So before a ball was kicked, April was confirmed as the league winning month. Six matches, and in any of them we could clinch the title. There wasn’t even a doubt we would do it in truth.
First up was a trip to Brechin, where victory coupled with anything but a win for Livingston against Morton would mean we would be Champions in Angus. Well over 2,000 Saints made the long trip, but it would be unfair of me not to mention positively Brechin on this day.
Anyone who reads this regularly will know I have a real disdain for certain clubs, in particular Dumbarton, so it is only fair when a club acts what I consider to be properly or with a bit of class it should be stated.
Eighteen pounds for me and my son to attend was the start, almost half the price we paid to get into Tanandice a few days later, but in general Brechin were as accommodating a club as you could imagine, even allowing the large Saints support to enter the home end when it became obvious the area reserved for us was not big enough.
The day before the match I bumped into Martin Smith, the Brechin Vice Chairman who allowed me and my son access to the ground, bought us a drink in the club bar and informed me he had purchased Champagne for our players in the event we won the league the following day.
There was no need for Martin to do any of this, so it is worth repeating again as the last part in particular is a touch of class. Had we the opportunity to win the league at Dumbarton for example, they would have given our players tap water and charged the club for the privilege.
The match itself had a kind of cup tie/party feel about it, with Saints taking the lead very early on thanks to a Kyle Magennis goal, and that was practically it at Glebe Park, with most of the excitement happening at Livingston as Morton took the lead to great cheers from Saints fans, went 2-1 down resulting in an eerie hush in packed Brechin, before equalising quite late on to reignite the party in Angus.
It wouldn’t be Morton however if they didn’t blow it, and with four minutes remaining Livingston scored the winner leaving Saints fans all dressed up with nowhere to go.
However with five matches remaining it was now in our hands, and all we needed was one point to clinch the title.
A few days later we headed back up the A9 in even larger numbers for the Tuesday night match against Dundee United, who were so far behind us by this point they had genuine concerns about even making the play-offs, yet somehow remained the media favourite to gain promotion along with Saints.
Saints however were caught off guard by a seriously physical United, reverting to neighbours Dundee pre-season tactics of basically kicking anything that moved in a Saints shirt, with the referee happily allowing them to do so.
In the heart of United’s team was Willo Flood, who committed more fouls in this particular match than the 1980’s are mentioned at Tannadice in one week, and yet I think he escaped a booking. I say think he escaped, as next to him in midfield was a Flood clone, a baldy little tool called Gillespie who ran about kicking folk also.
One of them got booked, not sure which one, but not since Right Said Fred played T in the Park has there been so many untalented bald men on a field in Scotland at the one time.
The referee, Andrew Dallas, son of the mega masonic man in black Hugh, was clearly struggling to cope with the amount of fouls United were committing and control the match, summed up perfectly when Bilel Moshni was even allowed to pick the ball up from the ground to stop Cammy Smith running through on goal. Decision? No booking of course!
Moshni came in for a lot of credit after the match from Saints fans, because he had a “good game”. Not sure I agree with that, if you throw chunks of tuna at a shark it doesn’t make it a great hunter, and we played into Moshni’s hands by shelling the ball to Mullen or Reilly allowing him to dominate with ease. Also, by his own standards any match were Moshni doesn’t cause multiple goals or a diplomatic incident is a good one for him.
To the key moment however in the match and Dundee United winger Billy King, aka The Monarch Gay, gave the Tannadice club the lead early on, a goal that turned out to be the winner and despite much effort from Saints they didn’t really look like scoring, especially in the second half allowing United to kick and pull their way to victory.
Csaba Lsazlo then managed to upset Jack Ross by saying something to Jamie Langfield near the end of the match, a big mistake as Langfield is of course an international language expert and can speak fluently in over 247 dialects, including pidgin Dundonian, eh?
What Lsazlo said however was actually deeply offensive as he begged Langfield to come out of retirement and play for the Tannadice club as their goalkeeping situation is so dire.
No wonder it upset so many of Saints coaching staff who are probably all friends with the big Keeper and wouldn’t wish a gig at Tannadice on their worst enemy, Stevie Aitken excluded.
However, what Lsalzo was really scared of that night was a football match breaking out as he knows we are miles better than them, so like Livingston and Dunfermline he opted for a kicking match, and it worked. All credit to the dinosaur.
So with two matches of the six now gone, next up was second placed Livingston at Paisley, and a sold out home end. In truth it wasn’t much of a match, but it finished 0-0 allowing the party to start, and the title was now secured.
Man of the match Gary MacKenzie was absolutely colossal, and was already bare chested going into injury time in preparation for the Bankhouse and Vienna’s later in the day.
For Ryan Hardie it was also a special day as David Hopkin had packed his Igglepiggle toy for the bus home, but at full time he had that almost permanent puzzled look on his face as though someone had told him that Dairylea isn’t the farmer’s son and is actually cheese.
So the celebrations could now begin, and an impressive lap of honour and sing song will live long in the memory even for a guy like me who has now witnessed three second tier Championship and two domestic national cups being won, so these will be key moments for younger fans who may be tempted by the dark side in the coming seasons.
In the days that followed, many congratulations were sent from most if not all clubs in the Division apart from one; rather predictably Morton, who we were playing a week from the Livingston match in the “Bow Down Derby”, but already their fans were getting themselves rather worked up about the match and the fact we were being presented with the Championship Trophy, more of which later.
A few days after winning the league, we played Falkirk at home in a rearranged match from what seemed like 2016, but by this point Craig Samson had went a club record eight matches without conceding at home, and in fact it was the 2nd December 2017 since he had lost a goal in Paisley, an impressive 136 days, which to put into perspective is six days longer than it took us to win a league match last season, a period which still feels like the longest in footballing history.
Jack Ross decided to really make changes however, and in truth it was close to a reserve side that played, with three players making their full debuts; Donati, Hippolyte and Hill, with Gary Irvine also playing for the first time since September.
The match itself was predictably drab, but the referee tried his best to brighten it up by giving both sides penalties that were quite frankly laughable, Hippolyte converted his easily in the 55th minute with ours, and in the 81st minute Samson produced a magnificent save from Falkirk’s attempt to keep his run of minutes without conceding going nicely.
However, perhaps the Saints players thought the match would now drift out, but finally after 830 minutes without conceding Samson was beaten by a goal as untidy as Paul Hartley’s face, and the only real target for the rest of the season was gone.
A few minutes later Falkirk scored again, prompting quite ridiculous over the top celebrations from their players in front of the Family Stand, but nobody really cared to be honest, and we now waited the few days until the trophy was awarded against Morton, where this match presented quite a dilemma for the Greenock club and their supporters.
Importantly for Morton, they had a chance of making the Play-Offs going into the match. That should have been enough for the Greenock fans to get behind their team you would think, but with us lifting the Championship trophy and the prospect of a “guard of honour” the Morton fans now had quite a problem separating their hatred for us over the need for supporting their own actual club when it mattered the most.
In the end, their negative feelings towards us won, and around 400 away fans turned up for the must win match for the Greenock club, about a third of what they have been taking to derbies the last few seasons, astonishing really when you think what was at stake for them.
The Saints end was of course sold out weeks ago, and the only thing that remained was whether Morton would give Saints that “guard of honour” and act like a proper grown up club.
Of course the Greenock side didn’t give us one, a decision apparently voted for by their players following a meeting presumably with Catman the night before.
To be honest, I really couldn’t care less about the guard of honour and I fully expected Morton not to give us one anyway. If a club is down to just over a thousand fans turning up at home, why risk annoying the hard-core any further? If the roles were reversed (stop laughing at the back) I would however be pretty appalled if Saints never clapped Morton onto the park, but we have far higher standards of course.
To the match, and Morton took a leaf out of Dundee United, Livingston and Dunfermline’s books by going ultra-physical on us, and I lost count of the number of fouls on Lewis Morgan alone by players merely just holding the wingers shorts or jersey.
Also, the Morton players looked well up for a fight and squared up to our players on a number of occasions, a bit like Scrappy Doo trying to take on a prize racehorse, but they still couldn’t stop us and Morton’s play-off hopes were soon like Alex Rae’s time at Saints, a distant memory consigned to history.
The architect of Morton’s downfall on this particular occasion was rather poetically Lewis Morgan. Playing his last match at St Mirren Park as a Buddie for the time being, the youngster and his family of course have been the target of some rather unjustified abuse at matches with the Catmen and also on-line over the past six months, with Morgan’s only “crime” in the eyes of the Greenock men being that he was born in the town and doesn’t play for Morton.
I’ve pointed out before that this fact is more to with Morton’s failures than Morgan’s choices, but the Greenock faithful are of course as humourless as you could ever get in this country and are consumed with bile for everything to do with Saints and Paisley, undoubtedly their biggest hindrance in progressing as a club.
Remarkably, Morton fans see their club as an equal to us. They need to get over this, and find another barometer or they will be consumed by their own failings. In the past 30 years we have built two stadiums, a training ground and a youth academy whilst Morton bizarrely took 25 years to half seat the best part of their ground and buy a roof from Love Street that doesn’t fit.
And then there is the on-field comparison where Saints are so superior to Morton it’s like comparing fish fingers to caviar.
We aren’t equal, and Morton fans getting so irate at the thought of Saints returning to the Premiership that they actually sacrificed supporting their own team in the process, even when they still had the chance of joining us in the top division is actually really pathetic. It doesn’t end there however.
Morgan, having already set up Danny Mullen for a lovely opener, was sent clear one of one with the Morton keeper with around fifteen minutes remaining and the youngster made no mistake to win the match for Saints directly in front of the mainly empty North Stand bar those 400 Morton fans.
Undoubtedly remembering the treatment handed out to his family by the Morton support, Morgan strolled over to them and put his arms out wide, and at the time I didn’t think anything of it, a perfectly justified and proportionate celebration considering the background to their relationship.
However I forgot who were playing and in particular the gormless nature of their club, and whilst we were in the pubs and streets of Paisley celebrating, “Provactivegate” had kicked off in our absence.
Apparently young Morgan was a “disgrace” and was “disrespecting” his home town team according to various Greenock fans, and Morton’s own social media stream referred to his celebration as “proactive”, as though it was some kind of new perfume from Stella McCartney.
Now take a step back here, and think about Tam O’Ware making a slit throat gesture to Saints fans whilst Morton players jumped about like demented hobbits in January. That was banter apparently, and nothing was said by our club despite it being daft at best but most definitely disproportionate as quite frankly most of our support probably didn’t know who O’Ware was, and crucially he had never been singled out by our support to justify such an act, unlike Morgan with “eh ton”.
Personally I didn’t care about the celebration by O’Ware, he’s a Greenock lad who has stated only this week that he knew nothing about Morton before he signed for them, a truly sad statement if there ever was one for the ‘Ton, and he probably got caught up in the moment.
In terms of being “provocative”though O’Ware’s celebration was far worse than putting arms out wide, so you would think Morton wouldn’t want to draw attention to this, unless of course they utter idiots, so let’s inspect their very own “provocative” history:
1993 – Campbell Money’s legs snaps in two under his weight after he stands up following a heavy collision at Cappielow. Morton fans cheer, laugh and sing loudly about it for for the rest of the match.
Morton verdict – Banter
1996 – Jim Dick fixes his shorts and unintenionally but very briefly shows a bit of flesh to the cow shed at Cappielow.
Morton verdict – Provocative and reported to the Police.
1995-2001 – After spending a short spell in drug rehabilitation, Barry Lavety is singled out by Morton fans who mockingly sing about it for several years.
Morton verdict – Banter
2002 – After spending a short spell in drug rehabilitation, Morton sign Andy McLaren who is singled out by Ayr United fans who mockingly sing about it for one match.
Morton verdict – Provocative and reported to the police.
1998 – Morton’s mascot ‘Chase The Dragon’ hangs a Paisley Panda effigy from a stick.
Morton verdict – Banter.
1999 – St Mirren’s mascot Paisley Panda shows Morton fans a league table with Saints at the top.
Morton verdict – Provocative and reported to the Police.
So really this latest ‘outraged’ episode has just been delayed as we haven’t faced them in so long, it’s a recurring theme of laughable hypocrisy from Morton with regards to behaviour in derbies.
However, if you are the wee club in such a fixture, rage is perhaps all you have and perspective is lost. The only surprise is they haven’t reported Morgan to the police as far as we know.
I personally won’t miss the derby or the Championship in fact. We have much bigger issues on our hands now, issues a club with our history and infrastructure should be embracing and meeting head on.
I’m not stupid enough to think we’ll never be back in the second tier however, of course we will be, but this particular short break to the Championship was really only the result of losing focus very briefly at the end of the period the club was up for sale.
Morton had twelve attempts to beat us during this relegated period, with seven of them against Ian Murray, Alex Rae and the two derbies before Jack Ross had a transfer window, yet could only beat us just twice. Morton will never have a better chance of gaining the upper hand even for a few seasons and clawing back the chasm between the clubs.
With victory secured, Championship trophy day in glorious Paisley sunshine was a magnificent one. I personally don’t get too excited at winning the second tier, but like 1999/00 the journey and story made this special, and even I had a lump in my throat as Jack Ross thanked the fans after the match.
It is still hard to believe that the 3-0 humiliation at home to Queen of the South was last year, what an utterly sensational turnaround it has been, and these last 16 months might well rank as the most enjoyable we perhaps ever experience as Saints fans.
The only thing left now in the season fixture wise was a trip to Falkirk where 1987 cup winning manager Alex Smith was given a wonderful reception by Saints large travelling support, but in another pretty dreadful match against the Banjoing Bairns played in a party atmosphere, a fringe Saints side was beaten again by Hartley’s “men”, meaning they took more points from us this season than anyone else, with the massive caveat being they played our reserves twice.
The following night at the PFA awards Liam Smith, Stephen McGinn, Cammy Smith, Lewis Morgan and Gavin Reilly were all named in the Championship team of the season, with Morgan also winning the Division player of the year and even more impressively Jack Ross won the managers’ award for the whole of Scotland, much to the annoyance of a lot of Celtic supporters who reverted to their default position and screamed “CONSPIRACY”.
As far as recognition for a season, I can’t think of many better for the club. An outstanding campaign and now Jack Ross has the chance to really improve the squad with a bigger budget at his disposal, and take on the best in the country next season.
Already the rebuilding process has started, with heroes from last season and in one case last decade already leaving with the announcement Stelios Demetriou, Gary Irvine and John Sutton will be leaving the club, it is a bit emotional to think the squad is being broken up, but be under no illusions it is needed.
In 2000, partly due to financial circumstances, Tom Hendrie put his trust in far too many players not good enough for the top division and we paid the price by being relegated. It is different now as we don’t have debt and our competitors aren’t spending money they didn’t have (step forward Rangers, Hearts, Motherwell, Dundee, Dundee United and Dunfermline) so it will be easier getting to grips with the top flight again, and we have a club totally unified (at the time of writing) and ambitious enough to do so.
However, in terms of results, harder times are around the corner and the team will need our support more than ever over the next few seasons. When times get tough, just think back to standing outside Paisley Abbey in the late evening sun of that Saturday on the 21st April and the warm feeling inside will return, this is what we can achieve together.