ST JOHNSTONE have earned a reputation for doing things the right way. While other clubs have bought into the boom and bust mentality, spending more than they could afford to assure themselves success before having to retreat and pick up the pieces, they have persevered with fiscal prudence.
It has left them craving major silverware longer than they would have liked and denied them the showcase showdowns in the biggest cup competition in the country but, this year, having defied sides with bigger budgets, they are revelling in reaching their first Scottish Cup final.
It is no more than they deserve, insisted captain Dave Mackay, who has had spells at both Dundee and Livingston, both of whom went through administration.
“This is a club that has been run the right way for the last 20-odd years,” said the defender, speaking at the Tesco Bank Football Challenge at McDiarmid Park, where 400 local children were enjoying a day of coaching. “St Johnstone have never really paid more than what they bring in. They have lived within their means.
“Look at other clubs who have struggled in the past – I have been at a couple – and you also see what has happened at Hearts and Rangers, with the money they have spent that they didn’t have either. The club also felt hard done by when Gretna went up the leagues at their expense one year. It took Saints a couple of years to get up after that experience. So it’s great for a club like ourselves and for the chairman [Steve Brown] and his dad [former chairman Geoff Brown] before him. They have done things the right way and they are finally getting their rewards.”
The first Scottish Cup final for the Perth club will be Mackay’s second, but he hopes this one will be more enjoyable than when he and his Dundee teammates were bettered by a Lorenzo Amoruso goal which earned Rangers the trophy in 2003.
“It was all a bit of a blur,” he says looking back. “I was quite young at the time and I thought these things would come around every few years or so. Obviously, they don’t unless you are an Old Firm player.
“That was my first real season as a professional at Dundee and to get to a final was great. At the time, as we all know, the club were spending money that they never had. But I remember thinking that things were going great and that the club was going to go from strength to strength, but it never worked out that way.
“The result wasn’t what we wanted and, to be honest, there is not too much to look back on. I have my shirt and runners-up medal somewhere — I think I gave them to my mum but I am not sure. So this time around I want to savour it. It will be hugely different for me this time I hope. To get a winner’s medal would be special. Who knows, this could be my last final. I hope not but realistically for a player of my age to get to another final with Saints, it would be tough to do. So I will try to enjoy this one, but I think you only really enjoy it if you win.”
The fact that neither of the Glasgow giants is providing the opposition increases the odds of a happier outcome, as does the fact that they have fared pretty well against the team they will line up against, Dundee United, this season. Although the Tannadice side lead them in the Premiership table, Tommy Wright’s men have won three of the four head-to-heads this term, keeping a clean sheet in three, whilst scoring six. Only the 4-0 loss at the start of the season blights the copybook.
“The fans are delighted to get to their first-ever Scottish Cup final and we know we have a realistic chance of winning it,” Mackay added. “Maybe in the past against the Old Firm teams they have not been expecting to win them. This game is finely balanced, however. They will be thinking they can win it and that this is a great chance, just the same as we will be. United might go into the game as slight favourites but it is a 50-50 game probably.”
That sense of hope has heralded a rush for tickets, with Mackay saying that sales have already exceeding expectations.
“It is a great effort so far,” he said. “You are never sure how many you will be taking and I thought perhaps we would get 10,000, but we are way past that now and could even get 15,000.
“We had about 9,000 here for the European games so that showed us that the support was there for the club and we will have even more fans cheering us on at the final. It’s a great lift for the players. People think Perth is bigger than it is but I think the figure we have sold up to now is around a quarter of the population and hopefully the number will keep rising.
“People come out of the woodwork and that’s great. You have folk who don’t normally go along making a special effort for the one day and that’s fine too. Even if we can keep a few hundred of them and get them to buy season tickets for next season, that would be nice.
“A few hundred or a thousand, that would be a huge financial lift for the club and hopefully the chairman would give the manager some of that money to strengthen the team for next year again!”
But if Brown does part with more cash, it will be because they have it there to spend. St Johnstone have got this far doing things the right way and they are unlikely to abandon their principles now.
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.