Saints Greatest Ever Team?

The following team was picked by Saints fans in June 2019 following a series of polls done on social media, which gathered over 5000 votes in total.

There was no definition of “greatest” put forward by me, therefore the outcome has been subject to much debate, however the statistics of the side speak volumes of the quality involved:

  • 17 honours between them
  • 3,339 club appearances for Saints
  • 340 Saints goals
  • 5 club captains
  • 9 Hall of Fame inductees
  • 9 products of Saints youth system

1. Goalkeeper: Campbell Money

The long serving keeper was signed by Alex Ferguson in 1978, and it was 1995 before the man nicknamed ‘Dibble’ left to take up the manager post at Stranraer. Money was back up to Billy Thomson until 1984 when he took over from the Dundee United bound keeper, and despite replacing an extremely popular and fine custodian between the sticks, arguably Money was even better than the Scottish internationalist.

Unlike Thomson, Money thrived on the big occasion, and even wore a nappy for the 1987 Scottish Cup final after a sickness bug threatened to leave him out of the biggest game of his career. Money was perhaps best defined though by his incredible bravery, and it was a common sight to the see the keeper bruised or bandaged during a match. However, he was also an outstanding shot stopper and as safe as you will ever see at cross balls.

What Money also excelled at was penalty kicks; either saving or scoring them and was the nominated taker during the 1992 season scoring two out of two, but a leg break at Cappielow during the 1993 New Year Derby ended that excitement, and in truth the ‘keeper was never at the same level again after this on the pitch, and took up an assistant manager role at the club which he combined with playing.

The Ayrshire man was also extremely unlucky to peak at the time of Goram & Leighton, meaning he was regularly third choice for Scotland over several years. When both keepers pulled out of the 1986 Rous Cup match against England, Andy Roxburgh called up Alan Rough out of international exile, meaning Money was disgracefully overlooked and never capped, other than playing in the 1990 centenary match for the Scottish League select.

Money can only be described as a great St Mirren man, and in 2007 when the crucial vote on Love Street/Greenhill Rd was being held at a council meeting, the big keeper was outside the old council chambers with hundreds of other Saints fans waiting on the news, and was in the first four inductees into the Club Hall of fame back in 2004.

Appearances – 391

Shut Outs – 108

Goals – 2

Major Honours – 1987 Scottish Cup

2. Right Back – David Van Zanten

The Irishman joined Saints from Celtic in 2003 when John Coughlin brought him to Paisley, but it was some time later when Gus MacPherson took over as manager that we really began to see the best of the right back who quickly established himself as the best in the old first Division.

Van Zanten was instrumental in the 2005/06 ‘Diddy Double’ when Saints won the Challenge Cup and First Division titles, and the following couple of seasons seamlessly moved up a level to the SPL where his fine performances caught the eye of Hibernian who signed Van Zanten on a pre-contract in 2008.

After just over a year at Easter Road, the right back was released by John Collins and a period in the football wilderness followed at minnows Morton and Hamilton, but in 2010 Saints brought him back to Paisley and after a difficult start where the team struggled to adapt to the changes brought in by Danny Lennon, Van Zanten was soon back to his best and playing a pivotal role in a resurgent side over the next few seasons.

In 2013, the Irishman played a key part in the League Cup victory and was heavily involved in the crucial equaliser against Hearts in the final, as well as doing an extremely underrated job in the last few minutes as he made a couple of key blocks as Saints held firm against Hearts pressure to see it out, and claim a first ever League Cup success, leading him to be inducted into the club hall of fame the same year.

Van Zanten finished his career at Dumbarton and Airdrie, but it is at Paisley where the defender will always be most favourably remembered.

Appearances – 332

Goals – 8

Major Honours – 2013 League Cup

Minor Honours – 2005/06 Challenge Cup and First Division

4. Centre Half – Norrie McWhirter

One of the finest players to have pulled on a Saints strip in the past 40 years, McWhirter was a classy ball playing centre half capable of scoring extraordinary goals from defence as well as being the first line of attack for many Saints teams over his 14 years at the club.

The defender was also a hard opponent and had real bite in his tackle as well as having an extremely impressive leap which completely nullified his supposed lack of height for a centre half, but it was his reading of the game, composure and passing that stood out from his contemporaries in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and it seemed only a matter of time before a bigger club took him from his boyhood team and a long international career beckoned, similar to that of his best friend Paul Lambert.

The only weakness McWhirter had was bad luck with injury, and by September 1993 when he took over as club captain from Lambert aged 23, he had already missed large chunks of his career, but had been fully fit since early 1992 and entered a period known as ‘peak Norrie’.

From this point until January 1994, Saints fans were treated to a simply exceptional four months of football from McWhirter, and as his confidence and belief grew he was so far ahead of anyone playing in the second tier it frankly became embarrassing at points, as he notched up seven goals in twenty matches from centre half including a scissors kick, multiple free kicks and a solo goal against Ayr United where he strolled 60 yards with the ball before hammering a shot from 30 yards low into the net.

Later in that match against Ayr United in early 1994, McWhirter twisted his ankle taking a free kick that ended his season and Saints plummeted down the league. His importance to the team was paramount however, and the captain was rushed back from injury and put back into the first team in September but struggled to remain fit for the rest of the season.

After getting a full pre-season in 1995, McWhirter looked back to his best in the opening match of the next season, however a ridiculous tackle by James Grady late in the game ended that campaign for the captain before it ever began, and although he was good second tier defender after this, McWhirter was unable to reach the level he did previously and retired in 2000 aged 29 due to injuries, and inducted to the club hall of fame in 2009.

Appearances – 299

Goals – 12

6. Centre Half – Jackie Copland

Pound for pound, the £25,000 spent by Alex Ferguson to take the Paisley born Saints fan back to Love Street from Dundee United in 1976 could probably be considered his greatest ever signing in football.

By this point the 29 year old was a fine centre half, a fact signified by the fact Copland was in the 1974 preliminary Scotland World Cup squad, but Ferguson wanted more than just a good centre back in Copland; he needed a leader on the park to guide the outstanding younger players at the club, and it worked.

The First Division title was secured in Copland’s first season, but the treatment of Saints young players at the hands of a brutal Motherwell side in a 1977 cup match reinforced Ferguson’s belief that the team needed a ‘protector’ and Copland provided this as Saints stabilised in the top division before going on an all out assault on winning the Premier League, but blew their big chance in 1979/80 when they finished third, but in truth should have won it had they not lost form at vital parts of the season.

With Copland the instrumental leader on the park, Saints qualified for several European competitions in the early 1980’s as well as becoming the first ever Scottish winner of the Anglo Scottish Cup, with Copland the only Scottish captain to ever hold aloft the trophy. The team was packed with quality throughout the squad, and despite reaching his mid-30’s Copland remained a first pick, an indicator of not only his influence but ability on the park, and one of the great misfortunes of Saints long history is undoubtedly that the side Copland captained so superbly did not win a major trophy. For several years after retiring in 1983 Copland worked for the club in various commercial capacities and was belatedly inducted into the club hall of fame in 2016.

Appearances – 274

Goals – 7

Minor Honours – 1967/68 & 1976/77 First Division & 1980 Anglo Scottish Cup

3. Left Back – Iain Munro

Another player who had two spells at the club as player, Munro was initially a fine left winger in the early 1970’s for Saints after breaking through during a tough time on the field for the club, before leaving for Hibernian in 1973 just before Alex Ferguson took over at Love Street.

By the time Ferguson took Munro back to Saints in late 1977 from Rangers, Munro was converted to a left back and in time built an outstanding partnership with young Peter Weir which most supporters believe is the strongest left side of a Saints side in our history. Paisley wasn’t the only place who rated the flying left back highly however, and despite a wealth of talent available to Jock Stein the Scotland manager, Munro gained seven caps for the national team at Saints including a match at Hampden against world champions Argentina where a young Maradona starred and also against England in 1980 at Hampden with 85,000 in attendance.

A player of this quality and technical ability is bound to attract attention though, but Munro was around long enough to play in the 1980 Anglo Scottish Cup victory before being transferred to Stoke City later in that year and his playing days at Saints ended.

On the ninth of September 1996, Munro was appointed Saints manager to replace Jimmy Bone, but sensationally quit after only a few hours to take charge of Raith Rovers, amid speculation the boardroom was split between Munro and caretaker boss Tony Fitzpatrick for the role, perhaps the only reason Munro does not find himself in the Saints Hall of Fame.

Appearances – 258

Goals – 25

Scotland Caps – 7

Minor Honours – 1980 Anglo Scottish Cup

Right midfield – Billy Stark

One of the many brilliant young players brought to the club by Alex Ferguson in the mid 1970’s, Stark was a versatile midfielder who could play on the right side or through the centre, but had a serious goal threat wherever he played, and his goal return of one in every four matches for Saints is better than many revered strikers in the club’s history. His total of 84 goals for St Mirren also puts him joint seventh highest ever scorer, as strong a stat as anything to prove his undoubted quality.

As well as being a great natural finisher, Stark had magnificent football intelligence and what often was mistaken for apathy from some supporters was Stark anticipating where a ball would drop before inevitably finding the net, an invaluable and rare trait in a player.

Incredibly, the midfielder was never capped, even in a period where Scotland had some simply magnificent footballers, Stark failed to get recognition at the highest level despite moving to champions Aberdeen in 1983 and Celtic in 1987.

Saints though got the best of Stark, and in his eight years at the club amassed 345 appearances before these moves, and the football intelligence spoke about above was prevalent as he dropped back into a sweeper role playing at Hamilton Accies and then at resurgent Kilmarnock in the early 1990’s, where he played until he was 38 years old in the top division. Was inducted into Saints Hall of Fame in 2006.

Appearances – 345

Goals – 84

Minor Honours – 1976/77 First Division & 1980 Anglo Scottish Cup

Centre Midfield – Hugh Murray

A throw back to a previous era, Murray played for 15 seasons in Saints first team during a period where that sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen anymore, amassing a club record 468 competitive appearances along the way.

Murray made his debut in 1997 and played predominantly right midfield in his early years at the club. He was a dynamic player back then, and although he lacked real pace to be a top-level wide man, Murray was a fine passer and crosser of the ball as well as displaying tenacity when required. In 1998, the young Murray scored as crucial a goal as any Saints history when his beautiful curling 25-yard shot flew into the top corner at Forthbank to save the then financially stricken club from dropping to the third tier and going part time.

A year later, Tom Hendrie moved Murray into a central midfield role, and the midfielder responded with a sensational season as Saints romped to the title and his goals in particular suggested that even though he was only 20 years of age it appeared as though Murray was maturing into a top class midfielder. However, the team surprisingly went into downfall after this, and it was Gus MacPherson that reinvented Murray once more in 2005, this time as a defensive minded midfield player that again allowed him to become an essential part of the side.

His commitment, bravery, but most of all reliability and consistency overshadow any of his perceived technical limitations in comparison to other great midfield players, however in my opinion Murray was a better footballer than often given credit for, and as far as having a great side as opposed to 11 great individuals, a player with his attributes is essential.

Murray left Saints in 2011, a sad day for everyone associated with the club and played the rest of his career in the lower divisions, however the fact he was inducted into the club Hall of Fame at the first sweep of inductees aged just twenty seven speaks volumes of the high regard Murray is held at the club.

Appearances – 468

Goals – 18

Minor Honours – 1999/00 First Division, 2005/06 First Division & Challenge Cup.

Centre Midfield – Tony Fitzpatrick  

An undoubted Saints icon, Fitzpatrick was already at the club when Alex Ferguson took over in 1974, but the great manager had seen enough of the youngster to give him the club captaincy and over the next 5 years the midfielder was one of the main players as Saints became a force again in Scottish football.

Like Stark, Fitzpatrick was never capped for Scotland, but did make several squads under Jock Stein and in a different time in football, Saints rejected bids for the brilliant midfielder from Bayern Munich, Celtic and various other English clubs before eventually top division Bristol City tempted Fitzpatrick south in 1979.

This was a hard time personally for Fitzpatrick off the park, and despite interest from Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen and his boyhood club Celtic, he decided to return to Saints in 1981 to the astonishment of most of Scottish football and his family! The fans favourite quickly re-established himself as first choice at the club, helping the team qualify for Europe and despite injury came on as a substitute in the 1987 Scottish Cup victory, a deserved reward for years of service and dealing with the most difficulty of circumstances off the field.

Within a year of that victory, Fitzpatrick was in the Saints dugout as manager at the age of just 32, and returned again in 1996 for just over two years, and also held the Community Coach role at the club and is of course current Chief Executive, as close to a modern day Robert Rankin as you could possibly get.

Appearances – 458

Goals – 28

Major Honours – 1987 Scottish Cup

Minor Honours – 1976/77 First Division

Left Midfield – Lewis Morgan

Perhaps a surprise inclusion in the side given his lack of top flight experience with the club, but it is not often a player is so good in the second tier he is capped for Scotland, never mind the fact he played for Saints. See Money, Stark and Fitzpatrick for proof of how hard it is.

In terms of talent, Morgan was an exceptional player for Saints, able to play each wing with ease as he is so good with either foot, and even took on the number 10 role at points in the 2017/18 season as he produced one of the finest individual season long performances I have ever witnessed watching the club.

Morgan possesses everything we wanted to see in a winger as a football fan; pace in abundance, trickery, flamboyance, a goal threat and a bit of cheek as he showed with his “Provocative” celebration against Morton.

You are welcome back anytime, Lewis.

Appearances – 118

Goals – 29

Scotland Caps – 2

Minor Honours – 2017/18 First Division

Centre Forward – Steven Thompson

Paisley born and a big Saints fan, the big striker surprisingly escaped the clubs youth scouts and signed for Dundee United as a kid, before embarking on a career where he played 16 times for Scotland, signed for Rangers and then played in the English premier league with Burnley.  

At 32 years of age however, Thompson had decided he wanted to play for his boyhood club and rejected several offers of more money to return to Renfrewshire and as he put it himself in his 2018 Hall of Fame acceptance speech “Signed myself for Saints”.

Of course, Danny Lennon was hardly going to reject a player of his quality joining the squad, and Thompson enjoyed his most prolific goal scoring period of his career at Saints, hitting double figures in his first three years at the club, and his 54 Saints goals amounted for 35% of his career total of 143.

What Thompson provided was obvious quality, and he was as good a target man in Scotland during his time at Saints, leading to him playing a fundamental role in the 2013 League Cup victory, scoring a never to be forgotten third against Celtic in the semi final and the goal that put Saints 2-1 up the final. The big Buddie firmly believes it was destiny to do this for the club, and who are we to argue?

Appearances – 180

Goals – 54

Major honour – 2013 League Cup

Centre Forward – Barry Lavety

Lavety had three spells at Saints as a player, and like Thompson and McWhirter was Paisley born and a lifelong Saints fan, in fact you will see Lavety regularly at Saints matches today. The talented forward stayed in the same village as Thompson as a youngster and was in fact Thompson’s inspiration to become a footballer, but technically Lavety was a better player than his fellow Houston Hall of Fame inductee.

Blessed with an instinct to sniff out goals, Lavety was capable of scoring from anywhere with right, left or indeed headed goals, and in his breakthrough season in 1992/93 was as exciting a prospect as we had at the club in many years, and since him we have never produced a forward in the class of Lavety.

The big striker had some off field issues, but the goals flowed when he played in black and white, particularly against Morton where Lavety and Mark Yardley terrorised the Greenock club for practically all of the 1990’s, scoring 23 times between them for Saints, and four more times for other clubs during their careers.

Lavety was transferred to Hibs in 1996 after building up a good relationship with Yardley, and when he returned from Easter Road in 1999, he simply started where he left off and scored within 18 minutes of his debut, his first of 16 that season mostly scored before Christmas before fitness issues took over, although he did manage his only Saints hat-trick in March 2000 in the 8-0 thumping of Clydebank.

By the time Lavety returned for a third time in 2003, he was past his best due to these fitness issues, and although unquestionably he should have made much more of his career given the incredible natural talent he had, for those lucky enough to see him at his prime we will always consider him a Saints great.

Appearances – 216

Goals – 72

Minor Honour – 1999/00 First Division title.

Manager – Alex Ferguson

Plenty has been written about Ferguson over the decades, but in my opinion nationally his spell at St Mirren is often overlooked too quickly as it played a significant role in his career, but also steered Saints from a potentially barren period that could have lasted decades. He changed the future of St Mirren forever without a doubt.

When Ferguson came to Paisley in 1974, Saints were on their knees. The club had finished 11th in the old second Division the previous season, a placement of 29th in Scotland (an all-time low) and started the following campaign poorly which included a 3-0 defeat at East Fife, prompting the appointment of a young Ferguson from East Stirling. We were a club without direction and bereft of any real ambition at boardroom level, and the new manager was in for a titanic struggle to put the club where he wanted.

Saints got more than a manager however, and had probably unknowingly appointed a football visionary with drive and ambition widely out of proportion with that of the boardroom, which ultimately led to the club sacking Ferguson as it had turned into a popularity contest that the safari suited board of directors were never going to win, so Fergie had to go.

Ferguson revolutionised the club; raising standards on the park to levels never again seen of course, but off the field he built a scouting network the envy of clubs nationwide, and replaced almost all the staff within the club, as well as stopping activities we would find laughable today but were common practice at the club, such as cars being repaired inside the Main Stand at weekends.

For all his visionary thoughts and ideas however, Ferguson was still old school in the dressing room and this mixture of genius/terrifying dictator must have been strange for the players, but they responded with some of the finest attacking football ever seen at Paisley, and within five years of arriving at Love Street, Saints had went to 29th in the Scottish league leader to 3rd, and the Premier Division title was missed out to Aberdeen, who were now ironically being managed by Ferguson after leaving the club in 1978.

Most Saints fans believe that had Ferguson stayed, Saints would have been champions of Scotland, however the struggles he had with our board always meant he would leave at the first given opportunity, perhaps a real lesson learned by the current  board when they attempted to keep Jack Ross in 2018 by being as accommodating at possible to his needs, and of course Chief Executive Tony Fitzpatrick was a club employee at both periods of these managers leaving.

For Ferguson, the rest is history as they say and he is of course now considered one of the greatest football managers in the history of World Football. Due to his acrimonious departure from Saints though he is unlikely to ever be inducted to the club Hall of Fame, but as far at the supporters are concerned, we have had nobody greater, and we are unlikely to ever see his like again.

Games managed – 169

Games won – 74

Win Rate – 44%

Minor Honour – 1976/77 First Division.

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