St Johnstone Win Trophy – Re-write the History Books by Alastair Blair

The following is an article published today by Alastair Blair co author of Bristling With Possibilities – The Official History of St Johnstone FC.

“Outside Celtic Park, before the Cup final, I bumped into John Litster. John, for those who are too young to remember, was Stewart Duff’s predecessor as Secretary at St Johnstone, back in the early days of McDiarmid Park. Although a Raith Rovers supporter, John, now residing in Norwich, had made the journey to see one of ‘his’ teams and he told me that he “had a good feeling about today”. He was just one of the famous 15,000, along with many others who had travelled miles hoping to see history made. And made it certainly was.

Now the dust is starting to settle, can we put this achievement in perspective and try to put Tommy Wright’s team in its proper place in the pantheon of St Johnstone’s (not very frequent) glorious achievements, alongside the famous SV Hamburg game and a certain 7-2 victory over that other team from Dundee?  It’s probably too early but as today’s Scotsman newspaper suggested that the club history should now be re-written, I’ll give it a go. Don’t ask me to re-write the whole book again though. That was seven years of my life which I don’t begrudge, but it’s time for someone younger to take up that particular challenge.

So, how good was last Saturday?

Well, it is, has to be, the most famous game and the best achievement to date in the club’s history. The fact that this current squad has now been in Europe for three seasons in a row is also a staggering achievement. They deserve every compliment they have been given. How do they compare with the past?

Well, I wouldn’t attempt to rank which of Saints’ great sides is the best, but football history, naturally, tends to be lived in the present so there is a natural tendency to think the most recent the best. Today’s game is always said to be more fast, more skillful and better all round than the game our fathers and grandfathers watched. I personally don’t buy the idea that the older players were any less skillful than the modern ones. Bobby Davidson, Sandy McLaren, Willie McIntosh (one of the ten best centre-forwards the late, great Bob Crampsey ever saw, which means he must have been exceptional), John Connolly, John Brogan, Sergei Baltacha, Roddy Grant, and indeed whoever is your personal choice, all have ‘legendary’ status. Even at those times when the club has not been in the upper echelons of the Scottish game, we still had players who went on to achieve real greatness and international recognition, such as Paddy Buckley and Ally McCoist. It was their luck to be at Perth when the club was not at its brightest, but their skill and subsequent achievements are no less impressive for that. Stevie May, in contrast, has his career ahead of them and may become one of the very best ever, but that is for the future, much of which, sadly, will be at another club.

Over the broader sweep of the club’s history, there have been four great teams. These are:

Tommy Muirhead’s 1930’s side, who are the only Saints team ever to head the top Division in the Scottish football league, in September and October 1934. It is hard to imagine, but we were then, seriously, being talked of in the press as a challenger for the League title. No other Saints team in history has ever been in this position. This was a really good St Johnstone team that for several seasons were, as now, a ‘top six’ side, recognised as such and for the first time in our history capable of being considered a team that might win the Scottish Cup – the only knock-out trophy available at that time. That same year, 1934, saw our first failure at the semi-final stage, to Rangers.

The second great team was the Willie Ormond’s fabulous side that I was lucky enough to grow up watching. John Connolly was, in my opinion, the best player I’ve seen – to date – in Saints colours, and his team – Willie Ormond’s team – were competing in an era when Scottish football really did hold its own at the top level. Being third in the league behind what was effectively the Lisbon Lions team is a real achievement, as was only being narrowly defeated by the same Celtic side in the 1969 League Cup final. And of course, this Saints team qualified for the first time for European competition, and competed successfully against the very strong Hamburg side that had two men who had played in the World Cup final against England only a few years previously.

Our third iconic side is Sandy Clark’s, although much of it was assembled by Paul Sturrock. Like Ormond’s team, this side only just failed to win the League Cup, overcome by two goals to one, by an immensely powerful Rangers side, full of foreign internationals that their current supporters could only dream of seeing at Ibrox today. They too qualified for Europe, but fell to the millionaires of Monaco, despite a thrilling 3-3 draw at McDiarmid. Like Ormond’s team, they were competing in a very high standard of Scottish football, when Celtic and Rangers had the likes of Laudrup, Larsson and Gazza in their ranks.

The fourth great side, of course, is the Cup Winning team from the 17th of May this year. Their place in the club’s history is assured by virtue of what they have done – become the first St Johnstone team to win a major trophy. It doesn’t matter whether the current players are better or not than their predecessors from earlier eras. However, the current squad, assembled by Derek McInnes, Steve Lomas and Tommy Wright (not forgetting John Connolly’s signing of Ando) contains some exceptionally talented individuals, welded into a tight, cohesive and superbly drilled and organised unit, and their place in history is assured. In many respects, it is this win that, in many people’s opinion will nudge them above the rest, but I think it’s invidious, if not impossible, to make comparisons.

In the aftermath of the Scottish Cup win, a common refrain from all the commentators has been that everyone in Scottish football is delighted to see Geoff Brown get his reward for his careful running and sensible stewardship of our club. Others have tried to buy success, often with short-term results, but in the long-term Geoff has been proven right. Hearts, Rangers, Dunfermline, Gretna, Dundee and many others have found themselves in financial trouble while Saints have gone on getting it right, being relegated rather than being imprudent with their money and then building again from a sound financial base. St Johnstone is, first and foremost, a business.

This brings me to my penultimate point. One of the things that I always knew, but didn’t really appreciate until I started to research the club’s history, is just how important the directors and chairman have been. Fans are often said not to care about the money; they just want results. Geoff Brown’s achievement, set against the backdrop of times when others sought and took instant football gratification, was to put the business first.

There is no doubt that it has been his stewardship, now passed to his son Steve, that has been central to St Johnstone’s success, both off and on the field. It is noticeable that whilst the players are, naturally, the focus of attention over the entire span of Saints’ history, in fact it is two administrators, Geoff Brown and Robert Campbell, who have been the principal reasons why St Johnstone are an established senior side, while others clubs have fallen by the wayside or drifted down the Divisions and show no likelihood of returning to former glories.

I cannot separate Geoff Brown and Robert Campbell in terms of their importance to the club. Campbell, a Perth solicitor, actually played for the team, oversaw its change to professional status in 1906, guided it to become a Limited company in 1910, helped secure Scottish League status in 1911, and crucially, along with his fellow directors, worked assiduously behind the scenes in the Eastern League in the summer of 1920 (the Scottish League Division Two, where we were before the war, still being dissolved at this time), to secure Saints’ future via a place in the Central competition for the following season when there was a very real chance they might no longer be able to continue as they would have no league to play in. This was as crucial to the club as the much better known rescue act which Geoff Brown performed in 1986 when the club was, once more, for different, this time financial, reasons, on the brink of going under. Since then, we all know just how important Geoff has been to St Johnstone. Crucial doesn’t do it justice and without him we would not have had last Saturday’s celebration. In fact, it’s possible we would not have had a club at all.

These two men, Campbell and Brown, held the reins at the club for many years, and these years, generally, were successful ones for St Johnstone. Such long periods of stability, good, indeed great, business management and loyalty to both the club and the men and women who support the team, have been crucial in St Johnstone’s success as it has been this financial stability (albeit at times it could get a bit hairy behind the scenes), that has created the platform for managers and players to do what the fans want – win games, and now, for the first time, win a major trophy.

Finally, I’d like to resolve, once and for all, the question of when the club was formed. The media and indeed everyone else, have told us, ad nauseam, that we have waited 130 years for this first major trophy. In

reality, there is absolutely no doubt that the club was formed in 1885. The date 1884 only appears once, in one sentence, in a book written in 1898, called ‘Football in Perthshire’, by Peter Baxter, an early stalwart of the club. This sentence reads, “The initial move in the formation of the present St Johnstone club was made one evening in the autumn of 1884 by John Colborn” (my italics). Later in the same paragraph we read, “and it was quite the custom for a time, after cricket was finished, for the football to be brought forth…..The cricketers soon acquired a liking for the game, with the result that a regular club was formed, goalposts purchased and a suitable piece of ground selected.”

In other words, the cricketers had a kick-about, then later decided to form a proper football club. The Perthshire Constitutional, one of three local papers at the time, records in its issue of 25th February 1885, that at the annual meeting of the cricket club, on the 6th of February, “it was proposed to start an Association Football Club. A meeting for that purpose was held last night, when the following office-bearers were elected.” St Johnstone began life on the 24th of February 1885. It has taken us 129 years to win a major trophy, and to be honest I really don’t mind that the press concentrates on the good story rather than the facts.

It is a story we can tell our children and grandchildren. Like John Litster, we were one of the 15,000. We were there and saw history being made. St Johnstone, once bristling with possibilities, have now seen off the ‘difficulties anxieties and struggles’ that Robert Campbell referred to at the Golden Jubilee in 1935. Then, he saw those ‘difficulties, anxieties and struggles…not as dark foreboding clouds but as cherished memories.” Today, his successor, Geoff Brown, and his son Steve, can lay claim to creating the conditions for the most cherished memory for all Saints’ fans, the Scottish Cup win at Celtic Park on the 17th of May 2014.”


St Johnstone v Dundee United in the Scottish Cup – Previous Meetings Part 3

When St Johnstone and Dundee United take to the field on Saturday at Celtic Park in the Final of the Scottish Cup it will be the fourth time that the teams will have come together in this famous competition.

This is the final part of my look back at the previous three encounters.

The 19 years that had elapsed between the 2010 tie and the 1991 semi final at East End Park had seen both teams fortunes ebb and flow. In Saints case relegation to the first division was followed by promotion again in 1997 and the highs of the Sturrock/Clark period which culminated with a League Cup final appearance and the exhilaration of UEFA Cup matches with VPS Vaasa and AS Monaco. The pain of another relegation with a further period in the lower division was eased by winning the Challenge Cup in 2007 and then by Manager Derek McInnes’ successfully navigating a return to the SPL in 2009.

In the 4th Round of the 2010 Scottish Cup a Kenny Deuchar strike and two Liam Craig goals had given Saints a comfortable 3 – 0 win at Station Park over Forfar Athletic.

Earlier in the season Saints had knocked United out of the League Cup at McDiarmid Park, winning 2 – 1 with the help of two own goals. However, on the Wednesday night prior to this match Saints had lost 2 – 0 in the League Cup semi final to Rangers at Hampden.

Manager Derek McInnes selected the following team for the 5th Round match at McDiarmid Park on 6 February 2010: – Graeme Smith, Gary Irvine, Danny Grainger, Michael Duberry, Dave Mackay, Jody Morris, Chris Millar, Murray Davidson, Filipe Morais, Kenny Deuchar, Steven Milne. Subs: – Alan Main, Mark Connolly, Paul Sheerin, Peter MacDonald, Cillian Sheridan.

The former Chelsea and Leeds United player Michael Duberry had arrived in Perth the previous day and was making his St Johnstone debut when he partnered Dave Mackay in the centre of defence.

It was the visitors who opened the brighter and in just 6 minutes Graeme Smith had to make a good save to keep out a fierce Goodwillie shot from a tight angle.

Then in 15 minutes Saints had a strong penalty claim turned down after Daly had blatantly fouled Murray Davidson in the penalty box. However, to the consternation of Saints players and fans alike, the referee said “no pen!”

Five minutes later and Smith was again called into action when he saved a Swanson header.

For some time play swung from end to end without any real threat to either goal until the 40th minute when again the Saints No 1 thwarted Goodwillie to keep Saints on level terms.

However, seconds before half time the United striker scored what would prove to be the only goal of the game from a melee following a corner. This time Goodwillie was on hand to thump the ball into the roof of the net after Smith, who initially appeared to have the ball in his grasp, dropped it under severe pressure from United players.

Saints best chance came five minutes into the second half when Peter MacDonald latched on to a Filipe Morais pass and rounded the keeper, only to watch in anguish as his parting shot was cleared off the goal line.

The after effects of the stamina sapping semi final with Rangers now seemed to be catching up with Saints players as, particularly in midfield, they appeared to be struggling to get higher energy levels and rhythm into their play.

Late on in an effort to salvage the match Duberry was sent forward but it was substitute Paul Sheerin who came closest to equalising. The midfield maestro had replaced Murray Davidson midway through the half but his last gasp glancing header went over the bar.

In time added on David Robertson rattled the Saints bar with a rasping shot and so the match ended 1 – 0 with “The Terrors” progressing to the next round.

On the day Saints did not do themselves justice and the after effects of the Rangers game just 3 days earlier was clearly a factor in the outcome of this match.

For the record, Dundee United eventually went on to win the Scottish Cup defeating Ross County 3 – 0 in the Hampden Final.

So Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final is set up for Saints to redress the balance between these old rivals and to bring the famous trophy to Perth for the first time in the club’s 130 years history.

Come On You Saints.

St Johnstone v Dundee United in the Scottish Cup – Previous Meetings Part 2

When St Johnstone and Dundee United take to the field on Saturday at Celtic Park in the Final of the Scottish Cup it will be the fourth time that the teams will have come together in this famous competition.

This is the second part of my look back at the previous three encounters.

Following the first meeting in 1933 it would be Season 1990/91 before the teams faced each other again. This time at the semi final stage.

To a large extent the status of the two clubs was a bit of a role reversal of the 1930’s and although regarded by some as underdogs Saints were clearly on the way up.

During the 1980’s Dundee United had won the Premier League, reached the semi finals of the European Cup, and been losing finalists in the Scottish Cup on four separate occasions.

On the other hand Saints Manager Alex Totten had transformed Saints playing fortunes by lifting the team from the depths of the Second Division to the Premier League in just 4 Seasons.

Saints had advanced to the semi-final stage by defeating Berwick Rangers 4 – 3 in a replay after a 0 – 0 draw, Hibernian, 2 – 1, and Ayr United 5 – 2 in the quarter final. Allan Moore scored a hat trick in this match at McDiarmid Park.

United had reached the penultimate stage by overcoming East Fife 2 – 1 in a replay after a ( fortuitous ) 1 – 1 draw, Airdrie 2 – 0 and Dundee 3 – 1.

East End Park, Dunfermline, was the venue for the semi final on 6 April 1991 and Manager Totten selected the following team: – Lindsay Hamilton, Mark Treanor, Sergei Baltacha, Don McVicar, John Inglis, Gary McGinnis, Allan Moore, Tommy Turner, Steve Maskrey, Roddy Grant, Harry Curran. Subs John Davies, Paul Sweeney.

Interestingly, the United team included Alan Main, John O’Neil and Darren Jackson who would all later play for Saints.

The near capacity 16,560 crowd generated an electric atmosphere as the teams came onto the pitch.

Saints kicked off and almost immediately “Roddy” fouled John O’Neil which would prove to be the first of some 35 fouls in what would turn out to be a highly competitive match.

Saints had a great chance in just 5 minutes. Grant sent in a high cross and when Main, under pressure from Maskrey, punched the ball weakly it fell to Moore who shot wide of the goal from just 10 yards out and a great chance was gone. A few minutes later Moore was unmarked when a McVicar corner arrived in the penalty area but this time the winger headed wide.

Play raged from end to end with both keepers making saves to keep the scoreline blank. On the half hour mark Saints fans thought their favourites had taken the lead when “Roddy” headed the ball home. Unfortunately the linesman had his flag up for off-side and the “goal” didn’t count.

Saints were having most of the attacking play and Don McVicar’s long throws and corners were causing problems to the United defence.

However, very much against the run of play, United took the lead five minutes from the interval. Duncan Ferguson touched on a Bowman throw in and although Roddy Grant appeared to handle the ball in the box, instead of awarding a penalty, the referee allowed play to continue, and John Clark drilled the ball into the bottom corner of the net giving Lindsay Hamilton no chance from 20 yards. 0 – 1.

Despite this setback Saints players showed great character and were back on level terms on 44 minutes. Another Don McVicar corner caused problems in the United defence and, although this time Moore’s header was blocked on the line, Harry Curran was on hand to head the loose ball into the net from close range. 1 – 1.

Saints almost took the lead at the start of the second half. A Mark Treanor free kick was met by Curran but Alan Main produced a brilliant save to keep out the midfield man’s header.

United restored their lead in 60 minutes when a corner into the Saints box found Malpas but he mishit his shot. Just when you need a slice of luck you don’t get it and the ball fell nicely for Duncan Ferguson to prod home from 6 yards. 1 – 2.

McGinnis, Curran, and Turner all had chances but were unable to take just one of them. Then the referee turned away Saints penalty appeals when it appeared that Bowman handled the ball in the area.

Saints went all out for the equaliser and brought on John Davies for Tommy Turner. However, it was United who nearly scored in a fast break away. Fortunately Davies slid in to get the ball back to the keeper.

Back to the other end and it looked as if “Roddy” would score only to see his looping header go just over the bar with Main scrambling.

The final action came at the Saints end when Lindsay Hamilton made a fantastic one-handed save to deny Darren Jackson.

So, in summary, Saints were most unfortunate to lose a fiercely contested tie. A draw would probably have been a fairer result but you need a bit of luck to win the Cup and Saints didn’t have it that day.

St Johnstone v Dundee United in the Scottish Cup – Previous Meetings Part 1

When St Johnstone and Dundee United take to the field on Saturday at Celtic Park in the Final of the Scottish Cup it will be the fourth time that the teams will have come together in this famous competition.

The previous encounters have seen Saints win once with the “Terrors” successful in the more recent two.

The first meeting took place in season 1932/33 at Tannadice where a record attendance of 19,513 turned up to watch the second round tie. Gate receipts were reported as £900 – how times have changed!

In the first round Saints had needed a replay and extra time to overcome Second Division East Fife. The first match at Muirton Park had ended 2 – 2 before Saints squeezed through 2 – 1 at Methil whilst Dundee United had seen off non league side Armadale 2 – 0 away.

Going into the match Manager Tommy Muirhead’s team were sitting in 6th position in the First Division and widely regarded as one of the top sides in Scotland. Dundee United were languishing in mid table in the Second Division. However, this was a cup tie and, as we all know, teams often raise their game when meeting higher level opponents.

This proved to be the case in what would prove to be a pulsating match. Newspaper reports of the game indicate that the early stages were fairly even and largely uneventful until United took the lead in 14 minutes. Saints keeper Sandy McLaren allowed a low Kay shot to squeeze in at the post. 0 – 1.

Both teams had near things but the game really burst into life 6 minutes before half time. Saints winger Harry Ritchie set off on a mazy run and as he drove into the penalty area he was brought down by two defenders. The referee immediately blew for a penalty but then appeared to have second thoughts. However, after consulting with both of his linesmen he stuck to his original decision. One can only imagine the noise from the home fans as John Priestley stepped forward to take the kick. The wing half kept his composure to tuck it away and level the scores. 1 – 1.

Clearly this was a major talking point and also proved to be a turning point in the match. Two minutes later Harry Ritchie made it 2 – 1 with a drive from the edge of the penalty box which crashed against the underside of the crossbar before going in.

A further two minutes elapsed and Saints had increased their lead. This time it was George Fulton who gave the keeper no chance with a fierce shot from a tight angle. 3 – 1 at half time.

The second half saw Saints continue to dominate and it was little surprise when Harry Ferguson scored to increase the advantage on 52 minutes.

4 – 1 and you might think – Game Over. I suspect some of the Saints players thought that, as they eased off, seemingly happy to rest on their three goal advantage.

Dundee United had other ideas and when ex Saint Peter Gavigan crossed for Dyet to score the visitors got a bit twitchy. 4 – 2.

Then when the same combination struck again to make it 4 – 3 it was now all very nervy for Saints players and fans alike.

United continued to pile on the pressure in an attempt to secure the equaliser but Saints wakened up and defended stoutly. In the final few minutes Jimmy Benson and George Fulton each had chances to increase Saints advantage but failed to do so and the game ended 4 – 3 in Saints favour.

The St Johnstone team that day was: – Sandy McLaren, Johnny Welsh, Willie Clark, George Mason, Bob Ireland, John Priestley, Harry Ritchie, Percy Dickie, George Fulton, Harry Ferguson, Jimmy Benson.

In the third round Saints lost 2 – 0 to Hearts at Tynecastle.

The second meeting between the teams in 1990/91 will be recalled tomorrow.

St Johnstone Goalscorers at McDiarmid Park – Milestones

When Tim Clancy scored the first goal for St Johnstone in last night’s Premiership match against Celtic, it was the 800th Saints goal to be  scored at McDiarmid Park.

The following are the previous major milestones in the 25 year history of the stadium.

1 )       19 August 1989   Div 1    Harry Curran    v  Clydebank  2 – 1

100 )  19 Aug 1992   LC 3     Sean McAuley   v  Partick Thistle  2 – 2 aet 4 – 3 pens

200 )  13 May 1995     Div 1     Kevin Twaddle  v  Airdrie  2 – 1

300 )  14 Feb 1998  SC 4  George O’Boyle ( pen ) v Stirling Albion  3 – 1

400 )   6 Aug 2002  Bell’s 1  Peter MacDonald  v  Hamilton Accies  3 – 0

500 )  13 Sept 2005  Bell’s 3  Jason Scotland  v  Raith Rovers  5 – 1

600 )  8 Dec 2007  Div 1  Paul Sheerin ( pen )  v  Morton  2 – 2

700 )  2 Jan 2011   Prem Lge  Collin Samuel  v  Inverness Cal Th  1 – 0

800 )  7 May 2014   Premiership  Tim Clancy  v Celtic  3 – 3