WITHIN an hour of being told he had won a player of the year award yesterday, St Johnstone hotshot Stevie May had the chance to toast his good fortune and his goals, but not even blue-coloured beer could tempt him. “I wouldn’t mind but with Celtic coming up I think the gaffer might,” he laughed.
Saints host the champions tonight, then play Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Sunday. Yes, yes, very good, Stevie, but never mind the league campaign winding down: what about May 17, which just happens to be what it says on your shirt and also the Scottish Cup final, a date with destiny if ever there was one?
“Officially I’m taking each game as it comes because that’s what we always say,” said the 21-year-old at the launch of the blue-hued brew in Perth. “But of course I’ve thought about the final. I don’t see how I couldn’t because it’s only natural. This won’t just be the biggest game in St Johnstone’s season, it’ll be the biggest in the club’s history. And if we win? Well, it’s going to be the greatest day of my life. I honestly can’t wait.”
May is the Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year and he is delighted. “It’s a great honour,” he added. “Obviously it’s nice to get recognition personally, but this is really an award for the whole team. I couldn’t be Young Player of the Year if I didn’t have great guys round about me. St Johnstone have had an outstanding season, so it’s credit to the players and the manager as well.”
The prize is for his personality, his hair and his smile but mostly, of course, for those dagger-like thrusts in the final third and thumping goals, 27 at the last count. He blushes at the compliments but has a go at explaining the secret of his cracking form. “I’ve scored goals I couldn’t really miss and one or two where I’ve had to get off my backside and do some work. It all comes down to confidence. If you’re confident you should do okay. If you can envision you’re scoring then you just might. Add to that some technical stuff from the guys and the manager’s played his part as well.” What are Tommy Wright’s instructions pre-match? “Mostly he just says ‘More of the same’!”
May could be forgiven the odd dip in a long season, and especially given the hype surrounding him. There was speculation he could leave in the January transfer window which he did his best to shut out of his mind. “When that whistle goes and you cross the line, there shouldn’t be another thought in your head other than doing well for your team. Thankfully I don’t think I went over five games without scoring a goal.”
Since it’s the awards season, the prize for the most ill-timed chant surely goes to “Who the f**k is Stevie May?” – first sung by gloating Aberdeen fans in the League Cup semi-final as they romped to a 4-0 win over Saints. There was an encore in the early stages of the Scottish Cup semi, but May had the last laugh, scoring twice to win the tie.
Nevertheless, did the song put him off his stroke? “I heard it at Tynecastle because you hear everything there and our fans were massively outnumbered. I tried not to let it affect me too much but obviously it was sweet scoring a couple the next time. I’d say my second in that game has been my best of the season. It was definitely the most important and the feeling afterwards was fantastic.”
Then there’s May’s hair. Wasn’t he worried that taking the shears to those long, tumbling locks might deprive him of his strength? “Actually, I got it cut after a few games of not scoring and the next match I scored the winner against Dundee United. I wasn’t trying to copy a look when it was so long. Not getting it cut for three years was down to pure laziness.” These days he looks less like he’d wax your surfboard or engage you in a three-hour conversation about his favourite heavy metal guitar solos. But he adds: “It’s still longer than most.”
United are St Johnstone’s final opponents. Saints have won three of the four league games between them but May says this will count for nothing on the day. “We’d lost the previous five against Aberdeen before the semi. It’ll be down to who plays better on the day and maybe who gets the luck. I hope it’s us.”
And what of the future for one of Scottish football’s hottest properties? There’s been mention of a further extension to his McDiarmid Park contract, the player having signed last October until the summer of 2015. “I think we’ll start talking about that this week. We’ll see what’s on the table and take it from there. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t sign. I love playing for St Johnstone. If it came to the point where another club wanted me and I wanted to go, then if they wanted me so much they could buy me regardless of any contract. We’ll see what happens but I’m not going to get bogged down in this. There are important games to be played and they’re my focus.”
On the walk through Perth to meet May yesterday the colours were going up in the windows of trim terraced bedrooms and Chinese takeaways. Specifically, May’s shirt with that tremendous number. “The buzz about the final is beginning to get massive. It’s great to see the club being supported not just by the regulars at our games but the whole city. It’s fantastic.”