January 2018

Following that draw at Cappielow, Saints lead was cut from five points to three, with Dundee United still having played one match less than us. It was still tight, but the media blinded by what I call ‘1983itis’ firmly believed it was only a matter of time before we capitulated and the Tannadice club ran away with the league. The title rightfully belonged to Dundee United in their view; the ‘establishment’ as they see it will prevail.

The problem with ‘1983itis’ is it is a completely flawed logic, and all current professional footballers as well as a large chunk of fans can’t remember the Tannadice club being very good at all never mind a serious title contender, which they were briefly for a decade or so forty years ago. The current threat is based on past circumstances, a castle made of sand.

In the crusty world of the Scottish media however, almost exclusively made up of fifty year old plus men, they do remember Dundee United being good when they were teenagers or young men, a key age for forming life opinions, and immediately promote the Tannadice club amongst Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs as clubs that “need” to be doing well for the Scottish game to thrive, again flawed logic on their part but you get my drift.

This nonsense from the media is not Dundee United’s fault of course. They are a decent club who like most professional outfits in the country have had good and bad spells over the decades; it is all part of supporting your club of course.

The next sets of fixtures for each club were tricky ones scheduled on the sixth of January, where Saints hosted Inverness at home whilst the Tannadice club travelled to Grangemouth to take on an improving Falkirk. I say tricky fixtures, but the media already had the clubs level on points in advance of full time, this was finally the weekend they had predicted for weeks where United would return to the top and surely under Csaba Laslzo would absolutely romp home as Saints folded under the weight of such a challenge.

Our old friend “Wee Robbo” is still in charge of Inverness of course, and following the previous home match where he confused the dogs of Feegie with his excited squeals, the SSPCA provided special ear muffs for all K9’s within a mile radius of St Mirren Park should the Highlanders score. By half time in the predictably tough match Saints led 1-0 thanks to a nicely worked Gavin Reilly goal, his twentieth of a remarkable season.

Dundee United by this point had taken an early lead at Grangemouth, but the expected precession predicted by the media did not materialise, and something pretty remarkable happened instead it has to be noted. By the half way stage the Tannadice side were 2-1 down, and a potential six point lead could be developed by Saints should both results stay the same.

Whilst Saints held out a for a nervy 1-0 win, the result at Little Chernobyl was as off the scale as a radiation reading after a plant night out, and Falkirk incredibly hammered the “Promotion Certs” by a score of 6-1. To put the result into perspective the Bairns had only scored twelve league goals all season up until that match. From the outside it looked like United were crumbling, but the media had it down as a mere blip.

This match also signified the first in Lewis Morgan’s career where he was not a permanent Saints player having transferred to Celtic a few days beforehand and was loaned back until the end of the season. It was a good deal for the club where they get money, in all likelihood a sell on clause, as well as Morgan back for 6 months, so we can’t really complain, but when the time comes young Lewis will be sorely missed as he has been a fantastic player for the club, but we have a league to win before then of course.

Next up was another potential set of fixtures where Saints might be able to extend their lead at the top even further, with a short journey to Dumbarton for us and an away trip to Dunfermline for United. Dumbarton of course had increased the prices the last time the clubs met by over 20% from the previous season and kept this going based on their absurd logic of; “The more fans we get in the stadium the less money we make”.

That’s a bit like saying the more it rains the less water we will have, it is utterly stupid and sounds like something Donald Trump would say to deny climate change. To make matters worse, January was also the month where the clubs and SPFL had their so called free entry for under 12 kids offer, and this presented a problem for Dumbarton because free kids means no money, unless of course you make it as hard as possible for people to obtain these free tickets in the hope adults purchase the full 900 allocation given to Saints.

The full adult ticket sell out was in fact a very likely scenario should Dumbarton be able to get away with it, a cunning plan in fact. All Dumbarton had to do was play the patience game and hope nobody notices……….

However we Paisley Buddies aren’t stupid of course. Very quickly and quite rightly those with kids under 12 started asking questions as to how they obtain such free tickets. There was nothing on either clubs websites, and then both clubs started blaming one another for the farce as information was as rare as a Stevie Aitken formation with more than one person up front.

Technically it wasn’t Saints job to relay the message about free tickets as Dumbarton are of course responsible for ticket information as it was their home match, but we could have made some effort before they went on sale to find out, however this played perfectly into the hands of Dumbarton who must have been counting adult sales until that magical 900 moment where free kids tickets became obsolete.

As the days went past and no confirmation was forthcoming, there were rumours that Dumbarton were making free under 12’s tickets available from 6am to 7am from a boat under the Erskine Bridge to fulfil their league responsibilities, but eventually it took Saints fans to drive to the 103 FM Stadium and advise the rest that 50 free tickets had been reserved for Saints which were still outstanding as nobody had actually informed the public up until that point how to get them.

To the match, and Saints won again against our bogey side, very comfortably 2-0 in the end and Dumbarton had the look about them of a team that had lots of Alex Rae duds in them, and of course they did. As this was happening, Dundee United were drawing 0-0 at East End Park and suddenly Saints had an eight point gap at the top, but as the Tannadice club are GUARNATEED to win their game in hand at Palmerston and also beat us in the remaining fixture between the clubs, it is actually only two points. Don’t get too excited diddy fans of diddy club.

Away from the actual on field action, and making a rare appearance outside his bubble of Aberdeen for Radio Scotland at Dumbarton that afternoon was head of the ‘1983itis’ group chat Willie Miller, who believes association football in Scotland only started when Alex Ferguson became Dons manager.

Miller is also an outspoken supporter of what he perceives to be the “natural order” in Scottish football, meaning that Celtic, Aberdeen, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United should always be in the top division regardless of their ability or circumstances in his view. The rest he couldn’t care less about and gets annoyed when they are doing well, see St Mirren in 2013 when he made a comment along the lines that it was “ok” but would prefer the “bigger” clubs to win trophies.

Miller also believes that ‘The top division’ must NEVER be extended beyond 10 or 12 teams as a smaller format was when Aberdeen and Dundee United were last successful back in the days of 1983, and therefore this is the only structure that can bring success to the whole country, by which he means Aberdeen.

The status quo must be preserved in his ancient view, despite two clubs dominating like never before in history for the thirty odd years since 1983, and these two clubs don’t include Aberdeen or Dundee United.

For those not aware of Radio Scotland’s “Open All Mics” coverage where Miller was employed to report on that afternoon, it is like the first day of school in Primary One when teacher asks twenty or so young children what they got up to during the summer and the kid that shouts the loudest also gets a lollipop, so they obviously all shout out at once. That is except a moustached five year old Willie Miller who is slumped at the back not paying attention whilst reading a pop-up book about Gothenburg 1983.

The former Aberdeen captain, defender, manager, chief executive and director of football but completely unbiased BBC pundit based in Aberdeen and who only seems to report on Aberdeen matches but is in no way biased, was sent to watch Saints as we were playing his beloved team the following week in the cup, as it may be useful for him to learn something about another club. Ha!

As Alan Preston, Billy Dodds, Derek Ferguson, and Chick Young excitedly fought over the attention of teacher Richard Gordon by screaming each time a team went over the half way line in their respected matches, there seemed to be radio silence at Dumbarton as Miller said absolutely nothing despite chance after chance being created and missed by Saints.

“Quick update Willie?” asked Teacher after half an hour.

“Oh….er nothing has happened at all. Absolutely nothing.” Miller replied, yet a quick look at BBC Scotland’s own stats had Saints already heading towards double figures in shots!

When Saints finally did score two relatively quick goals at the start of the second half, vigilant Saints fans who were listening to the national broadcaster insisted that Mr Gordon had to coax the information from Miller after Cammy Smith opened the scoring, and when Stephen McGinn netted a second, Miller stated “Falkirk” had scored!

Despite the extremely one sided nature of the match admitted by even Dumbarton supporters themselves, Stevie Aitken didn’t see it that way at the end, and incredibly even by his own standards thought in the first half his men were the better side despite almost blanket domination by Saints. The first half stats read Dumbarton one shot to Saints eleven, make of that what you will, but even Trump himself would shy away from saying something so ridiculous I would imagine.

The following week, Saints were in Miller’s home territory for that cup match, a tough tie against a strong Aberdeen side who have been the clear second best team in the country for a few seasons now.

The match was moved to midday for BBC TV purposes, and in further proof that Aberdeen fans are correct in their insistence of a West of Scotland bias within the media, Miller himself was on TV duty as the official voice of the AB postcode area, and his impartial view was sought next to fellow Aberdeen fan Rob McLean in the gantry, along with cringe worthy Aberdeen fan and commentator Lewis McLeod adding his “stand free” mutterings to proceedings, ‘ably’ helped by former Aberdeen player and Saints hater Billy Dodds. West Coast bias at its very worse of course.

To extend this so called, ahem, pro-West Coast agenda at the BBC, Aberdeen fan Richard Gordon was introducing the show on Radio and the TV highlights package at night was likely to be introduced by fellow Aberdeen fan Jonathan Sutherland. I would doubt any other club is so prominently represented by a “national broadcaster” anywhere in Europe.

To ‘level out’ the mega strong pro Aberdeen alliance were Steven Thompson on TV and Chick Young on radio, who is utterly torn between St Mirren winning the league and the “natural order” of Dundee United returning automatically to the Premiership. Wee Chick may have to choose another club to support…………….

Unsurprisingly considering how well Saints were playing, they went unchanged and straight at Aberdeen from kick off. Barely a minute into the match and Lewis Morgan should have squared for Gavin Reilly to score a tap in, but the youngster decided to shoot and it was blocked for a corner.

Saints were looking in control as the match approached ten minutes, however Stelios made the first of many mistakes by diving in and giving the Dons a soft penalty that was easily dispatched beyond Samson in what was Aberdeen’s first attack.

The Dons would score with their second attack also, before Gavin Reilly pulled one back for a Saints side that continued to look dangerous going forward but poor at the back. To prove this theory, from a swift counter attack after Saints had looked threatening Aberdeen scored a third from incredibly their third shot of the match, and again Stelios was at fault thanks to a quite ridiculous attempt at a clearing diving header which still makes me laugh even days later!

Despite this 3-1 score-line at half-time, the game was probably even and what this proved was a real fragility in Saints defending which struck again at the start of the second half as Liam Smith dithered and Gary McKay Stevens hammered home a fourth from Aberdeen’s fourth attempt of the match.

That was the end of the scoring, and as the game trundled towards an end, new signings Ryan Flynn and Mark Hill made debuts for Saints, which undoubtedly strengthens a midfield that has been highly reliant on too few players for most of the season.

It was disappointing, but for the large Saints support that made the trip north nothing was going to stop their party and they got behind the side for the full ninety minutes. In the aftermath, some unkind things were said of Saints, however should we be promoted this season Aberdeen are unlikely to be the target or benchmark at this point, and defeats at Pittodrie have been common for most clubs in the last five years.

With Saints out of all cup competitions now, the focus was solely on the league with fourteen matches remaining and a lead of eight points over United who still had that game in hand at Palmerston, which was being treated like already won chips from a casino that the Tannadice club were cashing in for three points once it was finally rescheduled by the SPFL.

Live TV was again responsible for rescheduling our match, this time to a pretty unkind Friday night in Dunfermline, yet just short of 800 Saints fans made the journey despite supporters buses leaving when people were still at work, an impressive showing unless of course you are Alex Rae’s Dundee United supporting pal on twitter who thought this was pathetic. I sent him a screen shot of the tweet confirming the official Dundee United travelling support of just 339 at Paisley in March 2017, but he is yet to respond.

Saints in general have been awful at Dunfermline in the past few decades, but I was still surprised to see we had only won three times here in the past 25 years, with the last being in 2001 when Mark Yardley and Jamie McGowan scored, a match I will never forget as the Linesman bizarrely ran to the get ball and kicked it to Ludovic Roy in an attempt to hurry him up in injury time.

The conspiracy back then was the “establishment” wanted us down to save Dundee United from relegation, and they got their wish in time, however it is perhaps ironic that with Saints and United battling it out again this time to get back into the top league, we should go to Fife and win again by the score of 2-1.

In truth Saints looked quite a bit superior to Dunfermline technically, who although are ultra-competitive seem to be lacking in confidence completely and are a shadow of the side from their excellent opening to the season when they pretty much destroyed Saints back in September.

That technical superiority showed in the twelfth minute when Saints took the lead with a breath-taking sweeping team goal involving Davis, Liam Smith, McGinn, Cammy Smith, McGinn again, Morgan and then brilliantly Cammy Smith once more who stroked it beyond Robinson in the Pars goal to give us a stunning lead.

One touch football, dummies, off the ball running, back heels to take out multiple defenders, the lot. This wasn’t Barcelona or laughably Arsenal as someone tried to point out, (we are top of an actual league FFS) this was St Mirren and we shouldn’t need endorsements or comparisons to enjoy watching such brilliance.

The Pars battled away and soon found a route back into the match however, courtesy of shelling eighty yard punts to giant centre half Jean-Yves M’voto, (I wonder whose idea that was Sandy Clark) and they were level within a few minutes of the restart when Nicky Clark capitalised on a knock down from the big defender.

Saints then visibly wobbled any time this repeated tactic was attempted, but in reality this agricultural like hoof was all Dunfermline had and the goal was their only shot on target of any real threat the entire match, although a late shot just wide by Aird had many Saints fans hiding behind their hands.

Once Saints got to grip with this punt, there was only going to be one winner however, and following an exquisitely chipped Kyle Magennis free kick, big Jack Baird volleyed home at the back post for Saints to win the match.

There was more shelling from the Pars, but by then Gary MacKenzie was on to deal with M’voto and Jack Baird was defending our goal as though his very existence depended on it allowing Harry Davis to deal with anything that these two happened to miss. Saints should then have finished the match off when they had multiple opportunities to score a third, but 2-1 would do just fine.

It was a massive win; there is no other way of describing it and another three points at a place we have struggled historically. We were now eleven points clear, with Dundee United having two games in hand, or six points as the media and some of their fans at that point liked to call it, with the first of these the following day against Morton at Tannadice.

It was just another three points statistically that Saints had won, but this particular victory seemed to be more significant as it was before United played and we simply aren’t giving them a sniff at the moment.

This win put pressure they probably didn’t need or want on the Tannadice club by going away from home to the third top side in the division and winning, whist scoring a goal of the season contender in the process, and this sent out a clear message that we are up for this fight. Are Dundee United however?

By full time at Tannadice the following day, the couple of hundred United fans still left in the Dundee ground would argue that there is still plenty of time left, and there undoubtedly is, but Dundee United are simply running out of games to catch us.

Morton have been accused on multiple occasions this season of only turning up for matches against St Mirren, and that is justified when you look at results and performances, so practically nobody predicted a 3-0 win at Tannadice for the Greenock club that left Saints eleven points lead intact, although those GUARANTEED six points at Palmerston and against us at Tannadice have still to be cashed in by United.

What this will prove in time nobody can predict with any certainty, but Saints are in a very strong position currently. If the rest of the league continues to collect points at the rate they have been all season, the best of the rest (currently Dundee United) will only collect sixty six points meaning Saints would only need another sixteen points to win the league. Someone needs to step up, and it has to be starting now if we are realistically going to be stopped.

The likelihood is someone will improve their form, but it would need to be either Dundee United or Livingston to be able to stop Saints, and it would need to be something spectacular. If Saints continue to accrue points in our final thirteen matches this campaign as we have been already, we are heading for eighty points with a vastly superior goal difference. If Dundee United win all their remaining fourteen matches they would be able to reach a total of eighty two points, and Livingston eighty one. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

Saints of course could utterly collapse, that is also possible. Loads of fans of other clubs have been falling over themselves to say we are not that good, maybe they are right and us and the bookies are wildly wrong. Maybe we have been lucky for so far in twenty five matches, plus the fourteen at the end of last season, maybe that thirty nine jammy league game streak is coming to an end.

Of course, the truth will probably lie somewhere in between, but the reality is nothing has been won yet and we face many tough matches before the end of the season.

Last campaign we proved any team could have a remarkable end to the season against the odds, so we might be caught, but January 2018 could well prove to be the most pivotal month of the season.

The Twenty Goal Club

When Gavin Reilly lashed the ball beyond former Saints goalkeeper Mark Ridgers to open the scoring and subsequently win the match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on the sixth of January 2017, the Dumfries born striker not only scored his twentieth goal of the season after just twenty eight appearances, but joined a fairly unique and relatively small exclusive group of St Mirren players.

Scoring twenty times in a campaign is probably more or less the standard target for most forwards and some midfielders every season it could be argued, yet it has happened in Saints history remarkably few times considering the club is currently in its one hundred and forty first year, therefore the achievement of Gavin Reilly should be firmly acknowledged.

To put Reilly’s feat into perspective, this is only the thirty sixth time in Saints history I could find an example of a player reaching twenty goals in a season in all competitions, and with many of these players reaching this milestone on multiple occasions, incredibly Reilly is only the seventeenth individual player to score twenty times in a campaign during Saints entire history, and only the fifteenth when the War time records are discounted.

All official records ignore the two World Wars when collating such stats due to the perceived drop in quality during these years as many footballers joined the armed forces; however I have included these periods although the twenty goal target was hit with more regularity than at any other time, seven times during WWII alone for example, with Alex Linwood surpassing the milestone five times between 1939 and 1945 alone.

Surprisingly, no player manged to reach a twenty goal level before or during the first World War, mainly due to the small number of matches played in comparison to now it could be argued, and it was the decade immediately after the so called Great War that two of Saints finest ever goal scorers emerged and the twenty goal target was finally reached eight times during the 1920’s.

The ground beaker was Dunky Walker in season 1921/22, who started the season by scoring four goals in each of the opening two league matches, and Walker continued this incredible form throughout the campaign by netting a simply astonishing fifty six times in all matches including forty five in the league, and both totals remain club records to this day unsurprisingly.

Walker reached the twenty goal mark during this memorable season after only sixteen appearances, yet that is still not the fewest appearances required to reach the landmark number by a player, more of which later. Walker repeated his twenty plus form the following campaign before his remarkable exploits alerted richer English clubs and he was sold to Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1923.

The disappointment felt at the loss of such an incredible goal scorer did not last long however, and a twenty two year old chauffeur from Bridge of Weir named Davie McCrae was signed after impressing and scoring against Saints in a Scottish Cup match for Beith in early 1924, and this was the catalyst for the greatest scorer in Saints history to emerge from total obscurity to club legend.

McCrae scored twenty or more goals in a season on seven separate occasions between 1924/25 and 1932/33, including the opening goal in the 1926 Scottish Cup final when Saints beat Celtic 2-0 in front of the first ever 100,000 attendance at Hampden Park to win the clubs maiden major trophy.

Davie McCrae’s total of 252 goals in 352 matches for Saints is unlikely to ever be beaten, and although football is considered by many to be much weaker pre WWII than it is now, it should be remembered that Saints did not have any forwards of that quality or consistency immediately before or after Walker and McCrae, so was it really that easy?

When McCrae’s career came to an end, Saints suffered the indignity of being relegated for the very first time in 1934/35, but gained promotion back to the top division immediately in a flurry of goals in 1935/36, with Jimmy McGregor netting forty one times and Jimmy Knox on thirty one occasions making this campaign the only one where two players surpassed the thirty goal mark in the clubs history.

Knox in fact would score twenty goals or more on three occasions during the 1930’s, before Linwood took over during World War II along with Thomas Brady who managed to hit the milestone twice during a period where all sorts of weird and wonderful competitions emerged such as the “Emergency War Cup” and this is another reason official records tend to overlook these years.

However, it would be a travesty to ignore the exploits of Linwood especially, and it would be grossly unfair to penalise a player by deleting records from history as they happened to play football during a time Adolf Hitler decided he wanted to rule the world.

Perhaps an indicator of how difficult it was and still is to score twenty goals in a season is the gap between 1945 and the next twenty goal a season player in 1958/59, as this was during a period Saints had a consistently good side and finances were boosted by crowds regularly reaching over 20,000 and on many occasions pushing the limit of Love Street completely when close to 50,000 were in attendance.

The wait was worth it though I would argue. Young American striker Gerry Baker arrived from Motherwell in the autumn of 1958 for a small fee, unable to break into a Fir Park forward line that included Ian St John, and desperate to make a career in football after deciding against becoming a professional sprinter.

Baker wasted no time impressing, and after scoring on his debut against Hibernian in late November 1958 where he was up against his brother Joe, the lightening quick striker reached twenty goals in his quite astonishing first thirteen matches for Saints, which is the quickest any Saints player has reached the twenty goal milestone.

The striker, aided by a fellow forwards Alistair Miller, Jim Rodger, Tommy Gemmell and the brilliance of Tommy Bryceland continued this form over the season where he scored twenty eight times in only twenty five matches. Had he signed for Saints at the start of the season and scored at that rate, Baker would have reached fifty goals for the season.

Similar to Dave McCrae before him, Baker also scored in the Scottish Cup final to help Saints win the trophy for the second time in 1959, although it should be noted Baker scored in every round. Aberdeen were the victims this time in the final by the score of 3-1, however it was the semi-final annihilation of Celtic 4-0 where all five forwards were on the absolute peak of their game that probably remains singularly the greatest individual performance by a Saints side, something highlighted by the much respected and iconic broadcaster Bob Crampsey in 1999 when he chose this as the greatest performance by a Scottish club in a domestic match during the entire twentieth century.

The legendary Tommy Bryceland also reached twenty goals in 1958/59 as well as scoring in the Cup Final, and the pair repeated the feat during the 1959/60 season where Baker scored ten times in one Scottish Cup match before leaving the field injured, but this record haul helped him reach a total of thirty five goals for the season.

The English clubs were circling again however and the American was transferred to Manchester City in November 1960 for a fee of £17k, a modern day equivalent of just under £400k, seemingly scant reward for Baker’s sixty six goals in eight five matches, and Bryceland would eventually follow Baker to England, and signed for Norwich City in 1962.

The loss of such quality again had a massive impact on Saints, and a second relegation eventually followed in 1967, but the club once again bounced back immediately scoring goals, one hundred in total in the league this time, with Peter Kane notching a very respectable twenty nine goals in 1967/68.

The side couldn’t sustain this form however, and relegation for a third time occurred in 1971 after a few seasons struggling to reassert themselves in the top flight.

A period of six years in the second tier followed, allowing four players to score twenty or more in a season; Ally McLeod on two occasions, Jim Blair, Bobby McKean, and in the season Saints were promoted back to the top division in 1976/77 under Alex Ferguson a young Frank McGarvey managed twenty goals in forty three matches.

McGarvey would repeat this form in the Premier Division the following season with twenty three goals; however once again Saints couldn’t hold onto their prize assets and the forward moved to Liverpool in 1979 although Saints board seemed to have learned a lesson from the Gerry Baker fee by receiving £270,000 for the striker, around £1.5million in 2018 currency.

The popular striker would return to Saints in 1985 however to finish his playing career, and the thirty one goals McGarvey scored in this spell was enough to push him over the century mark for Saints, becoming only the fifth and currently last player in Saints history to do so.

With the money from the McGarvey transfer in 1979 and other deals around the time such as Tony Fitzparick’s move to Bristol City, Saints decided to spend big on replacements. The most high profile of these was Frank McDougall from Clydebank for £180k, a Scottish record at the time and eyebrows were raised as Saints had outbid Celtic for his services. In 2018 terms, that fee is just short of £1million incidentally.

McDougall never did reach twenty goals in a season for Saints however, but his strike partner Doug Somner did on two occasions. Somner was signed from Partick Thistle around the same time as McDougall for a fee of £100k meaning for a short period in history Saints had the most expensive strike-force ever assembled in Scottish football, and two of only seven players transferred for £100k or more in Scottish football on their books at that time.

His debut season for Saints in 1979/80 was the pinnacle of Somner’s goal-scoring exploits, the striker hit thirty five goals in all competitions including twenty five during a league campaign when Saints could have won the title but had to settle for third place after a disappointing end to the season.

Saints also became the first and only Scottish side to win the Anglo Scottish Cup that season, thrashing then top flight Bristol City 5-1 in the final over two legs where predictably the deadly Somner netted two of Saints goals.

The following season Sommer again made it to the twenty mark, and he would be the last player to do so until Barry Lavety in 1992/93 when the young striker scored a late goal at Love Street against Cowdenbeath on the final afternoon of the season to deservedly sneak into the elite club.

The twenty five year wait between Lavety and Reilly for a twenty goal man is the longest since Saints inception in 1877 to Dunky Walker achieving it for the first time in 1921/22, further strengthening the case to acknowledge the achievement of Saints current top scorer in reaching the landmark.

Many players have been close to reaching the twenty goal target since Lavety; Mark Yardley in 1999/00 and Martin Cameron in 2002/03 both scored nineteen times, and Eddie Gallagher managed twenty two between December 1992 and October 1993, but failed to complete a full season at the club.

As mentioned before, Frank McDougall could not reach twenty goals in a season, or Frank McAvennie, Gudmunder Torfason, Steven Thompson, Robert Rankin, Don Kerrigan, Totti Beck or John Sutton therefore Reilly really is member of an exclusive club that many respected and often iconic players did not manage to join.

Gavin Reilly still has at least sixteen matches to potentially play this season, maybe more if Saints can advance beyond Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup, but I’m sure thirty goals is now his target for this campaign which would mean entry to an even more exclusive club as only three players have managed this post war; Gerry Baker, Ally McLeod and Doug Somner.

With ten league goals in twenty league appearances currently, in all likelihood Reilly will need to improve his goal to game ratio in the Championship from one in two at the moment to two goals every three matches to reach that thirty target, but having made history already this season it can not be discounted.

 

 

December 2017 & New Year

December started with a home match against bogey side Dumbarton, one of two clubs in the division that only seem to treat matches against Saints seriously, which is cute but questions the mentality particularly of the manager.

In Dumbarton’s case that is of course ex Morton player and Time Bandit Steve Aitken, someone I have called out many times for his excruciatingly negative tactics that include time wasting from practically the first second of matches.

As the media continuously link Jack Ross with every possible vacancy and even posts that don’t exist such as the Aberdeen one when they assumed Derek McInnes would move to Rangers, the same people also consider Aitken a good choice to replace the Saints boss at Paisley. When the day does come that Saints need a new manager, hopefully years from now, I’d like to think Aitken’s disgraceful tactics are remembered in the Saints boardroom and we steer well clear. Going from Jack Ross to Stevie Aitken would be like casting Vinny Jones as Don Corleone in the new Godfather.

On this occasion, tactically Aitken organised his side as usual to stop Saints and the rhythm of the game at every opportunity, and credit where it is due it worked but he was helped massively by Stelios Demetriou losing the plot and unnecessarily launching himself at one of the Dumbarton players to give The Sons a man advantage for around 55 minutes. We now know Stelios was provoked by the Dumbarton player eating a bounty left at the side of the park by the Cypriot for an in-match snack.

At the time it was not good news, but not a disaster I thought as Dumbarton were likely to come out now and try to play, and this should open room for our forwards. Of course, I was wrong, and Dumbarton altered very little and seemed happy enough if the match ended 0-0 immediately at the red card despite their clear advantage.

Saints toiled badly and created nothing to be honest even with eleven men; this despite some of the imposters and Rae’s Ranjurs duds from the last few seasons playing for Dumbarton; Kyle Hutton, Callum Gallacher, Stuart Carswell and Scott Gallagher in particular, and perhaps it was the mere presence of these so-called footballers on the field that meant Saints produced their poorest performance for 11 months, and much more in line with when they were on our books, however this was to be a case of The Imposters Strike Back as far as Saints were concerned.

The winner also came from the boot of one of Rae’s players, but Tom Walsh was never one player I particularly disliked and felt he had a lot of talent which he proved when he scored a quite splendid solo winner near the end of the game which had the flair and imagination completely unbecoming of an Aitken side, and I hope the winger finds a manager that utilises properly his skill in the near future.

So, a 1-0 defeat, our first at home in the league since January but despite their awful tactics a deserved victory for The Sons who completely nullified us and had the best player on the park in Walsh. Perhaps not incredibly considering the circumstances in late 2016, this was the first time Walsh had ever played in a winning side at St Mirren Park during a league match despite being a Saints player for five months, and for Hutton who signed a two year contract for Saints in 2016, he had to go back to March 2011 when he played for the old Rangers for his last win at Paisley on league duty.

With this defeat now registered, Saints had five quick-fire matches between the ninth of December and the second of January, including games against title favourites Dundee United, then form side in the division Queen of the South, a trip to Cappielow, as well as a tough looking match game against Dunfermline near the start of this run.

Undoubtedly, this was now a make or break month and Saints didn’t want to fall into the same category as the Pars who had started superbly but fallen away in the past few weeks. Next up before any of these matches was a trip to Brechin City, a side Saints had really struggled to beat at home in the previous fixture, and the freezing conditions in Angus almost guaranteed a tough match against a side without a single league win so far.

Again, it proved to be a difficult and tricky match, but goals from Reilly and a Smith penalty ensured a hard fought 2-1 victory with most people satisfied at the outcome, however once again Brechin proved that part time clubs don’t need to time waste at every opportunity to be competitive in this division.

The Pars were next, and their slump in form was significant enough that should Saints win this match it would put such a large gap between the clubs it would take a weird turn of events for the clubs to swap positions before the end of the season, and win was what Saints did do, but on this occasion with some real luck and some bizarre decisions from the referee Craig Charleston.

Not long into the match, Gavin Reilly was sent clear and went around the Dunfermline keeper Sean Murdoch to the strikers right before what looked like being brought down by the keeper when it looked like he had a clear shot at goal.

The foul was outside the box, so not a penalty and therefore excluded from the double punishment rule which was recently introduced to stop a red card and penalty being given when a genuine attempt on the ball had been made.

After much deliberation the referee decided to only book the Dunfermline keeper which was the wrong/right decision depending on your view (probably correct in my opinion after watching the next day) and the Saints goal led a charmed life in the ten minutes after this, but Saints ended the first half strongly and crucially scored when on top when the almost permanently impressive Cammy Smith dispatched home to score what was the only goal of the match.

The drama was nowhere over however, and after around an hour the referee pointed to the spot for a Dunfermline penalty after Eckersley tackled Williamson, a decision which resulted in much commotion from the Saints fans in the Main Stand nearest the tackle, and from practically every Saints player.

A rather sheepish Charleston then consulted his linesman, but at no point did I think the decision would be overturned as that simply doesn’t happen, and if the assistant referee didn’t think it was a penalty he would surely have raised his flag to indicate so, and he hadn’t.

However, rather sensationally the referee did change his mind and Saints were awarded a free kick as Charleston had now decided the Pars player had dived, which apparently everyone in the Main Stand could see, some Dunfermline fans behind the goal also admitted was the case, but wasn’t so clear from TV replays. Sandy Clark I’m sure was delighted about it though.

Making a surprise debut for Saints this afternoon was Danny Mullen, who arrived from Livingston on an “emergency loan” with a transfer agreed for when the window opens again. The forward had been impressive for the Lions on many occasions against Saints, and despite his wild lunge on Jordan Stewart in a League Cup tie a few years ago; he should be a good addition to the squad. Despite his introduction to the match however, Saints were hanging on a bit near the end and we were all relieved when Fraser Aird almost cleared the stand with a late chance at the back post before Charleston blew for full time and what felt like a big result.

With six points collected following the defeat to Dumbarton, Saints then made the trip to Palmerston for their next league match a couple of days before Christmas, top of the league again by two points following the abandonment of the Dundee United fixture the previous week at the same Dumfries venue.

By this point, Harry Davis had returned to the side the previous month along with Kyle Magennis following their long-term injury issues, but due to the fake surface at Palmerston Jack Ross didn’t want to risk the centre half due to the nature of his knee injury and I’m guessing the unnatural hardness of these fake pitches.

I doubt I’m in the minority here, but these pitches should never be allowed in the professional game in the first place. There are many possibilities for technology and progressive ideas to flourish in football, but fake pitches are not one in my opinion. The fact multiple matches with these surfaces were called off in December as the parks were unplayable adds to the farce as the biggest selling point to fans over the past few decades was the fact they were supposed to be “all weather”. Clearly not, so get them ripped up and replaced with grass.

With Davis out, one of the heroes of last season finally returned to the starting eleven, the colossus that is Gary MacKenzie. Big Gary had suffered several setbacks this season including delayed concussion that led to him unknowingly playing when he shouldn’t against Morton earlier in the campaign, something that doctors strongly advise against for good reason, so it was great to see him back in the side after four months out.

However, before a ball was kicked there seemed a bit of doubt if MacKenzie was ready for first team action so early in his rehabilitation, including some comments from Jack Ross, so when Queens found themselves 2-0 up after only six minutes the big centre half could have been forgiven for indicating to the bench perhaps a substitution was in order, but as we know the defender is a lot tougher than that.

As MacKenzie found his feet, Gavin Reilly went about his business in his usual fashion scoring twice before half time to level the match, the second a typically ice cool finish when one on one with the keeper, to take his season total to a quite remarkable nineteen goals in twenty six matches.

In the modern era not too many Saints players have had such an impact early on in their career; Eddie Gallagher managed twenty two goals in his first thirty six Saints matches, but strikers as prolific as Reilly even at this level are quite rare particularly with the almost global shift over the past fifteen or so years to hard working lone strikers who bizarrely aren’t necessarily expected to score goals, resulting in utterly ludicrous comments entering the mainstream such as “Aye, but apart from score goals what does he do?”

Reilly however as we know works very hard for the team also, and despite his slight physique in comparison to defenders puts himself about very cleverly, often playing on the very edge of what is a foul and what is acceptable particularly with a defender at his back, and very quickly Reilly has re-established himself as one of the most lethal strikers in the division following a disappointing few years at Hearts and on loan at Dunfermline.

With the match now on a knife edge, up stepped MacKenzie. Probably the only thing Saints have been pretty poor at this season is scoring from set pieces, understandable of course as Stevie Mallan departed in the summer, but the aerial threat of big Mac from corners and set pieces has also been badly missed, so when Ian McShane curled an in-swinging corner towards the defender three quarters of the way through the match, we all knew the outcome and MacKenzie didn’t disappoint by expertly judging the flight of the ball and volleyed home when most of us were motioning a header movement.

Dozens of “score at anytime” coupons then came up, and Christmas was suddenly magical again having looked cancelled only an hour or so beforehand. It maybe did not match the pure mayhem of Christmas Eve 2011, but still good none the less.

Also, to put MacKenzie’s goal scoring prolificacy into context, he has a better goal to game average in the league since joining Saints than Morton “hotshot” Jai Quitongo during the same period. Not bad for a centre half.

With another win recorded Saints then concentrated on the top of the league clash against Dundee United live on BT sport on Friday 29th December, with Saints still two points clear of a resurgent Tannadice club having played a game more.

In the lead up to the match, I wondered if we should actually turn up at all. Despite having an incredibly strong home record, being top of the league and top scorers in the division we had absolutely no chance according to the easily the most arrogant set of fans on social media, and that is undoubtedly Dundee United supporters.

If you can’t work out who a trolling fan supports, you can guarantee it will be the Tannadice club if the word “minter” is used, as that is their go to patter. Predictions before the match on social media included anything up to five nil, and the usual “diddy club” nonsense from them, it put me in mind of other delusional East Coast fans, Dundee as it happens. You have so much in common lads, just merge and be done with it.

Before the match, the Dundee United boss and 90’s Mr. Loverman, Shabba, expressed his surprise as Saints led the league as apparently nobody seen that coming. That is except the bookies who had us only narrow second favourites at the outset, and a whole host of “experts” in the media who had backed us.

Shabba was to be further surprised however when the game started, and United provided as much penetration as Stevie Aitken at a speed dating contest, with their only shot in the entire match a penalty kick that was never a foul anyway, expertly saved by the increasingly important Craig Samson.

The award for the penalty was almost comical, with United defender Mark Durnan falling easier than a Rangers fans need for a new billionaire chairman, but as soon as I noticed Paul McMullan putting the ball on the spot I was mega confident they wouldn’t score, the winger is simply not built to kick a football.

Once Samson had saved, I then expected Saints to improve as the large crowd in the stadium reacted brilliantly to the moment, but in truth we didn’t get going at all in the first half and looked somewhat subdued, perhaps the loss of Gavin Reilly to illness was the reason for this.

That changed second half however, and the Saints we have been used to for most of the season came out. Encouraged by an epic snowball victory over Dundee United fans at half time, and an almost brutal sledging of former boss Alex Rae who was on BT Sport duty in a box between the rival supporters (who on earth thought that was a good idea??) the volume in the stadium rose significantly.

Rae will probably now try and take credit for the victory, but Saints and in particular Lewis Morgan was far too good for United and not for the first time this season. Tam Scobbie, a plodding one-dimensional honest pro had been switched to right back to mark Morgan, and claims at half time from the Dundee United support that he had the winger “in his pocket” were looking as silly as the Livingston player that bought David Hopkin toothpaste in their Christmas dip by full time as Morgan netted twice and Saints could have had many more as they turned on the class.

Shabba was still shocked though afterwards, and was still trying to work out why we were top of the league as nobody had seen this coming he claimed again. It’s almost as though he took the job without looking at the league table, or was told we wouldn’t last the pace.

This was a bad result for the dinosaurs of Radio Scotland, especially Willie Miller who is desperate for the return of the “natural order” as the sees it. I’ve never really been quite sure the logic behind this rubbish, on radio they mean the “big clubs” should always be in the top division regardless of ability, defending what they see as a football establishment that needs preserving, in other words absolutely everything that is and has been wrong with Scottish football for well over a hundred years.

“The natural order” as they like to say shouldn’t logically include Dundee United however as they didn’t become “established” until the late 1970’s, a full century into competitive football in Scotland. The Tannadice club are still benefitting from a good twenty years between 1974 and 1994, and somehow this propels them into the mythical elite as this period is basically around the same time these media dinosaurs either played or started their professions.

I would love to have seen Miller’s reaction if he was around in the 1950’s when people his age were arguing the same about Renton and Dumbarton; it’s as absurd then as it now.

United might still win the league, but should Saints or anyone else win the Championship it will not devalue the game in Scotland as these pundits believe.

This was the last match of 2017; statistically in terms of wins and goals scored one of the most successful we have ever had, but undoubtedly one of the most memorable. Only 2005 beats 2017 in terms of win %, however those that are old enough to remember that calendar year are unlikely to ever quote the multiple narrow victories and clean sheets that period in the same warm way 1976 under Alex Ferguson is revered, or Tom Hendrie’s 1999 and this current batch in 2017 are likely to be fondly recalled.

The first match of 2018 and the last of the Christmas period was an away match at Cappielow, the third cup final of the season for Morton, and their fans started the preparations early by posting messages on social media weeks in advance of the actual match when both clubs had at least two fixtures to complete beforehand. A game at a time indeed.

I admit I do find it all very curious. In the fifteen-year gap between playing in the same league as the Greenock club, (2000 to 2015) I had more or less discarded the rivalry completely like many other Saints fans had also, however clearly the sentiment isn’t mutual and a rather odd infatuation with St Mirren and Paisley has developed down in Greenock, which includes a strange obsession with the City of Culture bid. Absence makes the heart grow creepy I think.

Lewis Morgan, born in Greenock and who I believe still lives in the area, has over this season of course gained national exposure for his sometimes breath-taking performances for Saints and Scotland Under 21’s, and he is regarded as one of the best if not the best young player in the country, and before the match was on the brink of clinching a move to Celtic.

Not a popular transfer with the Morton support it would seem, and they screamed at Morgan “We know where you stay” like a bunch of young stalkers as the “Morton” support was boosted by almost 100% from previous matches to around 2400 for their big match.

Perhaps the Morton fans should be asking why the best player to come out of Inverclyde in the last twenty or so years has twice been missed by their scouting system in the past decade, once when he signed for old Rangers and again when Saints plucked him from the football wilderness at sixteen. Instead of concentrating their hatred at Morgan, perhaps some probing questions should be asked of their own club’s failure to sign blindingly obvious talent on their own doorstep.

To the action, and on the back of four straight wins Saints were in confident mood early on and bossed the first half with ease, however they only had a solitary Morgan goal to show for their efforts, the young winger reacting to creepy chants about him and his family by sliding in front on the Morton supporters to celebrate his goal.

I had a feeling at half time we would regret not finishing the match off, and that’s exactly what happened when Morton came out predictably fired up and flung everything at Saints, however Baird and Reilly (who was back after illness) both had real chances to finish the match off before Morton grabbed a late equaliser predictably from a set piece when Tam O’Ware rose at the back post to nod the Greenock side level.

What followed was as bizarre a celebration as I have ever seen at any match, when O’Ware attempted to engage with the Saints fans by making a couple of “slit throat” references to the support behind the goal, but most fans were distracted by Jai Quitongo standing in front of him and posing in a clear “look at me………look at me………look at me……………sign me” plea to the Saints fans.

O’Ware was joined by multiple Morton players who were falling over themselves to have a go at the Saints support in further proof of the creepiness that has descended from the Greenock club into the derby.

It was pointed out that Morton players only followed what Morgan and the Saints players had done by celebrating in front of the opposition support, but the fans from Paisley hadn’t sang about knowing where Morton players stayed or about the conduct of their sisters on a Saturday night that had provoked the Saints winger to slide in front of them.

And then of course is the “slit throat” gesture which apparently comes from a move by “The Executioner” who I am told was a wrestler. I’m not that bothered about it personally, it definitely was a bit irresponsible and in different circumstances could have resulted in real trouble, for example I remember a grown man in a Panda outfit once showed a league table to Morton fans and they complained to the Police, however what is more concerning is a twenty-four-year-old man liking wrestling. Get a grip of yourself Tam.

Saints however should still have won the match deep into injury time when Sutton was found unmarked at the back post and instead of heading home cushioned the ball into the path of Reilly who didn’t react quickly enough, and Morton cleared to ensure they remain the only side Saints haven’t beaten this season in the Championship.

After the match pictures emerged of Stelios being hit by a chocolate bar flung from the Morton support, but after initially being annoyed about this the Cypriot got tore into the confectionary which made him a brief internet sensation, however the real story was the picture of O’Ware doing his slit throat impression with his tongue sticking out covered in the excess scraps from Catman’s beard and it was utterly disgusting from the Morton defender.

The contents of O’Ware’s mouth should be investigated by the compliance officer, not the celebration.

After the match most fans of both clubs seemed happy with a 1-1 draw, probably a fair result overall, as did the managers, and Jim Duffy once again should be congratulated for his fair assessment of the match. Duffy is definitely one of the most sensible managers in the league, and has proven that it is possible to work on radio whilst managing a club and not becoming a laughing stock.

However, with this result the five-point lead at the top was cut to three points over United who still have a game in hand. Another big set of games lie ahead, can Saints remain on top seems to be the recurring question each month at the moment……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 2017

Looking ahead at the outset of November, I thought it might be a struggle to write something of any real substance this month with an international break and a match against some badly named amateur outfit in the Scottish Cup, meaning only three league matches were scheduled for this month. How wrong I was it transpired, particularly after the glorious Inverness meltdown following our comfortable win in the Highlands later in month.

To fill the gap between playing Dundee United at the start of the month and our next fixture against Lothian something or another on the 18th November, I decided for a bit of a fun to have a competition to find the biggest villain in football in the eyes of the Saints fans, but in line with Twitter etiquette, it was named the ‘World Cup of Wankers’, or WCOW as it was abbreviated to.

Basically, it boiled down to whom Saints fans on Twitter thought was the biggest wanker directly or indirectly involved with Saints over the past forty years, as all the thirty-two candidates were from this period, and most of these were chosen by people on Twitter and not me I should add.

Before this nonsense was a very important fixture against Dundee United at Tannadice on the fourth of November, and as Saints threatened to move clear at the top of the division the You Tube grassbags had decided to sack manager Ray McKinnon, one of their undoubted weak points, and eventually replace him with former Hearts coach Csaba Laslzo, but at this stage former Saints defender Laurie Ellis was in charge on a caretaker basis.

Before the match a Dundee United fan on Twitter decided to get in touch with me, the second time he had done so in a few months, and bizarrely again he was pointing out to me that Alex Rae was the best manager Saints have had in the past thirty-five years, and also slating the size of our support. Bitterness dripped from this strange individual, a bitterness we hear frequently on the radio from an ex-manager, and this connection was not coincidental.

Very strange behaviour, but all would be revealed later in the month when it transpired this United fan is one of Rae’s friends and I suspect his infamous stats man.

To the match which even three weeks later at the end of November seems like a lifetime ago, and Saints produced a pretty disappointing performance against the Tannadice side, thanks to a rather weird opening goal that sailed at the speed of Ryan Hardie’s brain processes through the air and nestled gently in the corner of the net with Craig Samson strangely static on his goal line.

United would add a second, before very late in the match Adam Eckersley volleyed home from twenty-five yards, a goal that suggested we would should have been hitting shots from distance at the United keeper long before injury time.

Despite defeat, Saints remained top of the division but now several clubs were behind us packed tighter than the inside of a dropped packet of Ian McCall’s Benson and Hedges fags.

So, with no game for two weeks as Liam Smith, the now fit again Kyle Magennis and Lewis Morgan had been called up to the Scotland under 21 squad, the aforementioned WCOW started the following week.

Within a few days, I had upset multiple people, including the wife and pal of one of the participants as they complained that their man was an actual victim in all of this, despite this player carrying out a disgraceful tackle on a Saints player at Kilbowie Park in the 1990’s that remains the worse I have ever seen. And then I upset the winner Alex Rae, who sent me a message intended for that United fan by mistake, basically saying I shouldn’t have an opinion as I haven’t achieved anything in football. Nice to see a man employed on a fans phone in show has complete contempt for anyone who has not played the game. Or maybe it is just me he doesn’t like; how do I sleep at night.

I am bored writing about Rae in all honesty. He goes on the radio unchallenged repeatedly spouting irrelevant facts about his win % at Paisley and suggesting he was unfairly sacked. Graham Spiers and Kenny McIntyre aside nobody ever challenges him or gives a different opinion from what is nationally perceived in the media as unjustified football sacking, and this has been going on now for over a year.

For this reason, around January I started the fightback, and I am glad he is aware of it and also that the low opinion he is in held in by Saints supporters made national radio due to him winning WCOW. If the media had done their job correctly and challenged Rae in the first place, Rae wouldn’t have won WCOW as he would surely have stopped going on about us at every opportunity. He also wouldn’t have won if he didn’t come across so bitter towards the club, for that I am certain.

He is not the worse manager we have ever had, that is abundantly clear, however he is nowhere near our best in the last 35 years as he claims, that is ridiculous to suggest, and his stats need proper context, something I know as that is my actual job, however I would never dare suggest that only statisticians should supply stats as that would be patronising.

For the record Alex Rae wasn’t my choice for WCOW as he seems to think I personally awarded it to him. He received a thousand votes from Saints fans on Twitter, but I would have liked to have seen a manager he has a lot in common with, Davie Hay win the award or even James Grady.

I would like to say this will be the last time I write about Alex Rae, but he genuinely can’t help himself on radio and I am sure I will need to address once again his lack of success at Paisley. Perhaps by the 2019 WCOW people will have forgotten………….

With that now firmly out of the way I can concentrate on the football. Saints faced what some thought was a tricky tie against Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale in the Scottish Cup, and beforehand in a frankly incredible interview with the amateur sides player Liam O’Donnell, it was stated he wanted to face Hearts in the next round, and current Hibs player Danny Swanson whose brother plays for the amateur side also stated in all seriousness, “I don’t see any reason why they can’t beat St Mirren”.

Before a ball was kicked, I could have given Swanson hundreds of reasons why the amateurs wouldn’t beat Saints. In fact they could have fielded line ups from the five clubs they were formed from; Lothian Thistle, Hutchison Vale, Lothian Vale, Hutchison Thistle and even Vale Thistle at the same time and I would still have fancied Saints.

My confidence was justified, and Saints were seven nil up after around forty minutes and on course for at least double figures and possibly even a new club record score, with Gavin Reilly netting four times in a stadium that resembled Moredun Playing Fields but without the glamour.

In true Football Manager style however the second half was no more near as productive as the first forty five, and that was the end of Saints scoring, although The Hutchy Jags got one back through the perfect named amateur played, Ringer.

With Saints knocking out five Edinburgh clubs in one go, one of the capital city’s most famous footballers in recent years was up next, John Robertson, a Gorgie hobbit whose voice is yet to break but despite this child like appearance wee Robbo (copyright Radio Scotland) hates Saints with a passion so fierce even Morton fans are envious, and it is at a level even the Catmen couldn’t even contemplate reaching.

Most of us know why Robbo hates us, and that is guilt, a guilt that will gnaw at him like Davie Hopkin trying to finish a corn on the cob every day for the rest of his life. Robertson, like his 1980’s strike partner Sandy Clark, are the most vocal of all Hearts players and supporters about the events back in 1986 that led to the Jambos very sadly throwing away a league title on the final day of the season they had practically all but won a few weeks beforehand. And there is a reason why it is these two that remain so bitter about the defeat, and it is probably because they can’t forgive themselves.

Saints have been dragged into the murky world of conspiracy because of this utter collapse from Hearts, mainly as Celtic benefitted from their failure to wrap up the league and as almost everyone knows we played the Glasgow club on the last day of the season, and that has made us a convenient scapegoat in the eyes of Hearts, as this is far easier than admitting they blew it in their title run in.

All Hearts had to do was win two of their last three matches, or win one and draw the other two to clinch the title. Robertson and Clark had scored 32 times in the league up until this point, but failed to score once in these last three games, equalling their worse run of form in the season. One goal from either striker at any point in the last three matches would likely have delivered the title to Tynecastle. The guilt and pain since has consumed Robertson and Clark, and Saints have been their convenient scapegoat.

Back to 2017, and Saints travelled to Inverness no longer top of the league as Dundee United had replaced us following a 3-0 thumping of Falkirk the day we were advancing in the Scottish Cup, that apparently could have been double the final score so superior were the Dundee club, and this was the signal for some to declare the league was now over and we should give up.

To the actual match, and of course Saints won 2-0 in the Highlands courtesy of an Ian McShane penalty and a Gavin Reilly solo goal, but the utter seethe that followed from Robertson and Inverness was something a little bit special.

In one way the reaction from the Highlanders was understandable as following a dreadful start in the league they had picked up their form significantly, and probably thought a victory over us would actually give them a slim shot at automatic promotion again. Therefore the defeat that followed ultimately ended their season before John Robertson could open the doors of his multiple chocolate advent calendars.

In Robertson’s opinion Saints didn’t win the match, despite being awarded three points for the final score of Inverness 0-2 St Mirren. Not in Robbo’s opinion, the referee won it for us and “took it away” from his side. Took it away, just like 1986, boo hoo.

Robertson’s gripes included mainly the decision to give us penalty, the failure to send off Craig Samson after he appeared to wrestle with an Inverness player, and the sending off of his own player Ian Vigurs, although the allegations towards the Saints keeper were really something on social media.

Robertson also mentioned on multiple occasions the number of saves Samson made during the match, and he and other Inverness players, fans and officials made such a big deal of all four I conceded before watching again on TV that they were likely to be correct given how vehemently they were going on about this, and we may have had a massive slice of luck. I was wrong though, and it was all a big overreaction orchestrated by Little Robbo.

On the first charge, Saints penalty, Robertson stated in his post-match interview that he had seen it again on video and his player gets between Lewis Morgan and the ball meaning it couldn’t have been a penalty, also hinting the Saints man had taken a dive to win the award in the process.

The first time I watched it I couldn’t believe what Robertson was saying if that was his interpretation of the incident, and had to re-run multiple times to convince myself I wasn’t so biased with “pure St Murn eyes” that I was missing something obvious. It was a clear penalty as the Inverness player makes an aggressive move to knock Morgan over and succeeds by barging him in the back. At no point is the Inverness player between Morgan and the ball, and for Robertson to say that suggests he was a hobbit consumed with rage. If this is the analysis people that “have achieved in the game” are giving us, time they weren’t allowed near a TV or radio station.

Second was the sending off for Samson, and on this you can see Robertson and the Inverness players/fans may have had a point. If it had been a red card, I wouldn’t have complained. However, Samson was only guilty of protecting Ian McShane from Ian Vigurs who had completely lost the plot and he more or less just grabbed the Inverness player to get him away from the Saints midfielder.

What followed on social media was accusations against Samson that he strangled, kicked, punched, threatened, argued, head butted, eye gouged, maimed, burned alive, drowned and finally decapitated the Inverness player as their fans went into a Robbo provoked meltdown. It was genuinely hilarious.

Vigurs I have mentioned already, and he was correctly sent off. He appears a very angry man and I would suggest his body language and quick temper are the result of him not being very happy at playing for Inverness in the second tier. If you are going to argue and pick fights with the opposition and referee all match you are getting to get sent off, although Robertson could have done with some of this intensity in the last matches of 1986 when he was a passenger on the pitch.

The final point Robertson had was the outstanding match by Samson and the number of saves he had to make, hinting at Inverness dominance throughout as opposed to praising the keeper I think.

Unless we are counting 30 yard tricklers straight at Samson as actual shots, I think Robertson is again wrong. Samson made one very good save from a Vigurs long range effort, but the rest of his saves were routine from speculative shots, and the big keeper would have been disappointed not to keep a clean sheet at the end I would have imagined.

Next up for Saints was the re-arranged Livingston match originally scheduled for the weekend we played in the cup, with the added incentive of the winners moving to the top of the league as each club had played one match less than Dundee United.

The Lions had proved to be tough opponents at home for Saints over the years; in fact, we had never beaten them at Paisley, yet have won every match we have ever played at Almodvale, a record almost as bizarre as the Lothian’s clubs insistence at hiring ex-convicts onto their staff.

When Dale Carrick gave Livingston a half time lead, this strange away record in the fixture looked as though it would continue, but Saints eventually won rather comfortably 3-1 with goals from Morgan, the outstanding Eckersley, and the composed Ian McShane again from the penalty spot, making a good night’s work for Saints to return us back to the top of the division and end November on a high. The question was simple, could we stay there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five – The Great Escape Part Two.

In an incredible turnaround, with four games to go Saints were actually in a position of safety following the thumping they gave Morton in Greenock. In the minutes after this match the players and Saints support greeted one another as though something very special was happening, and to be fair it was, the bond was back.

Reactions like that this are usually reserved for cup or promotion winning sides, but the ovation at the end of this match was merited as of course the team had clawed their way back from the brink, but in doing so had played some absolutely sensational football in the process. Plus we owed Morton, some of their fans had trolled Saints excessively for the past six months, revelling in the rarity of beating Saints and somehow us being actually worse than them, a true once in a three generation moment for the minnows.

In earlier chapters I spoke about a disconnection between the players, management and support under Alex Rae. Rumours of a clique in the dressing room, a manager who seemed to spend more time promoting himself as Mr Ranjurs than sort out the shambles on the park, players feeling the backlash of a disgruntled support after making mistakes.  St Mirren park was not a happy place.

Jack Ross understood this. He tried and eventually did bring the supporters back together with the players and his management team with honesty and hard work. He subtly called out the slackers in the dressing by telling the support he had no option to play kids as they had ‘feeling’ for the club. He dropped, discarded and returned most of the ‘Imposters’ from where they came and then found players he knew the fans would like and get excited about. And we responded.

The magic of watching football returned from late February onwards, and a unified club marched onwards. It was going to take something extraordinary to stop us. The best compliment I can pay Jack Ross and the supporters is that together we turned the incredible atmosphere at the crucial 2009 Falkirk away match, widely regarded as the most vociferous travelling away support in Saints modern history, into an elongated three month campaign of incredible backing.

With all that said however, we still had a big job on our hands. Four games to go, three of which were away from home against the top three sides in the division, with the other at home to Raith Rovers. This was going to be tight without a doubt.

First up was a trip to the ‘Fourteen Finger County’ and a tough away fixture against Falkirk. Again the fans turned up in large numbers, almost 1500 filling the away stand in the Blast Zone Dome.

Rory Loy opened the scoring in a pulsating start that could have seen Saints out of sight after twenty minutes, but Falkirk of course are very decent at home and our old foe Count Miller sunk his considerable teeth into Saints for allegedly the second time in the season and equalised late in the first half.

Saints responded well though, and early in the second period Stephen McGinn scored a magnificent goal to restore our lead. The match wasn’t finished however, off the bench came Billy-Bob McHugh and his late scrambled effort denied Saints a crucial three points. It was disappointing but Saints remained eighth on 35 points, so nobody was too upset after a fine display.

The following Saturday was one of those days where everything that could go wrong for Saints inevitably did during a 3-2 defeat at Tannadice. Early in the match United striker Mikkelson, an old fashioned aggressive and physical forward, literally cleaned out firstly Jack Baird, and then seconds later Gary MacKenzie before rifling the ball past O’Brien in the Saints goal, for the first ever strike in the new sport of murderball.

The latter offence on MacKenzie was a chest high flying kick similar to Cantona on the Palace fan twenty odd years ago, that grounded the defender for a few minutes. After the appeals and complaints died down, the Saints centre half raised his shirt to show the Referee, Barry Chuckle, stud marks raked down his chest as proof of the assault.

Mr Chuckle was having none of this, and immediately showed MacKenzie a yellow card for being booted in the upper body, a new SMA (Scottish Murderball Association) directive. Saints rallied hard after this, and from a Mallan free kick MacKenzie powered the equaliser home to level the match.

In the second half United restored their lead in bizarre circumstances after O’Brien inexplicably picked up a fifty yard pass back, and Tony Andreu fired under the wall to restore the Dundee clubs lead.

Young O’Brien had come into the side and performed well, but as you would expect from an inexperienced keeper he made a few mistakes, not many admittedly, but Langfield doubled his Scots lessons after this as a precaution.

The great thing about these mistakes was the reaction from the fans. No criticism, just encouragement for O’Brien to keep his head up and the big Welshman was clearly passionate about playing for Saints and cared what was happening. We did not forget this.

In an animated finish to the match, Saints equalised with a couple of minutes remaining thanks to a quite outrageous Josh Todd left foot strike, but Blair Spittal fired an injury time winner for the Arabs meaning by the end of play Saints had dropped to ninth again with Ayr United only two points behind. Saints next opponents Raith Rovers were a point ahead of Saints with a game in hand, and Dumbarton were now eighth, a further two ahead of Rovers.

Before Raith Rovers visited Paisley however, they had their game in hand to play against now Champions Hibernian at Easter Road. Rovers hadn’t won away from home for ten matches at this point, and on paper it looked like a home win.

However in the days before the match, Hibernian manager Neil Lennon announced he was going to rest his entire team that had played against Aberdeen the previous Saturday in the Scottish Cup Semi Final. Thanks for that Neil. Thankfully Lennon exaggerated, but as he would say it was just an honest mistake; he dropped only ten players and left Efe Ambrose in, nice one Neil.

In the previous chapter I spoke about bizarre things that happened outwith Saints control that impacted on our season, this was potentially another.

Lennon assured the media however that his full team would be playing the last home game, which just incidentally was against St. Mirren. How this is allowed is a mystery to me, and quite frankly there should be measures in place to stop the integrity of a competition being questioned, like they do in grown up leagues like England, Germany, Malta and San Marino.

Practically every Saints fan I knew was on Twitter, Ceefax or score apps that evening for updates, as the national broadcaster had decided that an under 10’s match between Celtic and Rangers was more important than actual real football that actual football players appeared in.

It was a nervy evening. Hibs led at half time, but Rovers then seemed to dominate the second half, finally equalising before Hibs scored again. Phew we all thought. Enter the pantomime villain Ryan bastarding Hardie from the bench and it was soon enough 2-2 after he scored, and this seemed like it was the ultimate Sod’s law; wherever Hardie played this campaign either for or against St. Mirren, he was having a massively negative impact on our season.

And then something nobody expected happened, Hibs reserves scored with the last kick of the match to win 3-2. James Keatings, we salute you.

So that was it confirmed then, a win against Rovers on Saturday would take us back out the bottom two and guarantee we couldn’t be automatically relegated as Raith played Ayr on the last match at Starks Park. All focus was now on Paisley this Saturday

Match day finally came. Did I think we would win? Yes I did. Did I think it would be nervy? Yes I did.  Did I have several pints before the match to calm those nerves? Oh yes I did. Little did any of us know that we were about to watch another absolute masterclass from Saints.

The first twenty minutes were scrappy to be honest, then the match and Stephen Mallan in particular exploded into life. Mid-way through the first half Cammy Smith chased a ball that looked as though it was sneaking out, but typically of the man he managed to cut back a lovely ball to Mallan who was calmness personified and it was 1-0 Saints.

Soon after it was 2-0. Mallan curled a free kick round the wall and it went the opposite corner from the diving Penska to double the lead. Alex Rae was obviously working for the Press Association that day as it was given as an own goal, and clearly only someone with no knowledge of football would class that as not Mallan’s.

I’m not sure anyone knows how it went in, TV replays are inconclusive even about a deflection but it was on target therefore it is not an own goal. One theory is there was no deflection, and the keeper was completely fooled by the trajectory of the ball making him dive the opposite direction.

Saints almost scored two more after this, Smith and Magennis firing narrowly wide, but half time wouldn’t save Rovers, this was destined to be a thrashing.

A few minutes into the second half it was 3-0, a Mallan corner found the familiar head of MacKenzie and his powerful header sneaked in via possibly Loy/Rovers defender and Penska who helped it in on its way. This was beyond our wildest dreams, but it was to get even better for Saints.

Mallan, already on a double and playing some quite wonderful football picked the ball up outside Saints dugout, played two one-two’s and from thirty five yards hit a curling dipping shot into the top corner for the undoubted goal of the season, and the best I have ever seen from a Saints player.

The goal will forever be etched on my mind like a fingerprint. It was devastating and breath-taking at the same time. You can actually hear the crowd gasp on TV replays as it is in mid-air and heading for the net.

Saints would score again courtesy of Morgan after some brilliant team work that ended with a Mallan flick into his path, game over and 5-0. A hat-trick and two assists from Mallan in one of the biggest matches in the clubs history,  this was one the greatest individual performance from a Saints player since Gerry Baker scored ten in a match in 1960, and it was an utter privilege to watch it.

To sum it up, with his goals and assists that day alone, Mallan contributed more to Saints league season in one match that Hardie, Shankland and Hutton did in 44 matches between them. This was the main difference between an Alex Rae side and a Jack Ross side. No passengers.

It was now crystal clear what Saints objective was; avoid defeat at Easter Road the following week and they were safe, and the unlikeliest of comebacks would be complete. The Saints supporters snapped up almost 2,000 tickets in the week leading up to the match, but I wonder how many the club would have shifted if they had an open allocation as Hibernian of course were receiving the Championship trophy that day, and the match was sold out days in advance, 20,000 people with both sets of fans wanting to party but only pressure on the away side.

True to his word, Mr Integrity, aka Neil Lennon played his full strength side unlike ten days previously against Raith Rovers, but this was all about Saints. If they wanted it enough surely they would get the result that mattered.

The match was cagey, Hibs started well and missed a sitter much to the relief of the Saints fans that could only mock Cummings in return, but it was a nervous reaction more than anything. Saints appeared to be managing the match, playing within themselves as they knew 0-0 was absolutely fine.

Half time came and went, still 0-0, Saints almost playing it like a tough away tie in the Cup, happy for a replay but willing to pile forward should they fall behind, and that that’s exactly what happened no more than a minute into the second half when Saints 2013 Cup hero John McGinn swung a ball into the box that Grant Holt knocked past O’Brien.

How would Saints react to this? The character of the side had been exceptional since February, and they had dug themselves out of a hole bigger than Lawrence Shankland’s shadow, but this was the real test. Forty four minutes to save themselves from the lottery of a play off.

We shouldn’t have worried, and as suspected the players game management skills were absolutely exceptional; we will do what is required to get over the line. Almost immediately they went at Hibs with the pace and intensity seen for the last two months, and straight away they had the Leith side pinned back. The supporters, who had made an incredible noise all day, sensed it as well, and within ten minutes Saints were level with a goal that summed up the comeback.

Demetriou started the move in his own six yard box, sweeping out a fine pass to Lewis Morgan a good seventy yards from Hibs goal, the young winger swivelled past a couple of Hibs players and with a thundering run forward that within seconds found Magennis on the edge of the opposition box, who in turn picked out Mallan, and panic descended in the Edinburgh backline.

The young Buddie danced past a couple of tackles now deep into the penalty area but before he could shoot, Rory Loy took over and placed a composed finish in at the far post for a magnificent equaliser right in front on the mass ranks of Saints supporters who lapped up the moment.

From here it was back to game management, but I honestly think if we had to win that day, the players would have delivered.  The final whistle was greeted with complete elation in half of one stand, and from all in red on the park. News filtered through we had finished in seventh position on goal difference from Dumbarton and Raith Rovers. The attacking philosophy had well and truly paid off.

Again the fans and players embraced one another, and again these were scenes more typical of a promotion party than escaping relegation from a league Saints have been too good to play in for most their history, but this was different.

The reason this was different was simple, both in context from where we were as late as the morning of the 25th February, the day we won only our THIRD league match of the season, but undoubtedly there was pure relief in there also.

In the final fourteen games of the season once the transfer window shut, from Dumbarton away in February to that match at Easter Road, the team played multiple ‘must win’ matches, and some definitely ‘not lose’ also, and really only Kirkcaldy away in very testing circumstances was a let-down in terms of performance and result. In two of those matches, absolutely crucial ones at home to Ayr and Raith Rovers, they won by an aggregate score of 11-2.

This was not the normal scrape yourself out of relegation via playing defensive or time wasting football; we simply battered our way to safety playing outstanding attacking stuff at the same time, and with real pressure on the players. The fans came back, particularly away from home but we are only tapping into what is possible, the away support will easily double again next season should Jack Ross and the players continue this form.

When it was all said and done, we only escaped a play-off on goal difference, and that means we had some very fine margins during the campaign, and some unsung heroes. For example Ben Gordon’s equaliser at Palmerston the night we won for the first time turned out to be crucial, as did Scott Gallacher’s fine late save one on one with Mark Stewart a few days later when we beat Raith Rovers. Without these two examples and many others like it, who actually knows what could have happened?

The play offs are a dangerous set up for clubs with plenty to lose, as Raith Rovers discovered at the weekend, and I am delighted we avoided it, but what could relegation have meant for Saints and why were so relieved?

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Saints mount a serious promotion bid next season, even a title challenge. It is obvious that this could only be done if we weren’t relegated, however in the event we did go down, how soon would it before we would have been realistically challenging to get back in the Premiership again?  Five years? Ten maybe?

Already it looks as though Stevie Mallan has played his last games for Saints. In the last eight matches of the season he scored seven times and set up another seven goals. Over the course of the league season he directly assisted twenty one goals going by my own records, he won’t be easily replaced but we have a much better chance of doing that in the Championship after that sensational end to the season as it made the whole country sit up and take notice. Suddenly, St Mirren Park is a happy place again and this is attractive to other players.

I doubt Lewis Morgan would have stuck around in the third tier, or Gary MacKenzie or Stephen McGinn. We would have had practically no chance of signing permanently Cammy Smith, Billy O’Brien or Rory Loy. Would Stelios have fancied a crack at the Scottish seaside in January, swapping his home Mediterranean island for trips to Methil and Stranraer? I don’t know the definite answer but we have a very good chance next season of retaining these players and getting back to the Premiership, that in my opinion would have been years away had we went down.

When Jack Ross took over, we didn’t envisage him taking so long to turn the club back in the right direction but I don’t think as fans we appreciated how damaged the dressing room was, and how bad possibly the culture at the club was.

We had been fighting relegation from either the top or second flight for ten straight years, and losing as the cliché goes becomes a habit. It was perhaps ingrained in players and some good ones at that. The last two months of the season were the first time Mallan and Morgan played in a winning Saints side under a manager that utilised their attacking strengths, and just look how good they were. However, Mallan in particular required having his confidence rebuilt, and that took Jack Ross time.

Others at the club when Jack arrived didn’t want to be there, and others weren’t good enough, some even fitted into both categories and this had to be dealt with. No wonder it took twenty transfers in and out to fix the issue.

I am only speculating about next season, with my black and white tinted specs on of course. I do however honestly believe we will be challenging for promotion next season and optimism has returned to the club and the supporters. We are in a very good position to start next season from, but how far we can go will be dictated by who the manager brings in, but as he delivered possibly the most impressive transfer window in Saints history, he can be trusted to get on with the job.

As for finishing seventh in the league this season, we know it is not good enough. However, considering what Alex Rae left us with I think it can only be considered a successful conclusion to the campaign, but the greatest thing Jack Ross might do at Paisley is give the supporters a club they can love back, and that is something that should never be underestimated.

Chapter Four – The Great Escape Part One.

Despite the fantastic win and performance against Ayr Utd, we were still up against. The other teams in this relegation fight weren’t simply going to roll over and let Saints climb the table with ease, we expected absolutely no favours from anyone, but that said some pretty bizarre things happened outwith our control before the end of the season that would impact on Saints attempt to survive.

The first of these was already upon us, ‘The Raith Rovers Goalkeeping Crisis’. With Ayr facing the Kirkcaldy side at home three days after our own victory at Somerset Park, it was revealed Rovers had no fit goalkeepers and former Ayr midfield legend Ryan Stevenson was going to be in goals for the visitors.

How a professional club can allow this situation to happen is still open to debate, however at this point the Saints supporters were stuck between this being a good or bad thing depending on whether you believed Saints could catch one or two teams.

Some wanted Ayr to capitulate and were happy for Saints to enter the play offs, and others wanted as many teams in the relegation scrap as possible and were pleased Rovers chances of success in this match were diminished. I was in the latter camp, my Black and White tinted glasses were fixed firmly to my face, and I was looking at catching Dunfermline in sixth.

The truth however was an Ayr victory would put the gap back up to eight points, and Saints would be looking to beat Champions elect Hibernian the following night to cut it back to five, in reality it could have been a step forward followed by two steps back, and confidence was absolutely crucial at this stage of the season.

As it transpired, both of these things happened, with Ayr narrowly beating a Stevenson inspired Rovers who sadly quit football soon after, and Saints taking care of Hibs 2-0 with a fabulous performance at Greenhill Road the following night that should have been at least double the score had Saints taken their multiple chances.

Star of the night was left back Stelios Demetriou who scored twice, but the intensity and pace of Saints that night was incredible and on reflection this was the best performance of the season as they were playing a very good side and Scottish Cup holders and simply tore them apart.

The first goal was sublime, with McGinn using great skill to find Mallan who dissected Hibs right side with the pass of the season to the on-running Stelios, at the time he was an unknown quantity, but he cut back onto his right foot and fired beyond Marciano with ease. Magnificent goal.

Even after a couple of matches, it was becoming obvious that McGinn was going to be pivotal to the survival attempt. Not only could he play, but he was allowing Mallan to return to his very best, and that is a level that puts him at the most influential player in the division, bar none. I tweeted at half time that night they were an outstanding partnership, but they weren’t the only stars of this new Saints side which contained several new signings.

At centre half, a problem position for Saints for probably well over a decade, Harry Davis fitted in perfectly with Gary MacKenzie who had been playing at an excellent level for several months now. Whilst big Mac was dominating in the air and on the deck, Davis was the perfect foil as his reading of the game was so good, although defensively he was strong also.

Other new signings were also fitting in nicely, Adam Eckersley was the consistent reliable type we had missed at left back since Paul Dummett played for the club, and Demetriou was an incredible mix of explosive flair and unpredictably that fans simply adore, and he was a full back!

In midfield, Kyle Magennis had been converted to a makeshift right midfielder, and was growing superbly into the role, his pace and skill along with his tactical intelligence marking him as an outstanding prospect to the future.

Further up the field, Cammy Smith was vital to the new style of the side as his constant movement and driving runs at the opposition (like Lewis Morgan) were a throwback to a different era when wingers and attackers could beat a man on either side and be a threat. Smith seemed to move seamlessly from a central attacking position to either wing when asked, and it was a masterstroke from the manager to convince him to come to Paisley.

However it was the managers ability to get the best out of players already at the club and who were perhaps struggling a bit that says more about his man management. Gary Irvine and Stephen Mallan in particular benefited from this, the turnaround in their form was astonishing.

Next up for Saints was a a trip to Parkhead in the quarter final of the Scottish Cup, as Saints took on domestically unbeaten Celtic at The Restricted View Arena. In my opinion, the game came at the wrong time, I wanted to play and win league matches and was fearful of a cuffing that would dent the confidence of a team that was resurgent.

The 4-1 final score may be construed as a heavy defeat, but it only tells half the story. Saints led for half the match courtesy of a thirteenth minute Davis goal following a wonderfully worked set piece, and were then the underside of the crossbar away from doubling their lead on the 55th minute when Mallan whipped in a free kick, which had the whole country scratching their heads as to why Saints were bottom of the Championship. Saints fans had the answer to that however, Rae and Farrell.

Celtic had to bring on Roberts and Griffiths to turn the match, and despite the final score Parkhead manager Brendan Rodgers repeated on about five different occasions that Saints were ‘the best team we have played this season, including Premiership sides’. And Rodgers hadn’t been near Ian McCall and his pipe either.

A great compliment, but the notoriously hostile Scottish Press went into frenzy about this for the next 72 hours. David Tanner, the Ralph Wiggum of Scottish broadcasting, and anchor for Sky Sports ‘coverage’ of Scottish football had that permanent look on his face of panicked bewilderment, the type you would get if you have discovered you had accidentally periscoped yourself doing a shite, and laughed to Neil McCann ‘He didn’t mean that surely’ which is Scottish media talk for ‘He really means Rangers, right?’

Everybody had their say in the media, Radio Clyde descended into a farce, sorry my mistake that is every night, but suddenly the whole country seemed to be transfixed on Saints, and that made me uncomfortable as we had another massive match against Raith Rovers at Starks Park in the days after this.

Rovers had found a keeper by then, a Slovakian called Pavel Penska who had played practically no regular football in ten seasons even in the lower reaches of European football. This made me feel even worse, suddenly there was a bit of additional pressure on Saints to win, as if we needed that.

Backed by an away support of close to one thousand on this cold midweek, Saints dominated possession but couldn’t break the rigid Rovers formation down, even failing to test Penska once. It had an inevitably about it all in truth.

On the 69th minute, Rovers brought on Ryan Hardie, him of the hedge attitude, and we know the rest. It finished 2-0 to the Kirkcaldy side and the biggest waste of space in Paisley since the Piazza was built scored both goals. Collective rage from all Buddies on this one.

Next up was a home fixture against Dunfermline, a tricky match that ended 0-0, a completely fair result in truth, that was memorable for some extraordinary diving from the Fifers, Kallum Higginbotham in particular had three attempts and not once did he get a free kick or a booking. He was living proof that if you looked a bit daft, you acted massively prickish.

Suddenly it appeared as if the ‘second best side in the country’ had lost momentum again, no goals and one point from two matches where probably four would have minimum beforehand. It was the 11th March and Saints had now played three quarters of their fixtures, twenty seven matches and only twenty one points to show for it.

Going into the last quarter of fixtures, the final nine, Saints were still only four points adrift of Ayr, but Raith and Dumbarton had extended their leads to eight and nine points respectively, this was looking like a two horse race now between Jack Ross and Puff the Magic Dragon down the coast at Ayr.

With promotion chasing Dundee United next to visit Paisley during the week, this was a hectic run of matches. Many feared not winning and this could be the final straw again as Ayr would have a game in hand, this was how emotions were going at the time, it was boom and bust stuff.

The side never hit the standards they did against Hibs, but they didn’t need to and were still far too good for the Tannadice club. Goals from Davis, an outrageous Mallan free kick, and the mesmerizing Lewis Morgan gave Saints a well deserved 3-2 victory.

Suddenly and for the first time since the 1st Novemeber, Saints were within touching distance of second bottom spot, a solitary point behind Ayr, who admittedly had a game in hand.

The bad news however was a season ending injury to big Harry Davis, whose influence can be best summed up in his league stats. Played six, scored twice, and three clean sheets. The team only managed three clean sheets in the other THIRTY league matches, and big Harry deserves a special mention for that alone.

One of these other three clean sheets came on the Saturday at Dumfries as Saints won 2-0 despite being outplayed for the most of the first half, Stevie Mallan’s unerring opener on the stroke of half time was added to by Rory Loy from the penalty spot just after the break in a match Lewis Morgan was simply unplayable. There was definite steel in this side though to go with the flair, and the victory pulled another two points back on Dumbarton in 8th, but Saints remained bottom a point adrift as Ayr United also won that afternoon.

The following Saturday was Irn Bru Cup final time, and another match against Dundee United whose fans insisted they would not be taking this game seriously as they had once played Barcelona and were one of the biggestest sides in the whole world ever, so there.

Their fans were true to their word, and only a few thousand travelled, although the kick off time and venue were pretty unfair on the Arabs, but their players took it seriously enough and won a decent match 2-1. That was cup football over now, and the only job was staying up.

Later in that afternoon, Ayr United beat Dumbarton 2-1 stretching their lead over Saints to four points again with seven matches remaining. Ayr would travel to Paisley the following Saturday for what Sky Sports would have classed as ‘Relegator Armageddon Monster Saturday’, had they ever given a toss about Scottish football.

Anyway, before this meeting Ayr had a fixture at Tanandice, and in what seemed like a rare occasion when a score actually went our way, the home side won 2-1, despite a triple goal line clearance in the last minute of injury time from various United defenders that had Ian McCall back on the park again during the match believing his side had scored. Glorious, glorious stuff, and for the chain smoking McCall it was about to get much worse.

The 1st April 2017 could easily go down as one of the most important dates in Saints modern history. Defeat would more or less relegate us, maybe not arithmetically as Tom Hendrie would say, but psychology it would have been such a blow that there would have been no way back, seven points adrift with six matches remaining, even a draw would not be great.

Looking at the sides, there was only one winner and that was Saints. Unbeaten in five against Ayr that season and had recently convincingly beaten the Ayrshire side at Somerset Park. Maybe this was on the Ayr players minds, but even so Saints came out like an absolute hurricane and blew the Ayrshire side away with as clinical, exhilarating and ruthless performance I have ever seen from a Saints side.

Mallan, MacKenzie, McGinn and Magennis had Saints four up at half time, and they could have had more. Rumours that Ian McCall spent half time in the car park smoking a full twenty pack of regal with nicotene patches glued to his eyeballs have never been denied, but Lewis Morgan added a splendid fifth just after half time and everyone in the stadium including anyone with anything to do with the Honest Men were thinking ‘double figures’.

As so often happens in football however, Saints dropped a level after this but the 6-2 final scoreline sent out a firm message, and not ‘Ian McCall, yer a plamfy wee helmet’ as screamed by that guy that sits behind me, but quite clearly Saints were more than up for the fight. Nobody would want to play us.

Nobody that is, except Dumbarton who were up next at St. Miren Park. Our bogey side who we had yet to beat this season, and had only managed one win against the previous campaign. World class time wasters, and a goalkeeper who is very talented at shot stopping and that other essential attribute Stevie Aitken likes in his keepers, do absolutely anything to avoid taking a goal kick within 100 seconds, but not if we are behind. It’s a real attribute on his version of FIFA.

In the previous match between the sides, the 2-2 draw at the Rock, Sons keeper Alan Martin broke the world record for ‘most times ones socks can be pulled up in an hour’ when he reached the figure of 5837 after 15 minutes of play, and still Aitken berated him on the sideline for going too quickly.

This match finished 1-1, but most memorable for me was Aitken furiously looking at his wrist watch around forty times in the space of twenty seconds, no exaggeration. The man is obsessed with time, and how quickly it goes. I’m convinced he curses at calendars.

The disappointment of this draw was cancelled out by the fact that for the first time in 211 days Saints were off the bottom of the league, this point closed the gap on Ayr and we were now above them on goal difference. Twenty six consecutive matches at the bottom of the league, and finally we were off it. We wouldn’t return either.

Now we had a game in hand, and at Cappielow the following Wednesday night. A place of many, many victories in the past, in fact probably the best ground for Saints to visit if we needed a win. I’d seen Saints win here more times than any other ground bar St. Mirren Park, and we handed out some real thumpings in the process. Additionally this was a chance to get revenge for what had happened previously in the season as every man, woman, child, cat/human hybrid in Greenock had seemingly lined up to kick us when we were down.

The players did not let the fans down, and with 2,000 Buddies in the ground what a magnificent sight it was. The opening goal was scored by Stelios, who seemed to be somehow playing left back and right wing at the same time, and he collected yet another defence splitting Mallan pass on the left, cut inside to his right, beat two men and with the composure of a veteran striker stroked the ball into the corner of the net in front of the Saints support, and as one, both Demetriou and the Black & White Army embraced each another as though they had experienced the greatest thing that had ever happened.

I was in the main stand watching this unfold, and was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my season. By full time it was 4-1, with Mallan, Sutton and the colossal MacKenzie adding second half goals to confirm a comfortable yet epic victory. And with that, Saints were up to eighth with four very hard games to play, the miracle was on. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three – The Transfer Window and Cup Boosts.

This could now go two ways. Either we go down, and by the looks of it fairly weakly, or we at least try to avoid what would be an indelible stain on the history of the club by being relegated for the first ever time to the third tier of Scottish football.

As Saints supporters most of us had probably not even thought about playing at that level. I’m not being disrespectful to those that have or do play in what is known as the ‘seaside leagues’ when I write or think that, but the fact is Saints have spent ninety nine of one hundred and twenty seven league seasons in the top division in its various guises since 1890, and the other twenty eight in the second tier. The third tier had never entered my thinking, until now.

That’s not to say we are too big or too good to down. If we were to be relegated we would bloody well deserve it, and have little complaint about it either after a catastrophic start to the season.

So what could we do about this? Stuffed 3-0 at home by Queen of the South, a watershed moment in perhaps the modern history of the club, if anyone was wise enough to poll the Saints fans in the hours after this match then even the most optimistic fan, even the face painted Superfan Derek, is more than likely to have us down at this point in the season.

The so called ‘comeback’ after the late win in Dumfries, had yielded a rather miserable two wins and two draws from six matches, and we were back on the slide following two defeats and a draw in the latter half of that run, including that 3-0 defeat to a Queens side that had not won since September.

As the days went on after this defeat, a bit of perspective returned. We could still escape this, if and it was a big if, Jack Ross and his assistant James Fowler completely reshuffled the squad and brought better quality in. This was realistically the only hope.

Already gone were Ryan Hardie and Tom Walsh, back to Rangers at the very first opportunity, announced weeks in advance of the transfer window re-opening. You kind of got the feeling Jack Ross would have carried them to Ibrox on his back if he could got them out of Paisley any quicker.

Personally speaking, I had nothing against Walsh, I thought he had good moments in a Saints jersey and could still make a career for himself despite being freed by Rangers almost immediately after returning to Glasgow. Walsh was almost unique in that he was one of the only players signed by Alex Rae for Saints that had progressed through the Ibrox youth academy (and there was lots of them) that could control a football, seemingly the last attribute they look for at Murray Park going by the dross that was brought here by Mr Ranjurs.

I realise for other Saints fans that the rather tame performance at Cappielow from Walsh was the final straw, but two very late goals in separate matches from the winger brought two very important points come the end of the season.

Hardie on the other hand, was massively disappointing. The media like to say stuff like this to be polite, so I will be honest, he was fucking brutal with a capital Booooooooo. If human traits could be compared to nature, I’ve seen better attitude from an actual hedge.

Hardie also scored an equaliser at Dumbarton that could be argued gained a valuable point, but had he not been playing we might have got all three that day.  That’s my theory anyway, and I will stick to that. He wasn’t freed when he returned to Ibrox, obviously his complete lack of ball control is acceptable, and he was sent out on loan to Raith Rovers and scored twice against us in March to continue the trend of useless ex Saints who always score against us, starring mainly Alex Bone.

The 3-0 defeat to Queens also ended the Saints career of two more players, goalkeeper/assistant Clan Leader and fluent Pictish translator Scott Gallacher who surprisingly joined Hibs, and Lawrence Shankland who returned to Aberdeen before taking his considerable shadow to Greenock much to the delight of the Morton support who believed they were getting some kind Gabriel Batistuta figure, clearly seasons in the seaside leagues had corroded their tiny little minds.

Shankland had scored twice against Morton for Saints however, one of them a Cappielow winner, and had shown decent form in the second half of the 2015/16 season so his time at Paisley was not a complete waste, although this term he had been about as impressive as Viktor Genev attempting a rabona.

Making his way from Aberdeen to Saints was Craig Storie, an actual living breathing central midfield player from another club that could run, and the striker Rory Loy who had been signed on loan from Dundee, obviously Paul Hartley had a conscience about getting Paul McIntyre sent off in 1995.

Loy had allegedly knocked back ‘high flying Morton’ (copyright all radio stations) for bottom of the table Saints, proving once more that class is permanent and form merely temporary, and both would make starting debuts against Dunfermline in the next league fixture, where another new signing, Norwegian Pal Fjelde was also added to the squad, a defensive midfielder who could also play centre half.

Fjelde had allegedly been signed after James Fowler posted an add on LinkedIn, a social media application for ‘professional networking’, which caused a bit of an outcry from some Saints fans that still own a Filofax machine and have those big Casio watches with calculators on them.

The match itself against Dunfermline was decent, and the Saints support were beginning to return to away matches in larger numbers. The 1-1 draw at East Park was gained due to the second Gary MacKenzie header from a Mallan corner in three matches, and a fine goalkeeping display by returning Clan Chief Jamie Langfield who thankfully won’t have that Dumbarton home match as his final ever Saints game, that would have been very unfortunate for the big Buddie.

Taking his place in the starting XI from here until the end of season was twenty one year old Welsh ‘keeper Billy O’Brien, signed on loan from Manchester City. Definitely not fluent in Pictish or Gaelic according to Football Manager, but would come under the protective gloves of Langfield who of course was goalkeeping coach as well as the alternative language tutor in the squad.

Next up was a Scottish Cup match away at Premiership side Dundee, which was seen as either a distraction or a welcome break from the league struggles depending on your point of view. However, with a fair number of new players already signed, it was a fixture that could be used to help them settle in, and that could only be useful.

In the previous round, Saints had hammered Spartans 5-1, continuing their quite magnificent cup form that before the Dundee match was sitting at played eight, won seven. In the quarter finals of the Irn Bru Cup, there was a major sign of recovery in my opinion, as the team came back from 1-0 down to Ayr United to score two late goals courtesy of John Sutton and win 2-1, but could have scored three more in a pulsating finish that had Ayr as breathless as their manager after a long draw of that pipe.

Before this match was played, as practically everybody knew by now, Jason Naismith was transferred to Ross County, the club deciding to ‘cash in’ as his contract was up in the summer and he could leave for nothing as he would be 23 by then.

Naismith had started his career well under Danny Lennon, but in my opinion had suffered along with Jack Baird and Stephen Mallan due to a number of poor managers that would succeed the 2013 League Cup winning boss, Gary Teale excluded. Additionally of course, Naismith had recovered from a serious injury and was reaching something near his best under Jack Ross, so it was a big decision apparently made by the manager to let him go. It would prove to be one of many inspired decisions this transfer window by Jack Ross.

Back to on the park action, and the trip to Dens Park was much more difficult on paper than any other Cup match played by the club this campaign, but Saints strolled to a 2-0 victory thanks to Sutton and Baird goals, however it was the performances of O’Brien and Storie that was most impressive and gave much hope for the league campaign ahead.  O’Brien became an instant hero to the support, and Storie already had his own song as well as being able to run, a good sign.

This was to be the last Saints match for young Kyle McAllister however, very disappointingly at the time sold to Derby County for a fee reported to be £250k with the almost mythical for Saints ‘add ons’, however it has been suggested that the fee may be considerably more than this.

At the time it stunk of the Kenny McLean sale to Aberdeen a few years earlier, but in hindsight the sale was correct as it allowed other players to join the club, most notably Stephen McGinn who returned before the next league match having been sold some seven years before hand. Jack was having a stormer.

Almost incredibly, McGinn was still only twenty eight years old and unfounded rumours emerged that he also may be related to former SFA president, Jack McGinn, but nobody from Setanta Sports could confirm. McGinn was joined that week by two more lower profile signings, Josh Todd from Dumbarton, and Stelios Demetriou a Cypriot full back with the same agent as Pal Fjelde.

Callum Gallagher left the club also, signing for Dumbarton, allowing Cammy Smith to sign on loan from Aberdeeen, another player with good pedigree and reputation who had done well at Dundee United earlier in the season and surprisingly became available.

With Gallagher now gone, if there was a Rangers clique still hungover from Alex Rae’s time at the club, it had now been firmly liquidated by Ross as five players with direct links to Rae and Ibrox had now left Paisley since the new manager arrived.

With all these new signings and a great cup win, optimism was high for the visit of Falkirk at the end of January. Cammy Smith nearly scored after five seconds, which would have surpassed Mark Yardley’s debut goal of 30 seconds in 1995, but Rory Loy’s first strike for the club was a mere consolation as Falkirk had already scored twice in highly controversial circumstances.

The opener came after Myles Hyppolite comically stole 15 yards to hurl a throw towards the Saints box that Alex Bone wannabe John Baird scored from, but the second was just as bad as it contained a clearly offside pass in the build up, and the ball going out of play before Count Miller hooked it back allowing Baird to score again. It was hard to take to be honest, and the feeling went back to deflation, with only fourteen matches remaining Saints were seven points adrift at the bottom, and the transfer window shut in only three days.

Stephen McGinn came off the bench that day for his second debut, showing some good composure and responsibility on the ball that had been sadly lacking in midfield since Paul McGowan left the club. Soon enough he would be made captain, ousting Storie from the first team, and to complete a hectic transfer window Jack Ross added former Hearts left back Adam Eckersley and Crewe centre half Harry Davis to his squad before it shut, and young Ryan Watters also joined making it ten in and ten out when all (including development loans outwards) was considered at the end of the process.

It was the massive overhaul most called for and our only real chance of surviving, but at least we were making a fist of it and not being relegated as lamely as a Tommy Craig press conference.

The manager and his staff now had the rather monumental task of getting the new players fit, and bonding them into a side capable of picking up twenty three points from the fourteen remaining fixtures, and that was based on getting the widely accepted figure of thirty six points for safety, as we currently only had thirteen points from the first twenty two fixtures. Basically we would need to produce title winning form for the rest of the season to survive.

Saints next four matches were a real mix and match, with Dumbarton and Ayr away from home in the league, sandwiched in between a Scottish Cup match against East Fife and an Irn Bru semi final against The New Saints from Wales.

The two league matches were simply massive as Ayr were the nearest club to Saints and seven points ahead at this time, and Dumbarton the place above McCall’s dragon chasers but four points further away still.

A large support would surely go to both, however the club were only handed 800 tickets for Dumbarton due to stadium restrictions and those lucky enough to get a ticket were treated to an entertaining 2-2 draw, with Clarkson and debutant Davis netting, played in cold conditions on the banks of the Clyde and Leven where Dumbarton turned time-wasting almost into an art.

Rumours were rife that Sons boss Steven Aitken would make goalkeeper Alan Martin clean Stuart Carswell’s hanky if he didn’t pull up his socks six times, tie his laces, blow his nose, and fake a finger injury before every goal kick. Martin obliged, until Saints twice took the lead and suddenly he was more eager than David Farrell inventing stats on national radio.

The full time whistle was greeted with an eerie silence, the supposed must win nature of the match clearly impacting on some Saints fans who believed that this was it, and we were now facing relegation.

The next two cup matches renewed faith however, a fairly comfortable 3-2 win at East Fife in conditions so cold Polar Bears were watching with jackets on, set the club up for a semi final clash against TNS in the Irn Bru Cup, where a poor first half performance allowed the Welsh club to be 1-0 up at half time and that dreaded feeling of impending doom returned, however this was to be one of the last times this emotion was felt all season, and the team came out transformed for the second half.

Inspired by captain McGinn, Saints blew the Welsh champions apart winning 4-1 and playing with such intensity and purpose that it would have been difficult to see many teams in the Championship cope with it. This was the last five minutes against Ayr United in the quarter final but for a full half of football, keep this up and anything would be possible.

Next up was that trip to Ayr, a simply must win match even more so than against Dumbarton as the Ayrshire club had pushed eight points clear of Saints whilst we were winning cup matches.

Not helping the situation were Scotrail, who decided to carry out ‘essential maintenance work’ on the lines between Paisley and Ayr that day, the worse management decision to affect Paisley since Kyle Hutton signed,  but Saints still took 1400 supporters and someone very clever decided to buy a drum.

Backed by constant noise for 90 minutes and a renewed sense of optimism following the Cup wins, Saints turned in their finest performance of the season so far and won as easy a 2-0 victory as could imagined thanks to Sutton and Morgan goals, but the manner of it was exceptional, Ayr simply couldn’t get near Saints on the day and Ian McCall was gracious enough to concede so after the match, before blowing it all and suggested we were buying our way out of trouble. Puff puff.

This cut the deficit to five points, but the Paisley club now had a game in hand. Raith Rovers had also been surprisingly dragged into it, and Dumbarton were also not safe.

Saints had twelve games to play, could this be the start of something special?

Chapter Two – Record Breaking Losses and Three Players Named Kyle.

So, with Alex Rae now gone, former Saints defender Jack Ross took over as manager of the club trying to improve on the four draws and four defeats from the opening eight league matches. This was a post war poorest start to a season, but still well short of the club record set in 1921/22 when it took until fixture twelve to achieve the first win.

“Jack would do this, no problem. He’d have us turned round and looking up before we knew it and Alex Rae would soon become an afterthought, a blip in the clubs recent history. The good times were coming”.

That was the optimistic me talking, the same one that thought Alex Rae would have Saints challenging for a play off place. The irrational black and white glasses tinted me that often looked at Scotland squads and tutted when Paul McGowan wasn’t included.

Like most supporters, away from football I am not like this. I will dissect something and give opinion based on a fair and honest assertion, be it a song I have heard or how a t-shirt looks for example. Football isn’t like this, nor should it be.

I don’t want to look at a Saints squad and say ‘Hmmmm, the keepers are all useless, the defenders can’t defend, our midfield is rank rotten and our strikers couldn’t score on payday in Carnegies’.

What fun would that be? Imagine thinking you were beat before a ball was kicked, and that rare day in the sun will never happen? Without hope, without the blind faith football would be impossibly boring.

Truthfully though, I always wanted Jack Ross as manager. Before writing this I double checked my messages to friends at the time, and definitely I thought he was ‘worth the risk’, and based this opinion on the turnaround he had produced at Alloa and how well they had played against Celtic in the League Cup.

Looking at this evidence alone, and admittedly that is not a lot, I considered Alloa were miles better prepared and coached than we had been all this season, and arguably even Saints with this imbalanced gang of slackers and supposedly Rangers obsessed rejects on our books, had superior players to the Clackmannanshire​ side, even taking into consideration the probability Jim Goodwin alone would boss all of our midfield himself and still have time to needlessly hack down Andy Webster and get sent off.

This is what I thought, a logical opinion perhaps shared by many Saints fans. Fast forward a couple of months, and optimistic me was wrong again very wrong in fact, some of these players were not as good as Alloa had, but a lot happens before that.

In truth the supporters were split over Jack Ross being appointed, like me some warmed to the progressive nature of his style and tactics whilst others believed he was unproven at this level even pointing to Ross relegating Alloa, and a ‘safer pair of hands’ was former Saints boss Gus MacPherson who would stabilise the club.

Very few wanted Fullarton or McCulloch, most based this opinion on the fact they were almost completely unknown as managers and we had to get this appointment correct, probably an assertion I agreed with.

In an impressive interview on Radio Scotland with Gordon Scott around this time, the Chairman stated he wanted to ‘enjoy football again’ and also stopped going to Love Street in the 1980’s for a period due to the style of play adopted by Alex Miller. Taking these comments at face value, I immediately ruled out MacPherson.

This is nothing personal, wee Gus turned the club on its head when he took over and built a strong successful side, but enjoying football under him wasn’t the most common thing heard at the time. ‘Go to the cinema for entertainment’ he once allegedly told a room full of journalists, and even paying £13 for a coke was more pleasurable than the calendar year of 2007 when Saints managed only seven home goals from seventeen fixtures under Gus.

Then there is the nine man match nobody wants to talk about, so I definitely won’t.

Back to Jack Ross, and if first impressions were anything to go by then he was going to be an incredibly popular and successful manager. Immediately in press conferences he seemed to understand the club and it’s supporters, probably a relief as he had played here for two years, but he had charisma, eloquence and self belief not seen in the managers office at St. Mirren Park probably since Tom Hendrie. There was no talk of other clubs, no made up stats, and not once did he start a sentence with the word ‘Listen’.

So far so good, all Ross had to do was start winning matches, and soon. First up was a home fixture against Dundee United, who were bang in the middle of what has turned out to be their best form of the season by a mile.

The Saints performance was decent, probably the best of the season so far, but two defensive lapses let the Tannadice club ruthlessly exploit the fragility in Saints armour by scoring twice without having to work particularly hard to do so.

The second goal conceded in particular was farcical, with Gary MacKenzie finally reaching match fitness and being included in starting XI’s, the big centre half and Langfield somehow contrived to gift an open goal to Tony Andreu who made absolutely no mistake. As hinted in chapter one, big Gary would need to brush up on his Pictish.

Next up were Hibs away, and the same story. Decent performance especially in the first half, but a comfortable enough 2-0 victory for the Leith club at full time. Jack Ross spoke about making players better through his coaching at this point, and that he had faith in the players. Perhaps he underestimated the size of the job on his hands, and just how bad some of these players really were.

After this defeat was a trip to Morton at Cappielow, and that seventeen year unbeaten run to protect. By this point in the season Morton were absolutely flying, surprising everyone including themselves with their form, particularly at home. I prayed we could escape with a stuffy draw therefore keeping the record, allowing us to be in a stronger position when we met again. Deep down though, I could taste defeat like a bag of prawns that had been left out in the searing sun for 12 hours.

Since Saints were relegated at the end of 2014/15, Morton had failed in five attempts to beat as weak a Saints side there had been in perhaps the last fifty years. If they couldn’t win this one with Paisley confidence at rock bottom, would they ever?

The answer was they would win, and with considerable ease by three goals to one, as Saints worse performance of the season and probably the current century embarrassed the large support, and crucially the manager. Enough was enough, Jack Ross was a man who did not like to be let down.

Kyle Hutton was hooked at half time and has not been seen since in a Saints shirt. Shipped out on loan to one of Scotland’s new clubs, but not his favourite one, he would need to make do with Airdrie in the third tier. In contrast, his replacement that night and for the next few months until he was converted into a winger, seventeen year old Kyle Magennis has been one of the players of the season.

Also starting for the final time that evening in a Saints shirt was Tom Walsh, a player who had contributed positively to the season but the manager clearly had seen enough of the on loan Ibrox man and he was returned hastily to Rangers on New Year’s Day along with Ryan Hardie who fell astonishingly short of the required standard.

Other players would fall over the next few weeks, most notably Chief Pict Jamie Langfield, as Saints became record breakers for all the wrong reasons. Game twelve of the season passed with a defeat at home to Dumbarton as Saints missed about twenty great chances and gifted the Sons the points thanks to genuinely the most incredible goalkeeping mistake I have ever witnessed, by the aforementioned Langfield, sealing the 2016/17 teams destiny as providing the worse ever start to a league season.

November 2016 conjures an immediate image of darkness when I think about it, a truly horrific month as a Saints fan, and boy did the fans of other clubs let us know we were suffering. We simply had to take the constant mocking, but deep down our resolve was outstanding and the fans never gave up on the team. The worse we got, the more we loved the club. But incredibly it was still to get worse.

Not content with just this record bad start however, the 3-1 loss at Falkirk a few weeks later on the fourteenth match gave Jack Ross the unwanted privilege of becoming the first ever Saints boss to lose his first six league matches.

This was classic Saints from this period, go 1-0 up and then get a player sent off before conceding three second half goals. The fact that Jack Baird smacked the veteran vampire Falkirk striker Lee Miller in the face to obtain the red card was arguably the highlight of the season so far.

With game fifteen approaching quickly in midweek, and Saints stuck on an incredible tally of only four points to show for their efforts, a lot was happening.

The aforementioned Kyle Magennis had continued in the side and looked like a fabulous talent in central midfield next to Mallan, who despite being nowhere near his best had still set up well over half of all Saints goals in the season. Where had Magennis been all season was the question I and many others had.

The manager had also brought into the side yet another Kyle, the wonderfully talented attacking midfielder McAllister, whom even Alex Rae was unable to ignore and had given a debut to as a sixteen year old. Well done Alex, but you somehow seemingly still managed to sign the only sh*te player called Kyle in the whole of Scotland.

McAllister was holding down the right wing slot, and with Morgan on the left, along with Mallan and Magennis centrally in an all Saints Academy bred midfield, we finally had players in the side that could not only pass, move and control the ball, but they were incredibly two footed. Outstanding work, Mr Longwell.

Never has the argument that our academy trumps the rest been so strong. At this point over the last few seasons we have had awful players from the youth academies of Burnley, Rangers, Motherwell, Aberdeen and Celtic clog up our starting XI’s whilst these kids couldn’t get a game. Howieson over McAllister, Hutton or Carswell over Magennis, McMullan over Morgan and Hardie over anyone had stopped our own stars making a name for themselves, and Jack was only putting this right.

The manager mentioned in his post match interviews the necessity of playing these kids as they had a ‘feeling for the club’, a comment that said a lot about the outstanding attitude of the players from our academy, but probably more of the imposters they were replacing, see Chapter One.

Rumours of the ‘clique’ at the club still continued during this period including an extraordinary story where the players had allegedly been playing a ‘Rangers v The Rest’ match at training during the previous managers time at the club, but often ‘The Rest’ wouldn’t have enough players! Again, I am certain this story has no foundation, but Jack Ross clearly felt he had inherited some players who couldn’t care less about Saints and he didn’t like it.

Despite this defeat at Falkirk, I could feel it in my bones that victory was near and things were turning, and I knew it was going to happen the next match at Palmerston. Blind faith, the black and white tinted specs, call it what you want but I somehow knew. Even three minutes into stoppage time, I was relaxed. It was coming, and it did via the beautiful right boot of Stephen Mallan in the 94th minute. Absolute scenes is the commonly used term.

Next match, another win this time at home to Raith. The team now looked confident and geared up to pull the deficit back. But this was false confidence, Dutch courage almost, and self doubt was so deep rooted in some of the players it simply couldn’t be coached out of them. Others were simply not good enough to play for the club.

The following week at home to Ayr, a major crack appeared. Saints were the better side by a distance, but Lawrence Shankland who looked a shadow of himself in everything but appearance, hit a penalty wide on the hour mark at 0-0. Within a few minutes, it was 1-0 Ayr and it took John Sutton to head a late equaliser and save Saints skin to earn a draw, an invaluable intervention the more the season went on as it turned out, but Saints wouldn’t win again in the league until late February in the return fixture at Somerset Park.

Talking of crack, after the match Ayr boss Ian McCall threw down his metaphorical pipe full of the stuff to run across the Greenhill Rd playing surface and celebrate this 1-1 draw in extraordinary fashion.  The guy that sits behind me who thinks Jamie Langfield is some kind of Clan Leader, merely asked if McCall ‘was f*cking high?’

The spectacle of McCall outside the main stand half an hour later, his wee bloated face lit up by the fiery end of whatever he was drawing the life out of may have confirmed his suspicions, or it was a cheeky B&H, probably the latter.

Another self inflicted defeat at Tannadice on Christmas Eve laid the foundations for the next Renfrewshire derby and potential revenge time for Saints. 1-0 up at home and playing against ten men for the last half hour should have been the circumstances for Saints to comfortably see the match out, but panic engulfed the side and they invited Morton onto them allowing a last gasp equaliser.

It felt like a defeat, and one that could potentially knock the stuffing right out the side and lead to relegation, and had the manager allowed it to fester it would have. In Chapter One, I mentioned a 3-1 home defeat to Queen of the South as the worse home performance I had ever seen from Saints. By coincidence the Dumfries side were next up at Paisley and won 3-0, immediately replacing the 3-1 match as the worse I had seen. That Morton equaliser may indeed have finished some players off.  The old Saints were back, there was going to be no great comeback with this lot.

That night it all seemed lost. I went home stunned and sat in my kitchen listening to David Farrell on Radio Scotland boast about his made up win % at Paisley, with a hint of ‘You should have stuck with me and Rae’ about it.

Someone tweeted the show and told them the Rae/Farrell percentages were wrong, and named the managers with better records than them since Fergie, as this was also wrongly claimed again. The momentary silence from Farrell when it was read out confirmed my suspicions that he had no idea​ what he had been saying, and he blurted out ‘his pal’ had given him the stats. That cheered me up slightly, but that still remains one of the darkest days I have ever had a Saints fan.

As it turned out though, this was truly us ‘bottoming out’ and the late Morton equaliser followed by this heavy defeat at home to Queen of the South was a blessing in disguise. The manager was now about to rip the squad apart, knowing these players couldn’t save the club from their first ever spell in the Scottish third tier.

Chapter One – Alex Rae and the Imposters.

 

Alex Rae and the Imposters. Unfortunately​ not the name of an obscure 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll band, but in my view an accurate way to define in a few words the first couple of months of the 2016/17 season, that will simply go down as the craziest in the long history of St. Mirren.

Beginning with a change of ownership in late July, to the worse ever start in over a century of league football, a manager sacking, being cut adrift for two hundred and eleven days at the bottom of the league, being as much as eight points behind second bottom place on the 1st March, to the incredible comeback of the last few months, this is a story that quite simply could not be scripted.

Back in July 2016 before a ball was kicked, optimism for the forthcoming season was actually high among some fans, including myself, and a promotion play off place was a serious consideration with this section of supporters following a decent end to the previous campaign where relegation had been a possibility at Christmas 2015.

Alex Rae had replaced Ian Murray around that time, and although his appointment was met with indifference from the support, the former Rangers and Sunderland man got the job done by easily escaping relegation without ever really impressing the fans. The performances were dull and uninspiring even as the results improved, but he had done what was required and there was gratitude for this.

Off the park, rumours about a ‘Rangers supporting clique’ within the dressing room were rife, and following the 3-1 derby victory over Morton in April 2016, in what turned out to be the last league victory under Rae, two players (Stuart Carswell and Scott Agnew) immediately took to social media to offer support for the Govan side for their upcoming Scottish Cup match against Celtic.

It did not go down well with the supporters and frankly appeared disrespectful to the club, Rangers were in the same division as Saints after all, and Chief Executive Tony Fitzpatrick criticised the relevant players in the media whilst Celtic supporting assistant manager David Farrell quit twitter with little explanation.

This episode may seem insignificant now, but in hindsight it was indicative of the lack of harmony between the management team, a section of the players and the support. Personally speaking I was not happy that our employees felt comfortable enough to publicly declare support for a club we had played four times already that season and were due to play again in a few weeks time.

Deep down something just didn’t seem right, what kind of environment had been created at the club to allow this? Speculation I know, but these ‘clique’ rumours would persist even after Rae was gone.

Back to July 2016 however, and that optimism. Alex Rae had retained the services of David Clarkson and Callum Gallacher from the previous season to add to the players already signed for the forthcoming campaign, including Gary Irvine and Rocco Quinn signed by Rae months earlier.

Carswell and Agnew left the club, along with Alex Cooper as well as Saints legends Jim Goodwin and Steven Thompson who had been controversially frozen out by Rae.

Joining the club for 2016/17 were ex Saints youth player Ben Gordon and former Saints hero John Sutton, as well as three players Rae knew from Rangers; Scott Gallagher, Kyle Hutton and Gary MacKenzie. Rae also went back to his former Glasgow employer for youngsters Tom Walsh and Ryan Hardie who had eye catching loan spells in the Championship the season before with Dumbarton and Raith Rovers respectively.

Lawrence Shankland, who had scored most of his ten league goals the previous season after Rae had arrived, was resigned from Aberdeen on loan and suddenly Saints seemed to have an abundance of decent attacking options.

The signing of Gary MacKenzie appeared on paper to be both the pick of all the new players given his pedigree, but along with Shankland the strangest at the same time, as Saints already had three central defenders at the club, and four strikers if Callum Gallacher was counted, but these signings were revealed by Rae as the last of the pre-season despite glaring shortages in other positions.

It was a big gamble, and sparked concern with supporters as we had no natural left back at the club, and had practically no cover at all in central midfield. These concerns would be raised again and again as the season unfolded.

Other concerns some Saints fans had at the time was the fact Rae may have been a sensible stop gap appointment for the previous season, but was he the man to build on this and deliver a promotion winning campaign? The natural counter argument to this was that Rae had a decent first few seasons at Dundee almost a decade before, that would have delivered play off places had the system existed back then.

Before a ball was kicked, these were the debates, but the majority of Saints fans remained optimistic for the season ahead, and Rae was given the benefit of any doubt by the majority. On paper the squad looked strong in attack and on the wings, and potentially at least this could work.

Practically nobody considered 2016/17 would be a relegation threatened campaign, but with the League Cup groups back for the first time in over thirty years, a competitive start to the season of July 16th 2016 gave fans an early chance to gauge what direction the side was going.

Victories against Livingston and Ayr United, sides seeded below Saints in the group rankings were an encouraging enough start, but a 3-0 thumping by Hamilton at Douglas Park was the first real sign that things were not quite right.

Hamilton of course were a division above Saints, but the ease at which Accies cut through our non-existent midfield was both concerning and a sign of things to come. With Rocco Quinn injured long term following the Livingston match, the squad was down to just two central midfield players, new signing Kyle Hutton and the talented youngster Stevie Mallan. Already the fans concerns about squad depth and imbalance were relevant.

The final League Cup group match was against league newcomers Edinburgh City, and the Paisley side had to win by four clear goals to qualify. Given they were three up after just half an hour and then failed to create a single second half chance, then it is perhaps understandable that the easy victory was not greeted with much enthusiasm and Saints went out by a solitary goal and a bit of a whimper. Next up was the League opener at home to rivals Morton in a weeks time, and a seventeen year unbeaten derby record to protect against the Greenock side.

By this Saturday, the club had been sold after being put up for sale six years beforehand. Stewart Gilmour, who had done so much to revive the fortunes of the club in the 1990’s and 2000’s sold the controlling majority of shares to former director Gordon Scott on the promise he would allow the fans to buy him out after a period of around ten years. Off the park, optimism was as high as it had been in perhaps decades.

The pressure was now on Alex Rae to deliver. He was not appointed by this new board of directors, and even the most hostile Saints fan would concede that this was a difficult situation Rae found himself in at no fault of his own, but he had to deliver and quickly. Unfortunately for the manager, the only thing that would be delivered was the least mobile spine of a football team in history.

On the Saturday, Saints were outplayed for long spells by Morton, their energetic midfield seem to bypass a Saints engine room almost completely dependent on Mallan as Kyle Hutton suffered a very difficult debut where it appeared he was running with concrete boots on and possessed the composure of a rabid weasel. And this was one of his better matches.

John Sutton came off the bench to rescue Saints from the unthinkable and grab an undeserved share of the spoils, but concerns about the squad were growing already, and when Raith Rovers inflicted a heavier than the scoreline looks 3-1 defeat the following week, real concern was beginning to set in.

Hibs were next to defeat Saints, an easy 2-0 win at Paisley where the players simply looked disinterested, in fact I’ve seen Dumbarton take a goal kick with more urgency than Saints that day, and even three league matches into the season Radio Clyde’s favourite resident Ranjursman was in deep trouble such was the appalling nature of performances.

The following week at Ayr, as fans debated how long Rae had should we be defeated, a last minute Tom Walsh equaliser left Saints with just two points from the opening four matches, but more worryingly something just felt very very wrong, this was clearly not a good side.

Things got worse from here, a scrambled Challenge Cup win in extra time over third tier Albion Rovers was followed up by an abysmal and quite horrific 3-1 home defeat to Queen of the South.

At the time I considered it the worse home performance I had ever seen from a Saints side, and I had been going since 1984. It wouldn’t be the only time I said it this season.

That day Andy Webster in particular struggled. An experienced former international defender who quite simply looked out of his depth even in the second tier, and the outstanding Stephen Dobbie tormented the former Rangers and Hearts player during a very painful ninety minutes when his lack of pace and positional sense was cruelly exposed so often you could do nothing but feel sorry for him.  I’m sure big Andy, or Slothy McSlothface as he was being called around me, would not be grateful for this sympathy either.

One of the major positives of the new stadium was the opening in April 2016 of the 1877 club. It was in here after this match that a group of Saints fans debated if this was the worse Saints side ever. Some agreed, some disagreed, but worryingly it was a genuine conversation. For the record, already I thought it was on course to be the worse side I had ever seen, surpassing the shambles of David Hay’s early 1990’s disaster.

For his part Webster was sarcastically applauded from the field by a section of fans when Rae correctly subbed him near the end, I thought this was harsh as despite his struggles Webster at least gave 100% effort, but the disconnect between the fans and players was growing by the week.

Again rumours resurfaced in Paisley about a ‘clique’ in the dressing room, and the following week stories circulated that the management team spent the hours immediately​ before the Queen of the South debacle locked in an office watching Celtic demolish Rangers.

Most fans chose not to believe these rumours, they sounded simply too ridiculous and even for a manager who went on radio every other day to talk affectionately about another club, this seemed far too unprofessional.

However, this type of whispering is never a good thing even when the message is untrue, but the discontent towards Rae and Farrell from the support had really grown following this defeat in any case, and it wasn’t going to take much for the support to turn overwhelmingly on the management team.

The worse start Saints ever had to a league campaign was 1920/21 when it took until the twelfth league fixture to secure a victory, but the following week a 1-1 draw at Dumbarton made it six matches without a win (eight including the previous season) and this was too much for the new board, and most of the support. Alex Rae and David Farrell were sacked the following day.

No shock in Paisley this news, but plenty of sympathy in the media for the duo who of course were and still are regulars on many radio and TV shows. What followed was a bizarre string of claims from both of them on their win % at Paisley, ranging from 40 to 55 per cent depending on what day of the week it was, and even claims they were the most successful Saints management team since the Alex Ferguson days.

The fact is this; in the league their win ratio was 35% and achieved exclusively in the second tier, placing Rae and Farrell comfortably in the ‘least successful Saints manager ever’ category. Also, six managers since Ferguson have a better win rate in the league than the duo. For the record Tom Hendrie, Tony Fitzpatrick (2nd spell), Jimmy Bone, Alex Miller, Ricky McFarlane and Jim Clunie.

Win percentages can be misleading of course, so to put it bluntly the shape and set up of the team was woefully wrong; from tactics and balance to simple team cohesion.

For example, the communication between goalkeeper and defence was so bad the guy that sits behind me was convinced Langfield and Gallagher spoke a different language from the back four. He reckoned Gaelic, but with a 1.1% chance of that being correct I dismissed this as nonsense as it must be something so obscure it had been truly lost over the ages, Pictish perhaps, but the image of Langfield sitting on his couch with a beer arguing with the BBC Alba commentary is one I like.

In defence, a right back, Gary Irvine, was playing left back and not in a similar way to Manchester United icon Denis Irwin as Rae would laughably claim weeks later on radio, but more like Dennis Pennis; it was uncomfortable to watch at times and gave most a good laugh, usually not the Saints support though. To his enormous credit, Irvine never gave up.

The central defenders, whichever ones were fit at that point, looked less of an effective partnership than Jay Z and Barry Chuckle; the midfield was so far apart the opposition could have smuggled in James Corden, Eamon Holmes and probably even Jabba The Hut without being noticed, but it was the lack of effort from some players that was shameful, and genuinely embarrasses and angers me to this day they were allowed to wear a strip with the same badge on it as David Lapsley, Jackie Copland and Hugh Murray before them. Thankfully most of these players do not remain at the club today, and these were the imposters.

Too many of these players weren’t appearing to be taking it seriously, and were acting as if they were too good to play for a club with only a brand new stadium, Youth Academy, and training complex. It was almost as if they had something more important to do than play for the club, like perhaps appear on Radio or write a column for a newspaper about how they love other clubs, no sorry that was the management team, my mistake. However the point remains if the manager appears like he is doing it all half-hearted, then the chums he brought in are going to be the same.

Of course, Rae and Farrell can’t be completely responsible for this lack of effort, there is such a thing as professional pride, but everything else wrong highlighted above lies with them. The negativity around the club at this point was overwhelming and even going to matches was something I and probably most others almost dreaded, but we still went. This is our club, and we were determined to do our part to help improve things. In sickness and in health after all.

With Rae now gone, the search for the new manager started. In the meantime, head of youth development and former Hearts defender Alan McManus took interim charge, and performances improved even if the league results didn’t.

His first match was a 4-3 defeat at Dunfermline, where some fine attacking play was undone by a cruel Andy Webster own goal and a devastating late winner where the hapless Kyle Hutton produced his first assist in Saints colours, but unfortunately it was for Dunfermline as he presented Farid El Aalgui with an open goal that mugged Saints for at least a point.

The following week, Saints drew with Falkirk at home thanks to another late Tom Walsh goal, giving Saints only their fourth point of the season on the 1st October after eight matches. Shudder.

By this point, Billy Davies, Neil Warnock and John Hughes had allegedly been interviewed or more accurately linked to the vacancy by the media, but all had ruled themselves out. This left a supposed shortlist of four, former Saints players Jamie Fullarton and Jack Ross, ex-boss Gus MacPherson and Lee McCulloch​.

As we now know in the days after the Falkirk match, former Saints right back Jack Ross was announced as the next manager of the club, but would take current club Alloa for one more fixture before starting his new post.

McManus would therefore oversee Saints fine victory at Easter Road in the Challenge Cup that Saturday as Jack Ross emerged victorious from his final Wasps match, and the Paisley club were now set to welcome their fifth permanent manager in only two years.

Amazingly though, the league form was about to get worse.