1883/84 was a season where Saints began to recognise their own potential and really grow as a club. The move to Westmarch and change to Black and White during the pre-season seemed to give everyone some extra impetus, indeed Saints only lost 2 of the 21 matches played at the new ground that season where the average crowd was over 4,000. Again, it should be reiterated this was for an amateur sport.
The English based Athletic newspaper appeared to be a great supporter of football in Paisley, and made regular comments on the crowds both Saints and Abercorn could pull from a much smaller population base than the Glasgow clubs, the only city in Scotland capable of matching what the Victorians nicknamed ‘Seestu’ at this point. The newspaper went as far as suggesting the SFA were using Paisley to make money, as it was the only place they could continually host trial matches and get crowds of 6,000 plus.
Saints seemed to heed these comments, as later in the season after a titanic struggle over 4 matches to beat Thornliebank in the Renfrewshire Cup final, they realised that although 90% of the 26,000 who turned out to watch all the finals were Saints fans, the Renfrewshire FA made 5 times want Saints did from the games, leaving them question if participation in this cup was worthwhile.
In the end though, Saints were victorious and lifted the Renfrewshire Cup again. The route to doing so had taken a gruelling 10 matches after a total of 5 replays, and a lot of sacrifice for Saints as many opponents figured the only way to stop them was by using brute force. Sadly, the career of talented half back Robert Whyte came to an end as a result of this following a broken leg in the 1st replay of the final after some appalling tactics from Thornliebank.
Off the field, the devastating news that Match Secretary, founding club member and ex player, Mr Walter Craig, passed away in January was met with shock in football circles as he was also chairman of the Renfrewshire FA and on the SFA executive committee. Mr Craig had played a key part in the development of the club as he had overseen recruitment, and in 1882/83 he took charge of the team being changed dramatically after heavy defeats at the start of the season. This decision helped keep Saints rising and avoid stagnation which eventually killed so many clubs early in the association football process, including Abercorn. This was survival of the fittest on a significant sporting level and Walter Craig is a real unknown hero of the clubs early days before a ‘manager’ was an actual employed position within football.
One of Mr Craig’s best decisions was to put young forward Andy Brown into the first team in August 1883 and he was repaid as the winger (who could also play as centre forward) scored at least 38 times during his maiden season. The reality is he probably scored more, but the details for 20 individual goals are unknown that campaign.
The Paisley Challenge Cup did elude Saints once more though, with Abercorn defeating the Buddies in the final match of the season at Westmarch. However despite this setback, the 1883/84 season can only be described as a success on the park and the rise of St Mirren continued with the universal opinion of the press being that they were now currently the top club in Paisley and Renfrewshire.
Former player and current club member George Gleghorn was presented with a Meerschaum pipe and a purse with sovereigns on the event of his emigration to Australia during an event held at the Globe Hotel on the 16th July 1883.
The 21st of the month witnessed the first ever public use of St Mirren’s new ground, named Westmarch, located only a few hundred yards from Thistle Park (and extremely close to the current ground) when the preliminary rounds of Saints annual Sports Day took place.
Despite heavy rain, over 3,000 turned out to what was described by the Athletic Newspaper as the “finest grounds” in the West of Scotland. Saints were knocked out of the 4-aside football competition by Third Lanark in the Quarter Final as Dumbarton won the overall tournament the following week, when 6500 were in attendance and the new 1200 capacity grandstand full. The takings for both days was just over £200, valued at around £30k today and a record for any such event at the time in the UK.
The draw for the Scottish Cup made on the 21st, including six clubs from Paisley, paired Saints with Caledonia of Thornliebank, the tie would be played the following month.
The 25th August signalled the start of the football season and the official opening of the Westmarch ground. For the first ever time, Saints would face Queen’s Park, the most famous club in the world at that point and up until now well outside Saints reach in terms of organising matches. A Paisley record attendance of between 8,000 and 9,000 turn out for the match won by Saints 2-1.
On the final day of the month, Saints were handed a tough start to their defence of the Renfrewshire Cup with a home match against the very uselful Port Glasgow Athletic to be played in two weeks time.
Saints progressed in both cup competitions, beating Caledonia 6-0 in the Scottish Cup on the 8th and 7,000 turned out the following week to see the tough Renfrewshire Cup tie against Port Glasgow result in a comfortable 3-0 win for the home side.
A fortnight later, Saints took on fellow Paisley side, Woodlands, who were a junior club based around the Gockston area of town in the second round of the Scottish Cup and as expected a large victory of 7-0 was recorded. The third-round draw was not so kind however to Saints as an away tie at Arthurlie was picked out the hat.
The first Paisley Derby of the season took place at Blackstoun Park in front of 6,000 spectators on the 13th October, and in a much better behaved contest that the previous one, resulted in a 3-1 win for Saints. The following week, Arthurlie provided much stiffer opposition, and knocked Saints out of the Scottish Cup third-round at Dunterlie Park.
At the start of the month Saints met Third Lanark at Westmarch and drew 3-3, it was first ever meeting between the clubs who would become regular opponents for the next 80 years. The draw for the Renfrewshire Cup paired Saints away with Glenpatrick of Elderslie, and the talk within the village of William Wallace’s birth was that their local heroes would knock out the holders. Saints were in no mood for shocks however and recorded a 10-nil win.
The final match of the month allowed Saints to return to their old Thistle Park ground, now home of Paisley Athletic, where a 3-1 win was achieved. Young Andy Brown scored once more in this match, taking his total for the season to at least 15 (The scorers of the 6-0 win over Caledonia are unknown) in just 14 appearances, this was the young wingers first of 13 seasons at the club.
The final month of the calendar year was a frustrating one for Saints. On the first day of the month, they thrashed Cambuslang at home 7-0, a result which raised many eyebrows as the Lanarkshire side had been unbeaten all season and were in the quarter finals of the Scottish Cup.
The following week though was a disaster for Saints, as they were beaten 5-1 by Port Glasgow Athletic in circumstances close to farcical. Only 8 Saints players made the train from Gilmour Street, so former player J Davis who was acting as Saints umpire (every club had appointed “umpires” who would contest decisions with the match referee) but hadn’t played for 2 years, stepped in to the starting XI as did young second XI player W Pollock.
This left Saints with just 10 players, with only the goalkeeper (Drinnan) and right winger (Imrie) playing in their usual positions during the reshuffle. To make things worse, Pollock suffered an injury at the start of the second period forcing the team to play with just 9 men for the remainder of the match. The defeat was therefore perhaps understandable, with the only positive being Brown scoring again taking his total to 20 for the season. He would eventually finish on 38 known goals. (20 goals throughout the season have no known scorer)
After a two week break due to poor weather, Saints took on the pride of Busby, Cartvale in the 3rd round of the Renfrewshire Cup. The Vale had been vocal in their need to “settle the score” with Saints following the 5-1 humiliation the previous season in the same competition, so much so they had used “special” preparation for the match.
What this appeared to be going by the Glasgow Evening Times the following day, was extreme physical measures including “holding, throwing and pushing” Saints players throughout the match to the extent that the paper recommended Saints asking the Renfrewshire FA for the visitors to be removed from the competition due to “ungentlemanly conduct”.
The match itself finished 2-2, with Fairlie heading a very late equaliser to preserve Saints unbeaten start at Westmarch to eight matches. The replay would be scheduled for January 1884.
Saints play Clyde at Westmarch on the 5th, however the referee does not turn up and once more farce ensues as the away team walk off at 2-2 in the second period. On the same day, Saints second XI take on Abercorn Second XI and attract a crowd of over 2,000.
Saints travel to Busby to take on Cartvale in the Renfrewshire Cup 3rd round replay on what is described as a “mud park” and the “worst” pitch in the county. Again Cartvale talk of revenge, but the teams can’t be separated despite a fine Saints performance following a 3-3 draw.
On the 16th January at the monthly Renfrewshire FA meeting, Saints secretary Mr Walter Craig and presiding county FA Chairman retires due to ill-health via letter. G Watt was called up to Renfrewshire County Squad, while George Drinnan and A Brown are selected as reserves.
The 19th of the month is a sad day for Saints as Match Secretary Walter Craig passes away at his father’s home in the town after a short illness. Later that day, the players finally beat Cartvale in front of 6,000 spectators at Westmarch to progress to next round of the Renfrewshire Cup.
The 2nd of February was a big day in the calendar as Saints took on Kilmarnock Athletic, both current holders of their respective county cups. The Athletic had several Scottish international players, including goalkeeper Inglis, but were thumped 4-1 by a rampant Saints at Westmarch.
A few days later, the club confirmed that current committee member, Mr John Orr, would take on all vacant roles following the death of Mr Walter Craig. Mr Orr would therefore become match secretary at St Mirren, chairman of the Renfrewshire FA and the clubs representative on the SFA committee.
Much excitement was evident on the 9th of the month when Dumbarton visited Paisley with their full team. The Sons were Scottish Cup holders and had beaten their FA Cup equivalents, Blackburn Olympic, in the unofficial “World Championship” by a score of 6-1. In 11 matches against top English clubs that season they would 8 times and were considered without exaggeration as one of the best teams in the world. With that introduction, it is probably no surprise that they left Paisley as the first team to defeat Saints at Westmarch at the 13th attempt and the score of 6-0 wasn’t a surprise either. Saints still had a bit to go to catch up with the established clubs in the country; namely Queen’s Park, Dumbarton, Vale of Leven and Renton, but then again so did everyone else.
The following week, the semi-final of the Renfrewshire Cup took centre stage at Thistle Park where Paisley Olympic faced Saints. The Buddies had struggled to overcome the junior side last season in the Charity Cup as the campaign extended well beyond normality, but on this occasion a comfortable 6-1 was recorded putting the club into another Renfrewshire Cup final.
As spring began Saints had only one focus, and that was to retain the Renfrewshire Cup. The final turned out to be an epic saga, with the first attempt to separate Saints and Thornliebank occurring on the 22nd of the month in front of 7,000 spectators at Blackstoun Park, home of Abercorn.
In usual circumstances the majority of the large crowd would be supporting Saints due to venue being in the town, however several thousand Abercorn fans lent their support to Thornliebank. The “Abbies” as they had been known since inception had procured the nickname “The Zulus” from Paisley Athletic and attached it to themselves and were making it known they had no time for Saints! The match was dull however, finishing 1-1 with Robert Fairlie heading Saints in front before the villagers scored late on to secure a replay scheduled for the 12th April.
On the 28th, Saints held their annual soiree, scheduled for the first ever time in the magnificent George A Clark Town Hall, which was recently completed and still obviously stands today. The usual dignitaries from across football were present including the secretary of the SFA and for this occasion, Mr J Lang from Abercorn after their absence last time around.
Off the field of play, Saints announce late in the month they will hold an amateur bicycle racing competition at Westmarch on the 19th of the month, showcasing the versatility of their much-admired new ground.
Saints start the month with a Paisley Charity Cup match against recently formed West End Athletic where they racked up a record 12-0 result with Andy Brown scoring 8 times; a score-line and individual goal total records that stood until 1960.
The following week, Thornliebank and Saints attempted for a second time to win the Renfrewshire Cup, but the match finished 2-2 after 30 minutes extra time and a third match is now needed to be scheduled. However, the bad news from the match was a broken leg suffered by Robert Whyte early in the game, following what was an another extremely physical approach from Thornliebank.
Putting aside the fact Saint played close to 120 minutes with just 10 men, the likelihood would now be that Whyte, a Renfrewshire County cap and spoke of as a potential full Scottish international, would now never play again as medical capabilities at this time were simply unable to heal completely this kind of injury. Indeed, so bad was the break that the Thornliebank player involved had to leave the field for a quarter of an hour to compose himself.
At the end of the 90 minutes, an already aggrieved Saints captain John Paterson asked the referee and umpires to allow the Paisley side to introduce a reserve to put the sides back to 11 v 11 as extra time was not part of the usual game, but his request was rejected adding to Saints feeling on injustice.
On the 17th of the month, the Renfrewshire FA met and voted for the third attempt of the final with Thornliebank to be played once more at Blackstoun Park on the 26th of April. If the teams are level after 90 minutes, they will again play an extra 30 minutes but if they are still level at this point a further 20 minutes will be taken to separate the sides. If at that point the teams remain level, the RFA would reconvene to decide the outcome.
Saints protested vigorously against this, and in the days that followed the written press country wide speculated that the Paisley side will now refuse to play the match, however the members of the club met in a special meeting on the 18th and agreed to fulfil the fixture, despite the majority of the first team concerned with 2 major injuries received against Thornliebank so far (Hutchison and Whyte) and multiple minor injuries.
On the 19th of the month, it was confirmed that half back Robert Whyte would never play football again due to the broken leg suffered against Thornliebank. Captain John Paterson stated, “We’d rather lose 20 cup finals than Bob Whyte”.
Perhaps predictably, on the 26th, the third final is drawn with Thornliebank after 90 minutes and 50 minutes extra time. The match finished 2-2, with a late equaliser from the ‘model villagers’ allowed to stand despite almost universal agreement it was offside. The clubs initially decided to share the cup for 6 months each, however this was overruled by the Renfrewshire FA who scheduled a fourth match on Thursday 8th May at Kinning Park, home of Glasgow Rangers.
The Paisley Derby is played on the 3rd of month at Westmarch with 6,000 in attendance. Despite trailing 2-0 approaching half time, Saints win a thrilling match 4-2 after Robert Fairlie nets a fine hat-trick.
Five days later, the fourth attempt at the Renfrewshire Cup Final takes place at the insistence of the County FA, bizarrely hosted in Glasgow outside of the region! Saints win this match 7-1, with the physical approach of Thornliebank finally put to the sword by Saints dribbling game, although helped by the width of Rangers playing surface which allowed the Saints forwards to destroy the villagers hopes.
The day following the match, Saints hinted at the Renfrewshire FA using them as a means to make money, with the association taking £135 (£20k) of the takings from the gate so far, compared to the £29 (£4k) allocated to Saints whose supporters had probably made up 90% of the 26,000 who had paid to watch the matches.
To make things worse for Saints, they had to cancel 2 fixtures that would have brought in £100 plus in gate receipts to play these replayed cup matches, meaning the club was now considering if participation in the cup and indeed membership of the Renfrewshire FA was worthwhile as it was costing the club money.
The season finished on the last day of the month with a 3-0 defeat at home to Abercorn in the Paisley Charity Cup final, a result not helped by Watt being injured in the first 15 mins and Saints playing with 10 men for most of the match. £40 was donated to the The Paisley Association for the Improvement of the Poor, £15 to the Paisley Ragged and Industrial School and £13 to the Paisley Infirmary.