While England was fixated on the FA Cup and doing its normal trick of simultaneously going on about it at great length and telling anyone that will listen that it is both The Greatest Cup Competition In The World (and if that phrase hasn’t been trademarked by the FA, it surely will be soon) and Not As Important As It Used To Be, football supporters in Scotland were turning their attention at least partially away from the grotesque circus that is the Old Firm to say goodbye to arguably one their last old style football stadia. Saturday afternoon was the last hurrah for Love Street, the rough and ready home of Paisley’s finest, St Mirren.
Truth be told, Love Street had become something of an anachronism in the modern Scottish game, and Scottish football can be even more ruthlessly modernist than we can be down here in England. When Airdrieonians went bust, a group bought Clydebank FC, changed its name to Airdrie United and took their place in the Scottish Football League. When it was decided that Meadowbank Thistle weren’t making enough money in the Commonwealth Stadium in Edinburgh, they were uprooted to the new town Livingston and had their name forcibly changed. Love Street, with it’s old-style floodlight pylons and a town centre location that was literally with yards of a row of houses, didn’t fit the self-image of the modern game.
So it was that St Mirren sold up to Tesco, and made the decision to move a couple of miles up the road to the New St Mirren Park. Whether this represents progress or not is open to question. Love Street held 10,800 people (and in grander days you could squeeze over 47,000 people in there), but the new place holds just 8,000 people. Whereas Love Street was handsome mixture of the old and the new, the new stadium is an identikit collection of uninspiringly sleek looking steel and concrete. With St Mirren concerned (arguably correctly, given the SPL’s brutal attitude towards ground grading) that Love Street would eventually fail to attain the required standard, the decision to move was, in many respects, but one also suspects that another tiny piece of the soul of Scottish football has been taken away.
The final curtain for Love Street fell last Saturday, with a home match against Motherwell. The Scottish media had given the occasion considerable coverage (considering that no-one from Glasgow or even Edinburgh was involved), but the match turned out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be something of a damp squib, with the two sides largely cancelling each other for a 0-0 draw. At the end of the match there was a commemorative firework display, as St Mirren’s fans said their final goodbyes to the place that they have called home for one hundred and fifteen years. One of the stands will live on, reconstructed at Cappielow Park, the home of St Mirren’s local rivals, Greenock Morton. For now, though, St Mirren’s fans have to get used to their new home as the memories of their great days – the 1987 Scottish Cup win against Dundee United and their four runs in European competition during the 1980s – start to slowly fade.
And yet, and yet. Although the arguments for leaving their home are powerful, the lingering suspicion remains that this could, in some small way, be an act of defeat. St Mirren’s average crowd this season has been 5,300, but there were over 10,000 at Love Street on Saturday for the final match. Those that dream “What if?” may wonder at the potential of the club, should they manage to galvanise themselves, to be able to push for regular European football. If Heart of Midlothian, under the increasingly demented ownership of Vladimir Romanov, can win the Scottish Cup and challenge Celtic and Rangers for the SPL title, why shouldn’t St Mirren be able to have a go at challenging for a place in the UEFA Cup? Moving to a stadium with a capacity of 8,000 feels, in this context, as being something akin to an admission of defeat – a realistic decision, but one that knocks another small nail into the coffin of diversity in Scottish football.