Name: Billy Abercromby
Date of Birth: 14th September 1958
Place of Birth: Ruchill, Scotland
Signed: 1st May 1975 from club youth ranks
Departed: 3rd December 1988 to Partick Thistle
Debut: 13th March 1976 v Forfar Athletic (5-0)
Final Match: 30th September 1987 v Tromsø IL (0-0)
Honours: Anglo Scottish Cup 1980
Scottish Cup 1987
Hall of Fame Inductee
1 Scotland U21 Cap
Billy Abercromby joined St Mirren in July 1975 as a 16-year-old, signed by Alex Ferguson who was determined to build a young side to help re-establish the club back in the top division. Born in Glasgow, Abercromby had no natural allegiance to Saints, but in time would become one of those players almost immediately associated with the team and town, where his popularity remains intact decades after he left the club.
Initially Abercromby was gently introduced to a first team squad already teeming with outstanding young midfielders such as Billy Stark, Tony Fitzpatrick and Lex Richardson, so would play in a variety of positions in his early years at the club including left back and wing, however on the 27th November 1976, the recently turned 18 year old replaced Richardson in the 68th minute of a 3-0 home win over Arbroath, the first of 368 matches the man known as “Aber” would make for Saints.
Over the next few seasons Abercromby would establish himself as a first team regular and eventually become a mainstay in the central midfield position, where his reputation in the media as an uncompromising ball winner rather harshly overlooked his technical and passing ability, indeed in Abercromby’s biography, former teammate Frank McAvennie compared him to Ghanaian international Michael Essien.
However, despite a rather slight build, toughness was an undoubted part of Abercromby’s game, and all the Northbank had to do was chant “Aber’s gonna get ye” to let the midfielder know that another unfortunate opposition player needed dealt with, and with his boyish grin and twinkle in his eye, Abercromby would nod to the terracing in agreement that someone needed ‘sorted out’.
Probably the most famous occurrence of this happening was during a Scottish Cup tie against Dundee Utd in March 1985 after goalkeeper Campbell Money was left unconscious following a collision with Utd forward Paul Sturrock. A short time later, Abercromby had scythed down the Scotland forward and as he lay stricken in the mud, the Saints midfielder grabbed the man nicknamed “Luggy” (for good reason), by his left ear and slammed his head back into the mud, all on the blindside of the referee of course.
Several decades later, Celtic fans would steal this chant for giant Guinean defender Bobo Balde, and as fearsome as the French born centre back was, Abercromby would likely have had no issue in dealing with him. In fact, there would have been little doubt Abercromby would have won any battle between them, size or reputation mattered not a jot to the Saints man.
On another occasion in 1987, probably the most renowned “hardman” in European football at the time, Graeme Souness, by then player-manager of Rangers, advised Abercromby during a match at Love Street that he couldn’t wait to get the Saints man “back to Ibrox” to which a laughing Aber merely replied, “Why wait, I’m here now?”. Suffice to say, nobody from Rangers including Souness ever got the better of Abercromby.
As much as this all endeared him greatly to the Saints support and added an element of notoriety to Abercromby with others, these incidents however decried the achievements of the player. Although he played a few matches in the successful 1976/77 season where Saints won the First Division, it was not enough appearances to obtain a winners medal, despite starting his first match for the club on the 8th March 1977 during a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone, however this was the last of his three appearances that campaign.
However, a few years later, Aber was a regular as Saints almost sensationally won the Premier Division but had to settle for 3rd place after a late collapse, although were consoled by becoming the only Scottish winners of the Anglo-Scottish Cup, where Abercromby played the 2nd leg of the final as Saints thumped English top tier side Bristol City 5-1 on aggregate.
The following season, Saints played their first ever match in European football when they were drawn against Elfsborg of Sweden in the first round of the UEFA Cup. On the 17th September 1980, the Paisley men travelled to Scandinavia for the first leg, and after Doug Somner had scored the first ever goal in European competition by a Saints player just before half time to level the tie, Abercromby popped up in the 72nd minute to secure the clubs maiden win in Continental competition.
Saints successfully negotiated past the Swedish side, only to be paired with then French giants St. Etienne in Round 2, who had several world class players in their squad. Mostly mentioned from these matches are Michel Platini and Johnny Rep, however Patrick Battiston, Gerard Janvion, Christan Lopez and Jean-Francois Larios were also all regulars in the French national team at the time, and 11 of the 12 players who appeared at Love Street on the 22nd October 1980 for the French side were international players. The 0-0 draw secured by Saints that evening in front of just under 11,500 was received with moderate appreciation, perhaps underlining just how strong Saints were back then.
A fortnight later, Saints were beaten 2-0 in France, out the competition but far from disgraced as Abercromby played all 4 matches in Europe that campaign, his first lot of 11 appearances in European competition that decade for the Saints midfielder. Incidentally, St Etienne would knock out German giants SV Hamburg 6-0 in the following round.
In October 1986 however, Abercromby infamously was sent off 3 times in one match against Motherwell by referee Louis Thow, resulting in a 12-match ban, a £500 fine from Saints and a place on the transfer list from an angry Alex Miller who was manager at the time. Thankfully for Abercromby, Miller left for Hibernian a few months later and Alex Smith took over the team along with former Saints teammate Jimmy Bone, who advised the new boss to take Abercromby off the transfer list and make him captain as Tony Fitzpatrick was out for the rest of the season with a broken jaw.
Abercromby repaid the faith in both men entirely, when on the 16th May 1987, he led Saints to their third and most recent Scottish Cup success when Dundee Utd were defeated 1-0 in front of a crowd over 51,000 consisting of 30,000 plus Buddies. It was the pinnacle of a glorious spell for Saints following the appointment of Alex Ferguson in 1974, and Abercromby had played a part in all of it.
A few months later, on the 30th September 1987, Saints were back in Europe playing Norwegian side Tromsø in the European Cup Winners Cup 1st Round 2nd leg, protecting a 1-0 lead from the home tie. This Scandinavian city which lies 217 miles north of the Artic Circle would probably have been an unlikely setting for Billy Abercromby’s last kick of a football for St Mirren in his own mind, but after just 15 minutes of play, the Saints captain was stretchered off with a serious knee injury, replaced by old pal Tony Fitzpatrick and never seen again in the black and white of St Mirren.
More than a year later, Abercromby had battled back to fitness, but by then the old guard was all but gone, with Fitzpatrick now manager and forging a new route for the team as he attempted to build a vibrant new side to extend the good times experienced by the club in the past decade and beyond. History tells us it didn’t work, and relegation wasn’t far away, but before this happened Abercromby was sold along with Brian Gallagher to Partick Thistle on the 3rd December 1988 and end his love affair with Saints.
Short spells at Dunfermline, Cowdenbeath, Airdrie and East Stirling followed, but by the summer of 1991 at the age of just 32, injury had caught up with even Billy Abercromby and he retired from football. Tough times followed as he has battled alcoholism ever since, however St Mirren and Paisley have never forgotten their cup winning captain, and Abercromby has been inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame and had a street named after him at the site of old Love Street after a public vote. He may not have been born a Saints man, but Billy Abercromby identifies passionately as one of us and will always be a legend in the town.