The 200% World of Soccer, Part 1: St Johnstone

by | Feb 5, 2016

This evening, the 200% podcast is proud to be able to confirm that it is going twice weekly. The regular podcast will be moving to Tuesday nights, and Fridays will be given over to 200%’s World of Soccer, in which we pick out a random football club from 250 that we’ve chosen and have a week to read up on them. The first team out of the hat was St Johnstone of the Scottish Premier League, so here they are. In addition to this, we’ll be bringing you a Q&A with a supporter every week, and this week we’re delighted that Stuart Cosgrove, TV executive, writer, presenter and author of the book Detroit 67, answered our handful of questions about his chosen football team. We thank enormously for his contribution, and definitely recommend that you buy his book. Meanwhile, you can download this podcast by right-clicking and saving as here, and you can subscribe on Itunes by clicking here.

Stuart Cosgrove on St Johnstone

– There’s a link on YouTube to a 2014 Cup Final song. Was that in any way official? What did you make of it?

There were several cup final songs one by a local indie band The Shrugs called ‘Fair Maid’ which divided opinion but was really brave and creative, turning the club into a love story and by virtue of Walter Scott’s famous novel ‘The Fair Maid of Perth’ making the club feminine, which is a challenging thing for some men. By far the most spontaneous song was ‘Sweet Caroline’ which began as a cup final song because it was our manager Tommy Wright’s karaoke favourite. In the chorus “Good times never felt so good” the fans added the chant ‘Armageddon your having a laugh’ – this was a barbed attack on those in the SFA and the media that said the world would freeze over if Rangers weren’t playing in the top league.

– As I recall it, St Johnstone were one of the first in the UK to go into a new ground in the late 1980s. Are you old enough to remember the old one?

I had the perfect boyhood bedroom it was a freezing cold house on a housing scheme on top of a hill that overlooked the old and new ground. The old ground Muirton was special, it was next to railway marshalling yards that were lit up through the night and when there was a night game the floodlights would add to this haze of light that hovered just below my bedroom. Even before I was old enough to go to games this was magical. It was a traditional ground with terracing, crush barriers and half-time scores hung up on fencing. It is where I first saw Saints and that will stay with me until I die.

– Winning the Scottish Cup must have been a big deal for your club. Has much changed there since then?

Winning the cup was our destiny. We played the semi final against Aberdeen and won 2-0. Our top scorer on the cup run was a young guy called Stevie May who grew up locally in Perthshire and was a Saints fan.  When he scored his second goal he ran to our end and kept pointing at his back, his name was May and his squad number was 17., The final was scheduled for 17th of May and many fans saw it as a portent of things to come. I now live in Glasgow but went home to Perth for a day just to savour the run-up – blue pies in shop windows, good luck cakes, flags flying outside shops and pubs. On the day I turned my back garden into a Saints theme bar and we then walked to the game and to our destiny. It was a very special day. In the run up I had started a Facebook group for those that didn’t make it, Saints fans that had died and never seen them in the Scottish Cup final. I was thinking of my dad who died when I was a kid and my Uncle Bill who took me to games and whose ashes are scattered at our new ground. The idea took on and thousands of Saints fans paid tribute to fathers, brothers, neighbours friends etc.  Our manager Tommy Wright said he would be thinking about his disabled son Andrew who died as an infant. He promised that he would bring the cup to our end and caress it like a son. When he came to us with the cup you could feel a surge of emotion greater than anything I’d ever known in football.

– The name St Johnstone doesn’t make it immediately clear that the club is from Perth. Do you think that hinders the club at all, or being – effectively – a one club town, is this irrelevant? On one of our European runs we drew a Hungarian club – Vasas Budapest. The kick-off was delayed as they re-routed their team bus to Perth, they had initially gone to Johnstone in Renfrewshire, about seventy miles away. The name St Johnstone is derived from the former name for Perth  – St John’s Toun – when it was the capital city of Scotland. I think it’s a great name, and we are still the only team in Britain with a ‘J’ in our name. When I was a wee boy my dada used to joke about that. He would know on my bedroom door and say, “Bad news son – Juventus have joined the Scottish League.”

– Has the club ever made any overtures towards Perth in Australia that you’re aware of?

Nothing official. The Australian Perth was originally settled by people from Perth in Scotland so there is a connection, and several streets share the same name.  It’s a long way to go to games so I’m not sure what the benefits would be. A couple of loan players would be good but they would need to be proven internationalists, our youth development is pretty good and a youngsters would maybe get lost.

– Who would be your definitive St Johnstone player (ie, the one that best encapsulates what you feel about the club) and why?

Last month one of our Hall of Fame players Willie Coburn died. He played left back in one of our best ever sides in the early seventies.  He stayed around the club all his life doing odd jobs and taking youth training. So his dedication was faultless. What I liked about him was his no-nonsense tackling. History brought him face to face with the greatest rights wingers in the Scottish Game Jinky Johnstone (Celtic) Willie Henderson (Rangers)  Alex Edwards (Hibs) and always acquitted himself well. He featured in our greatest ever European victory beating Hamburg 3-0. That game led to us being invited to a tournament at the Bernabau against Real Madrid, where we went a goal up but eventually lost narrowly. So Willie played against the best of Scotland and Europe but never left Perthshire.

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