Season 1885/86 proved to be the most difficult so far in the short history of the club, with multiple player issues leading to a terrible run of results in the new calendar year where the team lost 16 of their 19 matches played, including 10 losses in a row.
The exact reason for this collapse of form and first team indiscipline (including failure to train or even turn up for matches) is unknown, however at the outset of the season long term captain and vital part of the team John Paterson emigrated to Australia, leaving a considerable vacuum to fill within the club.
In these days a captain was more than a token gesture who called “heads or tails” before the game; on the field of play he was effectively the manager and would change formation, tactics and general style of play if required and even choose team replacements if there were any late call offs. Any team talk would also be his responsibility, so the departure of Paterson would have had a massive impact on the dressing room if not replaced correctly.
The reputation of the club took a hammering during this campaign and Saints status undoubtedly slipped from being one of the best in the whole of the UK, something remarked upon by the Athletic newspaper who referred to Saints as being in a “sorry” state following the 4-0 defeat to Dumbarton in February 1886.
The threat of this collapse was significant for an 8-year-old club with no real history. If the issues continued into the following seasons, it was entirely feasible that St Mirren wouldn’t exist much longer as other clubs just wouldn’t want to play a side that regularly couldn’t field a full first team, and what use is a football club that can’t play matches?
However, when the first team did turn up, the supporters could be reassured that they were a match for anyone in the country, recording significant results against Arthurlie, Renfrew and Rangers but this was overshadowed by the catastrophic loss of form. On the plus side however, a number of younger players got a chance to shine, including J Langmuir who chipped in with 6 goals and the introduction of Greenhill Road born James Hill, who would have a great professional career in England, and was best friend with future Saints legend, James Dunlop.
A benefits match was held on the 13th against Morton for long standing club captain John Paterson as he was emigrating to Australia. Paterson had played in Saints first ever match in 1877 and made at least 140 appearances (the line ups for many matches are unknown at the outset of the club) therefore the 5000 crowd was richly deserved for one of the early club legends.
Abercorn refuse Saints offer of a Paisley Charity Cup replay and the trophy is “officially” given to the Buddies despite the members voting against accepting it! The history books will show Saints as winners for that season, however.
The annual Saints sports event, which had grown in stature to be considered one of the best athletic competitions not only in Scotland but the whole UK, was another massive success over the weekends of the 18th and 25th July, with the final day attracting a crowd of 8,000 during exceptionally good weather. Saints were beaten in the final of customary 4 a-side tournament by Queen’s Park. Meanwhile at Cappielow, 2,000 watched the second teams of the same clubs fight out the final in Morton’s own athletic day, with the Spiders winning 1-0 against Saints.
On the 31st, Saints players said farewell to captain John Paterson during a ceremony held at John Drew’s house in Gilmour Street where a “well filled purse with sovereigns” was presented to the clubs early record appearance holder.
Saints officially kick off the season with a 2-1 win over Glasgow side Northern on the 22nd. Four days later at the SFA HQ in Glasgow, the Paisley derby is drawn in the Scottish Cup, where Abercorn will have home advantage the following month.
After the first attempt at the Scottish Cup Derby is rained off on the 12th, Saints are knocked out the following week in front of 6,000 at Blackstoun Park as Abercorn win another crucial derby between the clubs.
Saints were next at Scottish Cup holders Renton, however after a number of first team players failed to turn up for training, the committee picked a second XI which lost 5-1.
The club committee continues to pick a second XI for first team matches, and the experimental side loses 7-5 at Cappielow after leading 4-1 at half time at the start of the month. Eventually the full first team is reinstalled and beat Cartvale before drawing with Renton and then thrashing Renfrew 7-2 in the first round of the Renfrewshire Cup.
With call ups for the county select, a weakened Saints are well beaten at Easter Road on the 7th, however once the team is back to its strongest large wins are recorded over Port Glasgow Athletic and the 1st Renfrewshire Rifle Volunteers, based in Greenock.
Saints are involved in more cup drama as the fine 3-1 Renfrewshire Cup win at Arthurlie on the 12th is appealed by the Barrhead club due to D Marshall allegedly striking Hamilton of the ‘Lie. On the 23rd December, the Renfrewshire FA vote 8-7 to annul the result and order it to be replayed on neutral ground, despite the Arthurlie player having landed the first punch and Marshall retaliating!
On Boxing Day the teams met again and Saints would win once more, this time 4-3 in front of 3,000 at Cartvale Park in Johnstone.
The farce and drama of cup competitions continued as Saints Renfrewshire Cup match at Port Glasgow on the 9th is postponed due to poor weather. A fortnight later, the snow is cleared from the Clune Park surface, and the match declared “on” by the home side, however the referee fails to show and as three Saints players missed the train it was agreed that the match shouldn’t be played.
However, the notorious reputation of the Port Glasgow support is then taken into consideration with a crowd of around 4,000 waiting on the action to start including 500 from Paisley, therefore the two club captains decided that to prevent a riot they would play a “friendly” and split the gate receipts.
Half an hour late and in fading light, the teams play out a short match won 4-2 by the home side, but the drama has only started as Port Glasgow refuse to split the takings from the match, so Saints treasurer, Mr Douglas, “scooped” around £20 from the counting table into his pocket during the arguments. On attempting to board the train back to Paisley, Saints directors were subjected to a barrage of abuse from their Port Glasgow counterparts and the Paisley men are subsequently escorted to the Police Station accused of theft!
The Police decide that it is a matter for the courts and release the St Mirren men without charge, leaving all the money with Port Glasgow’s treasurer. However, the news had already reached Paisley by that Saturday evening and there is outrage in the town about their treatment, so much so that supporters instructed local lawyers to sue Port Glasgow Athletic for the cost of travel and entry to the match (a total of 2s 6d per person) due to the “illegal” advertising of the match as a “cup tie”!
The match was rescheduled for the following Saturday, however even 24 hours before kick-off it was unclear if the match would go ahead as no referee would commit to taking the fixture due to the violence faced by match officials at Clune Park! The Port Glasgow committee had agreed beforehand to pay St Mirren for monies owed however, if the Paisley side fulfilled their commitment to the scheduled match against their club later in the season. The Athletic would win the cup tie 4-1 on the last day of the month.
Saints are in the middle of a proper crisis, as disputes with players and internal fighting really begins to impact on the team and reputation of the club. Most weeks since Autumn, first team players consistently hadn’t turned up for training or home matches and “missed” the train to away matches leaving a seriously weakened first team with reserves, or on at least two occasions, matches played with less than 11 players. The situation had escalated to the point that former half back, Robert Whyte, who had retired several years ago after breaking his leg, had to play against Johnstone on the 26th, as did third choice keeper Hindle.
The team lost all fixtures in February, following on from an equally dreadful January, and would eventually lose 10 consecutive matches before the committee managed to sort out the dressing room issues that was putting the potential future of the club at risk.
The team loses the final 2 matches of the 10-game losing streak before important players especially from the forward-line return to the team and spectacularly turn Saints form around with an 8-2 win over Arthurlie and a 6-3 thrashing of Rangers in late March.
Saints good form continues with a 5-3 win over Thornliebank in the semi final of the Paisley Charity Cup, but with several county matches organised where St Mirren players were prominent, the team loses form and doesn’t win again during the season, losing another 6 consecutive matches.
In the fifth of these matches, and the final of the Paisley Charity Cup, Saints lose 2-1 to Arthurlie in front of hostile crowd at Blackstoun Park where the Abercorn fans once more lend their support to the opposition making it an uncomfortable afternoon for Saints players.
A grim season comes to an end on the 5th of June when Saints travel to Dundee to take on Wanderers and lose 3-2 with only nine men as two players and the reserves didn’t turn up for the train from Gilmour Street, summing up perfectly the disastrous campaign.