March 1984 was the first time I ever attended a St Mirren game, a naïve and optimistic seven year old starting on an adventure that has been constant throughout the following thirty five years. I’ve experienced all the emotions along with everyone else; heartache, elation, relief, sadness, anger, humiliation, frustration, joy and pride. It has been anything but dull.
One less common emotion I have felt is worry. The first time I ever experienced it about Saints was during David Hay’s time at the club in 1991, when the worry of being relegated for the first time in my life was completely justified. A few years later it was Reg Brealey trying to get his greedy hands on the club and the worry of us being wiped from the face of the earth.
It was almost twenty years later when Alex Rae built a squad fit only for the marching season and the seaside leagues before I was worried again, this time it was a new threat and relegation to the third tier. The worry has returned now though for a fourth time.
When we stayed up after all that happened last season, with the Stubbs disaster and the close to five month recovery period that followed and then a referee seemingly intent on relegating us in the play offs, I was strangely calm and optimistic about this forthcoming season, and relegation wasn’t even in my thoughts.
Oran Kearney had come in, a clearly intelligent and decent man, and had connected with the fans and players extremely well before signing some real quality in January that was the significant reason we saved our season. I was looking forward to another transfer window with him identifying new players, and the fantastic positivity generated at the end of last season continuing.
I clearly wasn’t the only one, and season ticket sales again are around the 3500 mark. The fans continue to back the club, but one thing is certain, our backing should never be taken for granted.
In the days after the play-off win, the rumours surrounding the future of Kearney appeared to be crushed when the man himself confirmed that he was staying. This was good news, but the stability lasted only a week before whispers started to resurface that there was an issue regarding his travel arrangements from Ireland, and this rumbled on for several weeks before the Irishman was finally sacked with little explanation, and not even a word of thanks in the crass statement that followed from the club.
Of course, I do not know what went on, so I can only give my opinion. When Kearney was appointed at Coleraine, a lot of people thought we had been stitched up; however the former manager didn’t come across as someone who had played a blinder to get his own way. Kearney said on one occasion he was “gutted” about what had happened at Saints, and also in an interview with Irish TV said he “shouldn’t” be at Coleraine and “should be” in Paisley.
Something clearly wasn’t right. Kearney left the club unbeaten in his last eight games in charge, no matter his travel arrangements sacking him was an odd reaction to such good form. A progressive and diligent manager was forced out before he reached his peak at the club; it was quite a gamble by the board (or chairman) but worrying that the decision had been delayed so long after the play-off that it put us behind every other club in the division in terms of recruitment and preparation.
It was more or less the same situation as last season when the board allowed Jack Ross to flirt with any club in England, and we know what happened there when Alan Stubbs decided to build a squad via the car boot sale equivalent of football recruitment, the English reserve and non-leagues.
Almost immediately after Kearney left, Jim Goodwin was appointed as replacement manager, another intelligent and decent man with real pedigree at the club, and everyone seemed happy now as the former Saints captain had performed superbly well at Alloa and is arguably the outstanding young manager operating in Scotland currently. The happiness wouldn’t last.
One month on from the appointment of Goodwin, the club has what I would describe as sixteen senior players registered for the league season ahead, which kicks off next week. It doesn’t sound that bad when you say it like that; however here is that list of players:
Goalkeepers – Hladky & Lyness
Defenders – Paul McGinn, MacKenzie & Baird
Midfielders – Erahon, Tansey, MacPherson, Flynn, Magennis, Stephen McGinn, Kellermann, Andreu & Djorkaeff.
Attackers – Mullen & Cooke.
Of those players, Lyness is a back-up keeper and Tansey is injured with his very playing future uncertain. Gary MacKenzie has missed over sixty matches in the previous two seasons with fitness issues and wasn’t even on the bench for the last two league cup matches.
Cammy MacPherson dislocated his shoulder against Albion Rovers, with the average recovery time for that injury twelve to sixteen weeks. Jim Kellermann is not of the required standard to play at this level, and Ethan Erhaon is a young boy playing out of position and devoid of any confidence. A few months back in the youth team is required.
This is Oan Djorkaeff’s first ever taste of top team action, and we can’t expect him to be any more than a squad player for the time being. That takes us down to nine men we can rely on to play for the first half of the season, and some of them are probably fringe players in a properly constructed squad.
The league season is ten days away, and we are nowhere near ready once again. That worries me deeply. Gus MacPherson was brought into the football management structure to add stability and avoid the utter disaster that was last pre-season. It hasn’t worked, not that I am blaming MacPherson completely for this.
To have added so few players to the squad as the league season is upon the club is frankly embarrassing. Jim Goodwin has already hinted that he isn’t particularly impressed about this either, and as a man not scared to speak his mind or make tough decisions that benefit his own career, this should be very worrying for the Saints board and supporters.
The League Cup group on paper couldn’t have been handpicked any better if big Derek Superfan had done it himself so easy did our route out of it appear. The toughest opponent was Dunfermline, a toiling Championship side with no money who picked up one point in the final eight matches of last season; which had it gone on another two games would likely have seen them relegated.
In the dugout was Stevie Crawford, a man with a 25% win rate in his lower league management career, kind of like a poor man’s John Coughlin but with trainers and a suit, so actually closer to a homeless Ian Murray. By half time, Saints were 3-0 down and thankful to Hladky it wasn’t more.
The 3-2 scoreline at the end was bitterly disappointing, but the players looked ill prepared fitness wise for competitive matches, and were about as sharp as a sleepy and drunk Ryan Hardie. A few days later we took on League 2 Edinburgh City at Paisley and won 1-0 thanks to a very late penalty kick, but the team created very little throughout a turgid game of football.
On the Saturday Saints travelled to non-league East Kilbride, a first ever trip to a stadium tucked away inside a country park with surrounding fir tree forest, a glorious setting for a game of football on a very pleasant afternoon completely spoiled by Saints attempts at playing the sport, and we were effectively eliminated from the competition after losing a penalty shoot-out following a scoreless draw.
Three days later, same story but this in time at Cliftonhill as we toiled to a 0-0 draw but won the penalties, not that it mattered as we were out of the competition anyway by this point. In four matches against poor/very poor lower league opposition we had gathered a pitiful six points, and in three matches against League 2 or non-league opposition we managed one goal, a penalty kick.
The team is simply nowhere near good enough. Once again we have no left back. Are we allergic to signing players in that position? Has the Ian Harte farce spooked Gus MacPherson so much he is now unable to scout left backs? The wee guy in the Sixth Sense could see dead people, can MacPherson only see Ian Harte playing a one two with Denis Wyness when managers ask him about left full back position?
We also have no wingers on our books, again. That’s right; a top flight professional football club have no wingers with the season starting next week. How we have managed to land back to more or less exactly the point we were in when Alan Stubbs had control over transfers, like a blind man poking a knitting needle in a fish tank looking for supper, is beyond me and I go back to my serious worry about the season ahead.
I realise criticism is looked upon unfavourably by some supporters, but the on-field issues we currently have are not the fault of the manager, the previous manager or the players as has been the case in recent years. For example when Jack Ross took over, he inherited a mess left by Alex Rae and players that didn’t care about the club. Same with Kearney, this time it was a Stubbs V9 shaped turd left at Ralston.
On this current occasion however, the mess is the fault of people in the boardroom. A self-inflicted wound caused by indecision about who the manager was going to be for this season, and then a sacking so late it is bordering on reckless.
For the fans that have paid their season ticket money once again, it is pathetic we have to watch this unfold with no explanation. If the money we have paid up front in good faith that it would help whoever the manager was build a team has now been used to pay off Kearney and Heaton, it will be the last season ticket I purchase until the fans completely own the club.
Top six or four ambition is also delirious talk when the manager can barely put a team on the park, please stop that nonsense now. My advice to the board is get it sorted quickly or you will find out the fans pockets are about as deep as our left back list.