1887/88

In what was a massive season for the club where they had to address the decline of the past few seasons or risk becoming ‘also rans’ before football became organised and professional in Scotland, the team responded with a magnificent season losing just 6 times in 39 matches, with 3 of these defeats coming with seriously weakened starting XI’s as players were rested before big cup matches.

Undoubtedly key to this resurgence was the return of half back John Paterson to the club and he slotted into the team as though he’d never been away. The club also had signed a trio of brothers; Tom, Bob, and James Brandon from Kilbirnie who featured most weeks as did the returning Tommy Johnstone from Abercorn to bolster Saints attack.

The success on the park led to supporters coming back in serious numbers and once again Saints had by far the biggest fanbase in the county, if not the whole of Scotland on a regular basis, with an average crowd this season from the 9 known of 17 home fixtures of 5,700. One match against Renton in the Scottish Cup witnessed a record 9,000 in the Westmarch ground, although multiple injuries occurred due to a collapsed roof, but already it looked like the Buddies were outgrowing their relatively new home.

The Renfrewshire Cup was won against Abercorn, rubber stamping Saints triumphant return as kings of Paisley and Renfrewshire. In the previous season, Saints had won just twice in 11 matches against the bigger Renfrewshire clubs, but this campaign seen a reversal of this with 2 defeats from the same number of matches.

It was the Scottish Cup however that caught the imagination and another one of those titanic struggles over multiple matches to progress, this time against Hearts, that had people from all over the UK focusing on the club due to the media storm that the matches created. Eventually, Saints progressed 4-2 in the fourth instalment, but again were knocked out in the latter stages by Renton who again went onto win the competition. There is little doubt had Saints managed to overcome the Dunbartonshire side in the last 16 they would have been overwhelming favourites to lift the cup, and this was another one that got away for the Buddies.

To highlight the dominance of Saints however locally, the Renfrewshire select sides featured players from Westmarch in all three matches, indeed St Mirren players gained 13 caps from these games, more than any other club.

Late in the season James Dunlop made his Saints debut against Albion Rovers at the age of just 17, testament to his ability and strength as the game back then had little protection for a ball player like Dunlop. The youngster would make a huge impact over the next few seasons as Saints attempted to gate-crash the Dunbartonshire and Hampden elite of Scottish football.

July 1887

The situation with former captain John Paterson takes another twist when the Paisley Express reports on the 4th of July that he is back in Scotland and looking for a new club. The following day, Saints players are presented with their medals and trophy in the Museum Hall after winning the Paisley Charity Cup in May.

At the end of the month, the annual St Mirren Sports Day took place, with Saints knocked out in the football by Abercorn on corner kicks after a 0-0 draw (an early method to decide matches before penalties).  The Abbies would go onto win the tournament.

August 1887

Before the season starts later in the month, Saints confirm the return of John Paterson to the club. Also joining will be forwards James and Robert Brandon, brothers of full back Tom Brandon who had appeared for the club at the end of the previous season. The team starts off with a 7-2 win over a Glasgow select and a 4-4 draw with Ayr FC.

September 1887

Saints take on Thornliebank in the first round of the Scottish Cup on the 3rd of the month, with the forward line further boosted by the return to the club of the nomadic Tommy Johnstone after a spell with Abercorn. A 2-1 win is recorded in the Renfrewshire village to progress the Buddies to round 2, with Bob Brandon scoring the winner. However, the story of the round belonged to Dykebar who beat Morton 5-2 at Thistle Park. The newest of Paisley’s clubs were showing that they could join Saints and Abercorn at the top table in Renfrewshire as well as adding a new dimension to the battle for dominance within the town.

The following Saturday was a big one for Saints with the visit of Port Glasgow Athletic to Paisley. If the club wanted to improve on their rapidly declining status in the county, they had to start getting results against the bigger sides in Renfrewshire, and the emphatic 6-2 win was a welcome indication of where Saints wanted to be.

The players would have another chance to put this right in the Scottish Cup when they were paired with Arthurlie in Barrhead in the second round of the Scottish Cup, but the teams couldn’t be separated at Dunterlie Park after a 3-3 draw in late September.

October 1887

In the month that signified the 10th anniversary since the start of the football club, Saints beat Arthurlie 4-1 in the Scottish Cup replay at Westmarch in front of more than 7,500 spectators on the first day of the month. This was the biggest attendance at the ground since the opening match against Queen’s Park in August 1883 and a very encouraging sign that the unbeaten start to the season was drawing the crowds back to watch the club. A visit to Hurlford in round 3 was the reward for this fine victory.

The following week presented the biggest test for Saints though with a visit to Blackstoun Park, home of bitter rivals Abercorn. Over 7,000 turned out for the match and following a magnificent first half performance by Saints they led 2-1 at the break, however The Zulus turned it around in the second half to win 4-2 and quell for the time being any thoughts Saints had of being the top club in town once more.

The following week, Saints travelled to Ayrshire for the 3rd round of the Scottish Cup but were too good for the hosts and returned to Paisley with a 4-2 victory. This left 22 teams in the competition, therefore the SFA decided to give 10 clubs a bye to the last 16 with the other 12 drawn against each and the 6 winners would join them in round 5. Saints luck was rotten however, missing the clubs given a free route and were paired with Hearts at Tynecastle for the tie of the round, scheduled for the 5th of November.

November 1887

This was an incredible month where Saints and Hearts meet four times to try and reach the fifth round of the Scottish Cup during a titanic struggle that captured the imagination of the entire UK and helped raise the profile of the club once more.

The first attempt to settle the tie was at Tynecastle on the 5th of November in front of 5,000 spectators, where a late Saints equaliser from McHardie ensured a replay in Paisley the following week. On that occasion 8,000 filled Westmarch and were treated to an epic cup tie where the Edinburgh side looked to have won it after taking a 2-0 lead, but Saints fought back again with two late goals, the second of which was so late the referee had to consider if it was before or after the whistle!

The SFA decided that the third match should be played the next available Saturday at Firs Park, home of East Stirlingshire in Falkirk. In front of the largest crowd ever recorded in Stirlingshire of 5,000, the teams once more drew 2-2, but after the match Hearts attempted to have Saints expelled from the competition on the grounds John Paterson deliberately injured a player. The SFA dismissed the protest and ordered the clubs to play again at Cathkin Park on the last Saturday of the month.

The coverage in the press by this point was incredible, spreading all over the UK. With Renton waiting on the winners, Saints finally settled the tie by winning the fourth match 4-2 to great fanfare in the press who considered the winners of the Renton match in Paisley the overwhelming favourites for the Scottish Cup now.

December 1887

There was no waiting around for Saints, and on the 3rd December Renton visited Paisley for the last 16 Scottish Cup match, attracting a record crowd of over 9,000 to the ground. So keen were fans to see the game, 13 were seriously injured after the roof of a clubhouse collapsed under the weight of the supporters. Renton of course had controversially knocked Saints out in 1884/85 at the same stage and after racing into a 2-goal lead that afternoon looked favourites to repeat this.

Second half goals from Fairlie and Bob Brandon levelled the match for the Paisley side however, the equaliser prompting great celebration to the extent the patrons of the Grandstand spilled onto the track, which was most un-Victorian! Saints pushed for a winner but were hit by a late counterattack by Renton which proved to be the winning goal. Again, Renton went on to win the Cup and were crowned “Champions of the World” a few weeks later when they beat FA cup winners West Brom in a challenge match. It must have been hard to take for anyone associated with Saints.  Abercorn however, remained in the cup, only to be knocked out in the semi final by eventual runners up Cambuslang.

The remainder of the month was quiet with only 2 fixtures, however in the first of them Saints knocked Morton out of the Renfrewshire Cup and a fortnight later, on Christmas Eve, they defeated Arthurlie, meaning they had lost only twice in the opening 18 fixtures of the season.

January 1888

The New Year kicked with a tour to the Northeast of Scotland, and three fixtures in as many days against Dundee Harp, Forfar Athletic and Perth side Fair City Athletics. Saints retuned to Paisley unbeaten scoring 14 goals, with the match at Station Park in Forfar finishing 7-5 under a blanket of snow and 3,000 locals eager to see St Mirren after their much-publicised Scottish Cup exploits against Hearts.

Following this tour, the almost annual “hangover” from New Year occurred with player unavailability, where Saints played with up to six reserves in matches, however this was surprisingly common for many clubs this particular January, and the Buddies still managed to win two of their three matches in the rest of the month, and were drawn on the 21st against Arthurlie in Barrhead for the semi final of the Renfrewshire Cup, to be played mid-February

February 1888

Following a defeat to Kilmarnock at the start of the month with another weakened team, Saints smartly returned to full strength the following week in Barrhead for the semi final of the Renfrewshire Cup and dished out a fine 4-0 hammering to the hosts. This secured a highly anticipated final against Abercorn, with the RFA having real issues choosing a venue for the final with status as the top club in the county at stake and the biggest grounds in Renfrewshire being the homes of both participants. Eventually, it was decided Cappielow would be the venue to the astonishment of the Paisley public due to the lack of capacity.

On the 17th, Saints hosted their first ever “smoking concert” at the Globe Hotel, a Victorian speciality where an audience entirely made of men enjoyed the various tobaccos on offer with the highlight of the evening a musical performance. It was reported to have been a great success allowing the diverse backgrounds of the club membership to acquaint themselves with each other.

March 1888

The whole month centred around the Renfrewshire Cup final and on the 24th and despite heavy snow in Paisley, 4 special trains provided by The Caledonia Railway Company left the town for Greenock for the match at Cappielow, boosting the crowd to 6,000 who watched an enthralling match end 2-2 and head to a replay on the 14th April. To reemphasise both the importance of the match and status of football in Renfrewshire, the match was refereed by the president of the SFA!

The Greenock Telegraph reported that the locals favoured Saints on the day (how that would change over the decades) but perhaps this was down to the now predictably physical play of Abercorn which left Saints hanging on in the last 10 mins with only 8 men due to injury.

April 1888

With the replay of the Renfrewshire Cup Final in mind, a weakened Saints side drew 3-3 with Albion Rovers in the village of Whifflet on the 7th April, a match worth mentioning for the Saints debut of James Dunlop who set up the opening goal for Langmuir. Dunlop would be the most talented player Saints produced that century and one of the greatest to ever appear in the black and white, but sadly tragedy is more identified with the future Scotland international than his football ability.

The following week, another 6,000 turned up at Cappielow with the same 4 special trains running from Gilmour Street for the Renfrewshire Cup final, but despite the physical approach from the Abbies once more, they were soundly beaten by the skill of Saints. The final score of 4-1 did not flatter the Buddies one bit and within a year they had moved from struggling to compete with multiple clubs in the county to the best once more.

The Abbies however seemed to overstep on this occasion, with two players committing fouls by punching Saints players, including an unprovoked attack on Tom Brandon that resulted in a fight with a dozen players as the Buddies man took exception to his treatment. This was a time when no yellow or red cards were used, and violence was seriously frowned upon. The RFA would now need to decide what to do about the scenes.

May 1888

The season finished with a surprise defeat to Dumbarton in the Greenock Charity Cup final at Cappielow, but there could be little doubt the campaign had been an overwhelming success and the club was once more in a very strong position nationally.

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