3 jersey for the next 6 years.
He always gave 100% in every game and developed into an excellent full back who was equally comfortable on the right side of the team even although the majority of his 324 appearances came at left back.
He is the 4th highest in St Johnstone’s all time appearance records behind Alan Main ( 361 ) Drew Rutherford ( 345 ) and Charlie McFadyen ( 336 ).
Willie’s brother Jackie also played for Saints in 1964/65 Season. The brothers played together on 9 occasions.
In 1965/66 Willie was the Supporters Club Player of the Year.
He was a very good penalty taker with 11 of his 15 goals came from the penalty spot.
In 1967, Manager Bobby Brown selected Willie to play on the right wing against Celtic at Muirton Park. Mindful that Saints had lost 6 – 1 at Parkhead earlier in the Season his role was to mark Tommy Gemmell, Celtic’s marauding full back. Unfortunately, Buck McCarry sustained a nasty gash to his leg after 15 minutes and Willie had to revert to full back. Four second half goals saw Celts win 4 – 0.
Willie Ormond tried a similar selection in 1968 when Saints were fighting for First Division survival, this despite reaching the semi final of the Scottish Cup, with Willie again donning the number 7 jersey and Kenny Aird moving to the left wing. This time against Airdrie at Broomfield, where Saints record over decades was nothing short of abysmal. The Manager had hoped that Willie would add some punch to the forward line. It very nearly worked as in the second half Willie had a shot that beat the goalkeeper but was stopped on the goal line by a defender to keep the score at 1 – 1. A late penalty conceded would see Saints go home losing 2 – 1.
He was of course a key player in the 1969 League Cup Final when Saints were most unlucky to lose to Celtic 1 – 0 at Hampden.
He also played in all of the UEFA Cup matches during the 1971/72 campaign facing SV Hamburg ( 1 – 2 and 3 – 0 ) Vasas Budapest ( 2 – 0 and 0 – 1 ) and Zel Sarajevo ( 1 – 0 and 1 – 5 )..
Alongwith, Jimmy Donaldson and John Lambie they were the first three names on the teamsheet appearing 63 times together.
Willie’s final match is one he probably won’t want to be reminded of. On 8th April 1972 a strong Saints team was trounced 7 – 1 by Hibs at Easter Road.
For the record the team was: – Derek Robertson, Willie Coburn, Jim Argue, Alex Rennie, Alex Gordon, Ian McPhee, Kenny Aird, Benny Rooney, Jim Pearson, John Muir, Henry Hall. Sub: Fred Aitken. Saints goalscorer was Alex Rennie in front of 6,538 fans.
Much to the surprise of many supporters Willie was released at the end of that Season. He would join Forfar Athletic and after retirement from playing took up refereeing.
Willie Coburn was a very popular player, who is regularly seen at McDiarmid Park. He was inducted into the St Johnstone Hall of Fame on Saturday night, an award that he richly deserves.