St Johnstone’s 600th Match at McDiarmid Park – Part 1

After last Sunday’s 700th Premiership match, tomorrow we have yet another such milestone, as our meeting with Partick Thistle marks St Johnstone’s 600th game at McDiarmid Park.

Following the move from Muirton Park to the new stadium in 1989 Saints have played 599 games in all competitions and our record over what is now the 28th season at the ground is: – P      W       D         L          F          A

League Div 1          200     110      57       33      353     178

Premiership            314      107     92      115      362     385

League Cup              31        18        0       13       63       37

Scottish Cup             34        17        7        10      48       33

Challenge Cup           12         9        0         3        32       11

European                    8          3        3         2       11      10

Totals                      599      264     159     176     869     654

It is interesting to note from a review of the previous games that Dundee United have visited McDiarmid Park more times than any other team, appearing here on 38 occasions, whilst Aberdeen, Celtic and St Mirren are next with 33 appearances each.

The Paisley Saints and Hamilton Accies have each lost here on the most occasions – 16 times. The flip side of this coin is, unsurprisingly, that the “Old Firm” have inflicted more defeats on Saints on the ground than any of the other teams, with Celtic winning 19 times and Rangers just one behind.

Our record at McDiarmid Park against today’s visitors Partick Thistle is : –

P23     W13    D7      L3       F33     A17

It is however worthy of mention that “the Jags” have won both of their last two visits here by 2 goals to 1.

Looking back over previous seasons, the very first visitors to McDiarmid Park on 19 August 1989 were Clydebank for a League Division 1 fixture. Great anticipation and excitement had been generated both by the opening of this, the first purpose built football stadium in the UK, coupled with Manager Alex Totten moulding together an exciting, attacking, team that was very much upwardly mobile. Such was the interest in this game that the kick off had to be delayed by some 15 minutes to allow the 7,267 crowd into the ground.

The Bankies though didn’t come just for the party and had the audacity to take a 7th minute lead when Jim Hughes had the distinction of scoring the first ever goal at the new stadium. However, it was not long before Saints were back on level terms. Grant Jenkins headed an Ian Heddle cross against the post but new signing Harry Curran would write his name into the St Johnstone history books when he slammed the rebound into the net to make the scoreline 1 – 1. Saints kept pressing for a winner but it would be 10 minutes from full time before it would eventually come. The visitors goal was bombarded with shots and when Sweeney used his hand to stop the ball on his own goal line the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty to Saints. Captain Don McVicar stepped forward and fired the ball home to give Saints a 2 – 1 win and both points.

Saints team was: – Balavage; Cherry, McVicar; Thomson, Nicolson, Johnston; Moore, Curran, Grant, Jenkins, Heddle. Subs: Thompson (for Heddle), Sorbie (for Grant).

The “Official” opening was a very auspicious evening. (Now Sir) Alex Ferguson brought a strong Manchester United team (including Pallister, Bruce, Robson, Ince, Hughes) to Perth on 17 October 1989. The legendary Sir Matt Busby (who had played at Muirton Park in 1935) also attended this gala occasion along with (now Sir) Bobby Charlton. Although the visitors won 1 – 0 thanks to a Brian McClair goal, that night will always be remembered for the floodlights going out, and the match being stopped for around 20 minutes.

There were some really great matches that first season. On 28 October 1989 a crowd of 10,169 (the first attendance in excess of ten thousand) turned up to watch an early season “top of the table” clash between Saints and today’s visitors Partick Thistle. Saints won a thrilling match 2 – 1 thanks to goals from Allan Moore and Steve Maskrey with Chick Charnley netting a last minute penalty for the visitors.

The 31 March 1990, is one of the most truly memorable dates in the history of St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park. The all ticket match against Airdrie was effectively a “promotion decider” with Saints completely dominating the game, coming close on a number of occasions, but unable to find the visitors net. As often happens in these circumstances, Airdrie momentarily silenced the stadium when Steve Gray scored a “worldie” to put the visitors into the lead with 20 minutes remaining. Saints redoubled their efforts, and roared on by the fans, goals from Mark Treanor (penalty), Roddy Grant and Kenny Ward brought an exhilarating game to a fantastic conclusion. A few weeks later, after the final match of the season against Forfar Athletic, Saints were celebrating promotion to the Premier Division as Division 1 Champions.

With the passage of time (more than a quarter of a Century) it seems incredible that a total of 118,579 spectators had turned up for the 20 league matches that season. An average of 5,928 per match! What would Chairman Steve Brown give for those sorts of numbers attending today?

Aberdeen were the visitors to McDiarmid Park on 6 November 1993 for a Premier Division fixture and the 100th game at the stadium. 5,757 spectators watched as Gary McGinnis put Saints ahead in the 9th minute with a rare goal and it looked like Saints would take both points. However, the referee found an additional 4 minutes of injury time, from somewhere, and Scott Booth equalised with virtually the last kick of the match to make it  1 – 1. Manager John McClelland’s tenure in charge would come to an end 10 days later with Paul Sturrock replacing him.

Saints team was: – Rhodes; McGowne, Deas; Cherry, Inglis, McGinnis; Davies, Curran, Wright, Torfason, McAuley. Subs: Donegan, McClelland, Moore (for Wright).

Too many draws coupled with league reconstruction meant three teams were relegated to the First Division … and sadly Saints were one of the three, going down on goal difference. It would take Sturrock a further 3 seasons to get Saints back to the Premier Division.

When Motherwell came to McDiarmid for match 200 in the final home game of the 1997/98 season there was still a very slim chance of securing a European place for the following season. A crowd of 6,754 turned up on 2 May 1998 and they were not disappointed. In an end to end game two goals from Leigh Jenkinson and a Stuart McCluskey goal edged the homesters to a 3 – 2 win over the Steelmen. Jenkinson’s winner coming just 2 minutes from full time.

Saints team was: – Main; McQuillan, Preston; O’Neil, Weir, Kernaghan; McMahon, O’Halloran, Grant, O’Boyle, Jenkinson. Subs: McCluskey (for Weir), McAnespie (for McMahon), Andersson.

Defeat at Celtic Park from the Champions the following week meant that a very respectable 5th place in the league table was not enough to enable supporters to get their passports out for foreign travel just yet.

A Division 1 match with Clyde on 18 January 2003 marked the 300th match, but it did not have the outcome that Manager Billy Stark hoped for with the visitors winning 2 – 1. The match started well with Paddy Connolly netting in just 4 minutes but “The Bully Wee”, now managed by former Saints’ favourite Alan Kernaghan, equalised later in the first half. A Simon Mensing goal took the points back to Broadwood leaving the Saints fans in the crowd of 2,455 somewhat disgruntled.

Saints team was: – Main; J.Robertson, Forsyth, McCulloch, Murray, Maxwell; Reilly, Parker, Hartley, Connolly, Lovenkrands. Subs: Cuthbert, Dods, Hay (for Connolly), Panther (for McCulloch), Baxter (for Reilly).

Game number 400 saw local rivals Dundee visit the stadium on 18 August 2007 for a Division 1 fixture. A very healthy crowd of 6,079 witnessed a fierce encounter in which both teams ended with 10 men and honours even at 1 – 1. On loan striker John Stewart had put Saints into the lead just after half-time when he converted a wonderful Paul Sheerin cross from 6 yards. However, the game would change when Martin Hardie saw red on the hour mark. The Dark Blues’ capitalised on their numerical advantage when Daquin netted to level the score. Just prior to full time time Dundee were also down to ten men when Zemlik received a second yellow card.

Saints team was: – Main; Anderson, Lawrie; McInnes, Rutkiewicz, McManus; Weatherston, Hardie, Stewart, MacDonald, Sheerin. Subs: Cuthbert, Jackson (for Stewart), Daal, Dyer (for Weatherston), McCluskey (for MacDonald).

A Scottish Cup 5th round replay with Hearts would mark the 500th match on 14 February 2012. The first match at Tynecastle 9 days earlier had ended in a

1 – 1 draw, this despite Saints going 1 – 0 down, and later losing Dave Mackay to a harsh second yellow card. Cillian Sheridan scored Saints leveller late in the game to give Saints a second chance to progress.

When the replay came around Manager Steve Lomas decided that Alan Mannus would make his Saints debut replacing Peter Enckelman in goal. A somewhat disappointing attendance of 3,430 saw Murray Davidson put Saints into a 1 – 0 lead with just 6 minutes of the match remaining and it looked odds on that Saints would progress to the next round. However, in the final minute of the match, much to the consternation of the home players and supporters alike, the referee awarded Hearts what was regarded as a somewhat dubious penalty. Hamill netted the resultant spot kick to take the match into extra time and just 3 minutes from the end, after some pinball in the Saints 6 yard box, Zaliukas scored to take the “Jambos” into the next round.

Saints team was: – Mannus: Anderson, Maybury; Morris, Wright, McCracken; Millar, Davidson, Sheridan, Sandaza, Craig. Subs; Enckelman, Croft (for Millar), Haber (for Maybury), Oyenuga (for Anderson), Keatings.

Whilst the foregoing, charts the various milestones, no review of McDiarmid Park’s history would be complete without, what I believe, to be some of the best ever matches at the stadium. I shall cover these in the second part of this review.

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