Jim Morton was signed in November 1979 by Manager Alex Stuart from Berwick Rangers for a then record fee of £30,000. A particularly skillful player he would go on on to play for St Johnstone for 7 seasons proving to be both a successful and an extremely popular player with teammates and fans alike.
Saints had been relegated from the Premier League in1976 and 3 years later were still struggling to make an impact in Division 1 never mind make a return to the top Division. Alex Stuart had taken over from Jim Storrie in October 1978 and a year later was still trying to revive Saints fortunes.
Two weeks prior to his signing Berwick Rangers had been at Muirton Park and Jim’s midfield performance that day had been inspirational as the visitors came back from 3 – 1 down midway through the second half to gain an unlikely 3 – 3 draw. Interestingly, it was new Manchester United Manager Davie Moyes who scored the equalising goal for Berwick that day.
Jim made his debut on 1st December 1979 against Clydebank at Muirton Park in a match that the visitors won 1 – 0 in front of 2,163 fans.
The team that day was: George Tulloch, John Weir, Malcolm Lowe, Lindsay Muir, Danny Scullion, Drew Rutherford, John Pelosi, John Brogan, Alan Lamb, Jim Morton, Micky Lawson. Subs: Gavin Redford and John Goldthorp.
In that first season (1979/80 ) Jim made 19 + 2 subs appearances and scored 1 goal.
Saints finished the season fourth from bottom resulting in Alex Stuart resigning in April and Alex Rennie replacing him as Manager for the start of the following season
1980/81 would see Jim establish himself in a team that came so close to winning promotion and knocking Rangers out of the Scottish Cup. Saints finished in 3rd place in the League only 1 point behind local rivals Dundee. Jim made 40 appearances and played in both Cup matches against Rangers including the memorable 3 – 3 draw at Muirton. In the team that year was a young Ally McCoist who was capturing the headlines, scoring 23 goals. Jim, however, chipped in with 10 goals.
Season 1981/82 was possibly his finest in a Saints jersey. He missed only two matches, starting in 44 games and coming on as sub once. He ended up as top scorer with 19 goals – one more than John Brogan.
One unforgettable match was in the League Cup at Muirton when Celtic were the visitors on Wednesday 12 August 1981. Saints had taken the lead in the first half through a McCoist strike and part time Saints had to withstand intense pressure in the second period as the Celts went all out for the equaliser. With 10 minutes to go Jim replaced a tiring Stuart Beedie. He had only been on the pitch for one minute when Saints were awarded a penalty after Danny McGrain had fouled McCoist. Showing no sign of nerves Jim stepped up and sent keeper Pat Bonner the wrong way to put Saints 2 – 0 ahead and win the match.
Saints would end the season in mid table some 19 points behind Champions Motherwell. However another highlight of that campaign was Saints 3 – 2 win over the ‘Well at Muirton on 6 March. In a tough and thrilling match Jim scored a hat trick as Saints twice came back from a goal behind to win.
As recognition of his fine performances he represented Scotland in a Four Nations Semi Professional Tournament at Pittodrie Stadium Aberdeen. The other Countries involved were England, Holland and Italy.
In the same year he was voted the St Johnstone Supporters Club Player of the Year.
The previous campaign had laid the foundations for greater things in1982/83 Season which would end with Saints being promoted to the Premier League as Champions. Jim played a full part in that success, starting 38 matches plus 1 sub appearance and scored10 goals.
One of the most important matches ( and goals ) was on 9th April 1983 when Hearts came to Muirton in what was viewed as a Championship decider. The Tynecastle team were top of the table with Saints second, one point behind.
When Jim Morton scored the opening goal just before half time the Saints fans in the 7,501 crowd went delirious. Hearts then equalised in the second half but new signing Raymond Blair netted the winner to put Saints in the driving seat for top spot with 5 games to play. The title was finally secured when a John Brogan goal gave Saints a 1 – 0 win at Muirton Park on the final day of the Season against Dunfermline Athletic.
The team that day was: – Mike McDonald, Rab Kilgour, Don McVicar, Stuart Beedie, Alex Caldwell, Drew Rutherford, Ian Gibson, John Brogan, Jim Morton, Derek Addison, Andy Brannigan. Subs: Raymond Blair and John Pelosi.
It’s probably fair to say that in 1983/84 the step up to the Premier League proved extremely difficult for Saints part time squad when pitched against full time players in the other teams. It was the 8th game before the team registered their first points with a 1 – 0 win at Motherwell and it was not until mid December that they found their feet to win consecutive matches. Jim made 40 ( 39 + 1 ) appearances and scored 4 goals. The final 13 matches he started were at left full back. Despite a spirited effort Saints ended second from bottom and were relegated alongwith Motherwell.
Season 1984/85 would prove to be another dismal one as Alex Rennie’s team spiraled downwards and suffered a second relegation. Looking back there were a number of misfortunes, particularly injuries to goalkeepers, and few, if any, highlights.
Jim played in 24 matches ( 22 plus 2 ) scoring only 3 goals of which two were penalties.
Attendances had been declining at an alarming rate as Saints sunk into a quagmire of mediocrity with less than 1,000 supporters turning up for each of the final two home games against Ayr United and Kilmarnock.
Finances were in a mess and Ian Gibson, on a part-time player-manager basis, replaced Alex Rennie as manager.
Established players were moved out as Gibson manfully tried to achieve the impossible in cutting the wage bill and at the same time trying to mould a successful team together based on a few senior players augmented with youth team players and signings from the junior ranks.
To Jim Morton’s immense credit he remained on the sinking ship appearing 33 times and scoring 11 goals in those dark days of 1985/86.
Somewhat ironically Jim’s second hat trick for Saints came in a 3 – 2 win at Muirton Park against Berwick Rangers! This on 2 November 1985.
His final game for Saints came on 18 March 1986 when Saints went down 2 – 0 to Stirling Albion at Annfield. The team that day was: – John Balavage, Andy Millen, Eddie McGonigle, Doug Barron, Frank Liddell, Jim Morton, Sammy Johnston, Derek Addison, Willie Brown, Charlie Adam, Kevin Thoms. Subs; Grant Paterson and Stevie Evans.
Jim emigrated to Australia to join Brisbane Lions but later returned to Scotland and played for both Forfar Athletic and Arbroath.
During his time at Perth he established himself as an excellent taker of penalties. My records show that from the 21 penalties he took, he scored 19 of these.
He also has the distinction of scoring direct from a corner kick. At Falkirk on 22 November 1980 his 25th minute inswinging corner went directly into the net to give Saints the lead in a match they would go on to win 3 – 0.
Jim Morton made a total of 242 appearances ( 235 + 7 sub ) placing him in 23rd position in the St Johnstone all time Appearances list. His total of 58 goals puts him in 12th position in the all time Goalscorers list.
He was a skillful player with a cultured left foot who gave his all for the team. During his time at Saints he experienced both the highs and lows of football.
He was a player I enjoyed watching, and, in my view one of the “Great Saints”.