The New Year period has always been a popular time for fans to watch football matches. Much is made in the modern game of the pressure on players playing 2 matches in 3 days. So spare a thought for some of the Saints players in the past.
Looking back to the 1960’s it was quite common to play 3 games in 4 days!
During the 1963/64 season St Johnstone met Dundee United in the traditional derby day match on Wednesday 1st January 1964 at Muirton Park. A thrilling match ended all square, at 2 – 2, with goals from Alastair McIntyre and Alex Ferguson. The team that day was: – Harry Fallon, Charlie McFadyen, Jim Richmond, Jim Townsend, Ron McKinven, Bill McCarry, John Flanagan, Bobby Craig, Alastair McIntyre, Alex Ferguson and Bobby Kemp. ( No subs in those days ). 10,000 fans turned up.
The following day it was off to Aberdeen to meet the Dons at Pittodrie in front of 12,000 supporters. Saints fielded 9 of the 11 players who started the previous game with the inside men, Craig and Ferguson, being replaced by Mike Jackson and Jimmy Harrower. A John Flanagan strike was enough to bring both points back to Perth.
The players ( and supporters wallets ) were given the Friday off and it was back to business on Saturday 3 January 1964 when Motherwell were the visitors to Muirton Park in front of 7,600 fans. There was only one change to the team from Thursday with Alex Ferguson coming back in to replace Mike Jackson. A Jim Richmond penalty put Saints ahead but “The Steelmen” equalised in the final minute to earn a 1 – 1 draw.
In 1966/67 a similar scenario unfolded. This time it started with St Mirren coming to Muirton Park on Saturday 31 December 1966. A crowd of 3,900 watched as Saints won that match 3 – 0 with Gordon Whitelaw scoring 2 goals and John Kilgannon grabbing the other. Saints team was: – Jimmy Donaldson, Bill McCarry, Bobby Smith, Jim Townsend, Benny Rooney, Ian McPhee, Eddie O’Donnell, Gordon Whitelaw, John Kilgannon, Alex Macdonald, Drew Johnston. Sub: Drew Michie.
It was Sunday off and then off to Tannadice on Monday 2 January 1967 to renew the rivalry with the “The Terrors”. Manager Brown fielded the exact same eleven as in the previous match. A tight match saw Dundee United win 1 – 0.
No time to dwell on any perceived misfortunes as the following day Aberdeen were the visitors to Perth. There were only two changes made to the starting line up with Willie Coburn coming in for Smith at left back and Billy Clark replacing O’Donnell on the right wing. Willie Renton was listed as sub.
Gordon Whitelaw was in a rich vein of goal scoring form around this period and it was his 37th minute shot that proved to be the only goal. This was his 6th goal in 4 matches.
The final piece for this particular item gives me the opportunity to reminisce over the beginning of a wonderful chapter in the history of St Johnstone. This was in the 1968/69 season when Willie Ormond was moulding together his legendry team. The little maestro, Henry Hall, had joined in November and was beginning to make a positive impact on the team.
Although the 3 games in 4 days sequence started with a 4 – 2 loss to Dundee United on Wednesday 1st January, it really was a fantastic match on a very heavy Tannadice pitch. Saints were 2 – 0 down at half time and when United went 3 – 0 ahead immediately following the restart you might have thought it was game over. However, goals from Gordon Whitelaw and Henry Hall got Saints right back into it. As Saints piled on the pressure to get a merited equaliser they were hit by a sickner when Kenny Cameron headed the home team into the lead.
The team that day was; – Derek Robertson, George Miller, Willie Coburn, Alex Gordon, Benny Rooney, Alex Rennie, Kenny Aird, Bill McCarry, Gordon Whitelaw, Henry Hall, Fred Aitken. Sub; Ian McPhee.
When Aberdeen came to Muirton the next day ( Thursday ), the Manager kept faith in the team from the previous day with only Ian McPhee replacing the injured Kenny Aird and a young John Connolly appearing on the substitutes bench.
His confidence was rewarded when Fred Aitken put Saints ahead in 6 minutes. Whilst Martin Buchan equalised for the Don’s a little bit later it was Henry Hall, at his brilliant best with 2 goals, giving Saints a 3 – 1 victory.
Then it was Dundee at Muirton ( pity the groundsman ) on Saturday 4th January 1969. Kenny Aird had recovered from his injury and replaced Ian McPhee who reverted to the subs bench.
Saints again won 3 – 1 with man of the match Henry Hall, Kenny Aird and Gordon Whitelaw scoring. A last minute Dundee goal was an unjust reflection of the match. Saints should have won by 6 or 7 as they totally outplayed the visitors.
From this New Year period until the end of the Season, Saints Won 14 Drew 3 and Lost 5 games in all competitions. They scored 50 goals conceding 34 and soared up the League to finish 6th in the First Division.
Whilst by no means advocating a return to 3 games in 4 days it just shows the stamina and fitness levels that these players attained.