Pre-Season Diary

The dreaded pre-season. A time when football supporters are forced to live without watching their team play competitively for over two months, a modern day punishment of medieval proportions for first world people like us.

As we approach the end of this period, a full ten weeks since we clinched safety at Easter Road at the start of May and only a few days before the booze-fest that will undoubtedly unfold down the coast at Stranraer, I take the opportunity to look back at what has always been a busy period in football despite the lack of matches, and probably will continue to be off the field before the end of the transfer window in late August.

This pre-season for Saints has been a bit different from the previous one as we don’t have Alex Rae leading the team, which despite his claim that he is the best thing to happen to Paisley since mass production of thread, in reality I would expect a Boys Club to be better prepared for the season than Saints were last term.

An unnamed source, who is not close to any players or employees of the club, allegedly told me that Rae’s pre-season included tactical and motivation preparation exercises that consisted of watching VHS copies of SurWaltur leading old Ranjurs to nine a row, and the physical side was merely racing up the Braes as fast as possible to see which one of the players could catch a glimpse of Ibrox from the car park in the sky.

“Mr Rae, eyes can sees it, eyes can see the big woof of the main stand!” exclaimed Ryan Hardie excitedly as he reached the top of the Braes, and the boss resplendent in his full 1992/93 replica Rangers strip smiled and said. “Listen……Ryan sees it first, 20 Broxi bear points to him”.

Allegedly this was what happened last season, but I couldn’t get an actual proper source to confirm so it will need to remain as mere speculation for the moment.

Of course, there was some doubt that Jack Ross would oversee pre-season training at all this year when the third most relevant club on Tayside, Dundee, attempted to poach the Saints manager at the end of May, and this remains probably the most significant moment of the 2017/18 pre-season, but it was only one of many things that occurred since that draw at Easter Road on the sixth May, starting only a few days later:

8th May – Adam Eckersley, or ‘Ecks’ as he’s cunningly known to those imaginative footballers, signs a new two year contract. Good news this, the martial arts expert has been a dependable performer since joining late in the January transfer window, and we will now see if his date with destiny against Veteran Falkirk Vampire Lee Miller will result in the left back being victorious.

10th May – Jamie Langfield signs a new one year deal as player/coach. The popular alternative language guru will be able to dedicate a lot more of his time next season on coaching as he doesn’t have to explain to Ryan Hardie every day that the word “goal” is transferable between Gaelic and English. Unlikely to be needed in goals next season, however he is said to be practising dropping crosses just in case.

12th May – Double signing Drama KLAXON! Cammy Smith and Gary MacKenzie sign again in a fantastic piece of business by the club. Smith makes his loan move from Aberdeen permanent on a two year deal, whilst MacKenzie, now called Barron Von Bankhouse, signed only for a year but this is mainly due to his supposed entry into Mr Universe 2019.

18th May – Stevie Mallan is sold to Barnsley. The news we all feared came true, and the dashing prince left the lush green fields of Renfrewshire for the probable foggy harsh industrial backwater of Barnsley. But as fog brings Sky money as long as it is not Scottish fog, Saints can no longer compete with the English lower leagues and our best players are destined to be snapped up by clubs we thought were part of a bad joke played by Shoot! magazine in the 1980’s. Never mind though, as the English minnows get millions upon millions lumped upon them by Sky Sports, they give us David Tanner. They hate us, waken up people!

24th May – Double signing drama KLAXON part two. Jordan Kirkpatrick and Ross Stewart mark I sign from Alloa and Albion Rovers respectively. Kirkpatrick is a midfield playmaker that worked under Jack Ross at Dumbarton and Alloa, and Stewart is a keeper.

26th May – Double signing drama KLAXON part three. Gregor Buchanan and Ross Stewart II sign. Buchanan was previously a centre half at Dumbarton, and highly rated by their support, although he will have to be reminded that time wasting at every opportunity including the warm up and half time as Dumbarton have done for years under Stevie Aitken is not going to be acceptable at Saints. As for Stewart (the forward) if this was a signing made by certain former Saints managers I would be inclined to think they panicked and genuinely thought they had signed the “wrong” Ross Stewart and just to make sure just signed the other. However Jack Ross is much better prepared than that, although for some reason this “second” Ross Stewart somehow caused much confusion for a section of Saints fans who simply could not understand how two people in a planet of 7 billion humans could possibly have the same name. What’s next? People with the same birthday?

27th May to 1st  June – Jack Ross Gate.

The drama unfolded when Neil McCann initially decided that his temporary spell as Dundee boss would end and he would return to TV ‘punditry’ a few days after the Scottish Premiership season ended.

The alarm bells for Dundee should have been ringing immediately at this point. McCann, a Scottish internationalist and decent player in his day, had decided that an actual career in football with Dundee was less appealing than spending every weekend in the company of David Tanner.

McCann of course changed his mind on this decision, but not before Dundee and their bungling managing director John Nelms made public knowledge of his willingness to track down a holidaying Jack Ross and offer him their vacant manager’s post. In typical Dundee fashion however, they made a complete arse of this. On the 30th May they asked Saints permission to speak to Ross, and this was immediately and publicly rejected by Gordon Scott, much to the utter horror of some Dundee supporters as Saints were somehow denying Ross the opportunity to manage one of the true world greats of football, a Tayside superpower that had Real Madrid in their sights and had just sold their fifty thousandth season ticket for a twentieth consecutive shot at the Champions League.

Some Dundee fans howled in complaint that Jack Ross was a Dees supporter (debatable) and Dundee are a much bigger club than Saints (very debatable) and we were therefore stopping his and their destiny of ruling world football again, if not the Universe itself. In Dundee speak that is just being better than Dundee United, which appears to be the extent of their ambition.

We could debate all day who is the bigger club, but in terms of success Saints have performed considerably better than Dundee since League Construction in 1975, finishing above the Dens Park club in 60% of the seasons since, appearing in five more seasons in the top flight and winning two major trophies to nil. Dundee however lead in their most successful category of the past 40 odd years, insolvency events, with two administrations scored to Saints none.

Anyway, back to Atletico Dundee FC’s pursuit of Jack Ross. Not content with ‘No’ for an answer in talking to the Saints manager, John Nelms boarded a plane and headed for Spain to find the in-demand cardigan model, who was apparently holidaying in Cyprus. Nice work John.

The American, who allegedly had a bid for Saints rejected by Stewart Gilmour a few years ago, informed the Dundee Courier of his plans, a newspaper that makes the Paisley Daily Express look like the greatest daily publication ever produced, who then indirectly told all of Scottish football that the Dens Chief was now in violation of SFA rules and effectively ‘tapping up’ a contracted manager without permission.

Whether Nelms found Cyprus based Jack Ross in Spain remains unclear, but rumours from Dundee supporters filtered out that the Super Sleuth offered the Saints manager the same salary he was on at Paisley. Nelms sure knows how to woo a Scotsman.

Jack Ross then decided to make his own intervention and stated his intention to stay at Saints, and Dundee housewives fainted at the news the west coast manager of a diddy club could knock back the biggestest club in the whole wide world.

A few days later, Dundee appointed Neil McCann permanently, with the former Scotland winger deciding even managing the administration experts was indeed better than being stuck in a hut with David Tanner rocking back and forth saying ‘old firm’ for no reason every 30 seconds.

Realising that he was in a bit of potential bother for tapping up Jack Ross, Nelms attempted to cover his tracks, claiming he was in fact going to Spain to look at signing targets despite the Spanish season having ended, and stated that although the Saints boss was a good manager he was never first choice. Right you are then John boy.

My favourite bit however was the Dundee chief then said that should Ross continue to develop as a manager, then one day he could be considered as Dundee boss. In other news Nelms also claimed he can pick and choose when he wins the national lottery, but last Saturday was no use to him as he had to ask Barcelona if Messi had honed his skills enough to have a crack at forcing his way past Marcus Haber and into the Dundee starting XI.

How lucky is Jack Ross though? If he leads Saints to promotion, he might be lucky enough to manage a ‘big club’ like Atletico Dundee. That’s a bit like graduating from University with a journalism degree and getting a job at the Dundee Courier.

7th June – Disaster is on the horizon as Div announces on Twitter that his eagle eyed son has noticed that Stelios Demetriou has removed “St Mirren FC” from his Instagram bio. For those of you not aware what Instagram is, lucky you. However, the act of deleting “St Mirren FC” from his bio is almost the modern day equivalent of removing your name from your front door, and I certainly believed the Cypriot sensation had sadly played his last match for the club.

10th June – Rumours circulate that Stelios may still sign the contract offered by Saints, but the news is overshadowed by the returning League Cup winning goal keeper, Craig Samson, aka The Ginger Ninja. Adam Eckersley accepts the challenge.

11th June – One of those worse kept secrets in football moments, as the club announces over its social network platforms that former Queen of the South forward Gavin Reilly signs from Heart of Midlothian. Within a few minutes, all traces of the news are removed and this greatly confuses a number of people.

12th June – With a massive sense of de ja vu, the club announces again that Gavin Reilly has signed for Saints. For some fans this news is too much and they believe it is a second Gavin Reilly that has signed, like the Ross Stewart situation, and the club are bizarrely collecting footballers with the same name. It turned out simply that the paperwork was not completed the day before and that’s why the earlier news was deleted.

In other news, despite being as hesitant as Lawrence Shankland eating a salad, Stelios signs for Saints for another season and the world is suddenly a beautiful place again. He probably also updated his Instagram Bio, but I am still waiting on Div confirming.

14th June – In shock news, Lewis Morgan is linked with a move to an English club called Burton Albion, but initially this is laughed off by most Saints fans as we assume they are the works team of the High Street fashion store. I mean what next? Razzle Dazzle Rovers chase Kyle Magennis?

Much to our surprise however, Burton Albion are a real football club incredibly playing as high as the English Championship. If ever proof that Sky money has created the most false transfer markets in history, here it is.

Saints rejected the offers for Morgan; allegedly a maximum of £250k plus the usual sell on %, and on Twitter a Burton Albion fan warned me that they won’t go higher, as if we should be somehow grateful that the minnows were interested in one of our players in the first place and had bid buttons for him.

Who knows where this will end, but Morgan is far too good to be playing for dross like that. To paraphrase English lower league fans, I wouldn’t let ‘my Nan’ sign for Burton Albion never mind a talent like young Morgan.

15th June – Gary Irvine extends his contract by another year, although to be honest I think most people already thought he had done that anyway! The right back had a splendid end to the previous season once he moved from left back, and along with Demetriou and Eckersely will provide quality and versatility in the full back areas.

17th June – Andy Webster stays on as coach after retiring as a player in May 2017, and the man with the most carefree running style since Theresa May discovered wheat fields will be able to relay his vast experience to the players at the club.

18th June – Rumours that Rory Loy will leave Dundee and sign for Saints emerge from a Dundee fans twitter account, however the forward is also linked with a move back to his former club Falkirk so it is unclear what the future holds for Loy. A few days later he is pictured with the Grangemouth Cannibal, Lee Miller, and immediate fears for his upper body are raised.

20th June – Some real unease is erupting on social media and the fans forums about the lack of information on the new kit, to be supplied by Spanish firm Joma. One poster on Black and White Army, known only as the mysterious ‘Shull’ is particularly irate about this fact, and has been asking for a new kit since about the start of April. Whoever this ‘Shull’ is, I assume they are already stocked up in full preparation of Armageddon with enough powdered milk and tinned fruit to survive several years.

21st June – As it is rumours season after all, Harry Davis is said to be signing for the club. He would be a very welcome permanent addition to the club of course, but will need something more concrete for most of us to really believe at this stage. If he was spotted in a local supermarket that would do it.

22nd June – The new strip situation hits ‘DEFCON Alex Bone one on one with keeper’, i.e. one of nightmare proportions for some Saints fans, as the rumoured release of the new kit on this day does not materialise. Whispering begins that the aforementioned ‘Shull’ has went AWOL and kidnapped Lewis Morgan, with his ransom demands simply; “New kit. Now.”

23rd June – In what seems like a hastily flung together tweet, something that looks like an artist’s impression of the new kit is revealed by the club. A few minutes later another desperate tweet is sent out with a computer generated picture of a strip without sponsor and the wrong colour of numbers on the back. In completely unrelated news, Lewis Morgan is spotted safe and well at Ralston.

26th June – Another former Queen of the South forward, Dale Hilson joins on a 6 month deal.

June 30th – The home strip goes on sale, and much to the surprise of everyone the away strip is also available despite no official launch. The Croatia ‘red and white checker’ style jersey is not to everyone’s taste, but then again neither is the predominately black home strip. With his work seemingly done, ‘Shull’ is rumoured to be seen running down Greenhill Road with strips in every size muttering to himself “the precious”. The team kick off their mini Highland tour with a 5-0 win against Clachnaccudin.

2nd July – Saints final match in the Highlands sees them trounce a young Nairn County side 9-0 with eight different scorers including striker Ross Stewart, and the hundred or so Saints fans burst into a chorus of “Two Ross Stewarts”, whilst at least one of them is utterly bamboozled as to why a goalkeeper is playing up front.

4th July – The day starts off badly for many Saints fans including myself, when the Green Day gig at Bellahouston Park is cancelled. Apparently, the Scottish promotion company hadn’t considered rain in the summer in Scotland. A bit like thinking the most famous Morton fan, The Cat Man, won’t eat rats during Wimbledon and will dine only on caviar. That sort of inept planning deserves a place in the boardroom of the SFA or SPFL to be honest.

With this cancellation, the opportunity to see Saints take on management poaching failures Dundee presented itself, and in the lead up to the game the Dens Park club freed Rory Loy who immediately signs for the banjo duelling Bairns of Falkirk, who allegedly presented him with a Morris Maxi as thanks for signing. It is disappointing news for Saints and undoubtedly makes the Barns stronger into the bargain, the first real negative transfer deal of the summer so far.

The Dundee match kicked off, and as I collected my ticket late I was not in my usual seat near the scoreboard, but closer to the dugouts, which provided much entertainment as the game developed.

A quick look at the team sheet seen the Dens Park side give opportunities to a few trialists, including a centre half (number 17) who I am still 100% certain was not a footballer and some kind of enforcer for organised crime, and it is no exaggeration that he could have been sent off three times during the sixty or so minutes he spent on the park due to an incredible number of late and reckless challenges that certainly did not belong on a football park never mind a friendly.

However he was not the only one in Dark Blue that was determined to have a scrap. At half time they brought on a chunky player extravagantly called Randy Wolters, shipped directly from WWII where he was an American Private in the US army from Arkansas, and the permanently angry winger went about trying to boot anything in black and white that moved.

Big Randy was joined on the field by Lewis Spence, not the dancer of similar name but another raging roaster who should also have walked within five minutes of being on the field for a series of offences including deliberately swinging an elbow and catching Stephen McGinn.

Kyle Magennis was then heavily clattered by a player called Kerr Waddell (I swear I am not making these names up) and by this point it was really heating up in the dugout area.

In the first half, Saints fans and management team had taken exception to the tactics of Dundee manager/TV pundit Neil McCann, and he had spent around five minutes arguing with fans and staff on Saints bench, including a hilarious two minute long “growl” I think aimed at Jamie Langfield, where the fluffy looking Dens manager was acting like a five year old, coincidentally the same age as his beloved Ranjurs.

He was joined by his assistant manager, a mouthy glaikit looking character I assume was David Tanner, who seemed to want to argue and jostle with anyone around him providing clear evidence of why Dundee are a team of cloggers on the field. By the time Magennis had been clearly injured,  McCann was having a long argument with a Saints supporter in the main stand, who turned out to be former match announcer Phil. I know who my money was on.

Genuinely though, I have no idea why Dundee were so wound up. Was it us knocking them out the cup in January? Was Neil McCann angry that Jack Ross had knocked back Dundee, making him choose between a real job in football or a higher paid one, albeit with massive downside of meeting David Tanner frequently and Jim White occasionally? Was he still raging that Brendan Rodgers said that Saints were the second best side in Scotland, overlooking his beloved Ranjurs? Or is it simply that Dundee play like that all the time. If it is the latter, they will be looking at comfortably double figure sending offs next season.

The match itself was good for a friendly despite the strong arm tactics from Dundee, who scored twice in the first half from two corners following diabolical defending from Saints, and then added another with their third shot at goal just after half time, all of this whilst the home side created and wasted multiple opportunities and were kept out by a fine display from Scott Bain in the Dundee goal.

The Paisley side eventually did score through Gavin Reilly, to which someone behind me asked “which one?”, and I prayed he was joking. The match ended 3-1 to the Dees, but will do the team no harm longer term due to the intensity of the game, and the slackness of our defending which will undoubtedly be worked on before the season kick offs.

5th July – Meanwhile on the Black and White Army forum, the lone wolf ‘Shull’ allegedly starts a campaign to have the 2018/19 kits revealed and made available this month in the event next summer is cold.

8th July – It is announced on the morning of the Alloa match that Kyle Magennis will be out for around two to three months, a result of the unnecessarily dirty tactics of Neil McCann in the friendly. Perhaps this news has the team on a downer, and a bleak 0-0 draw against Jim Goodwin’s side is played out much to the annoyance of Jack Ross going by his post-match comments.

9th July – Fans open day, and a great opportunity for the younger fans to meet the players, culminating in a queue longer than a Joe Miller story from the 1877 Cub into the street below, with the club shop also doing brisk business. Later in the day, further rumours emerge that Harry Davis is set to sign for the club, however his Dad was also appointed Leyton Orient manager and this could be significant.

12th July – As news emerges of Josh Todd dislocating his shoulder, a Saints XI consisting of trialists and fringe players lose 5-1 against Ross County. All focus is now on Stair Park on Saturday and the start of the new season.