ON WINNING their maiden trophy with a club, many managers proclaim it as the start of something special – the first of many successes. Even amid the euphoria of Saturday’s Scottish Cup triumph, Tommy Wright was able to maintain a more sober perspective.
Smaller clubs than St Johnstone, including many that no longer exist, have won the Scottish Cup. It might, therefore, be regarded as an anomaly that in their 130-year history the Perth team had hitherto not won that trophy nor the other two senior honours in the Scottish game.
But, while Wright’s team can harbour realistic hopes of at least competing well in knockout competitions in the seasons to come, the manager knows that sustained growth will be hard. And, if St Johnstone are to build on the weekend’s achievement, they will need some of the extra supporters who turned up at Celtic Park on Saturday to turn out at McDiarmid Park on a more regular basis. “Hopefully, but that is beyond me,” Wright said when asked if he thought the cup triumph would help build the fan base.
“I think the club are working really hard. This should encourage people to come back to St Johnstone. We had 15,000 today. If we could even get a thousand out of that – 1,500 would be brilliant – if we could tap into 10 per cent of that it would make so much difference to the finances at the club, to my playing budget. The cost of running a football club is not just about the playing budget. That would make such a big difference.”
The 2-0 victory over Dundee United has given St Johnstone a place in the second qualifying round of next season’s Europa League – a competition in which they memorably began last season by beating Rosenborg in Wright’s first tie in charge before losing on penalties to Minsk. It will be their third consecutive campaign in Europe – a significant achievement in itself, given that previously they had only qualified on two occasions – but Wright is acutely aware that qualifying for the group stages of the competition will be a big ask.
“That would be something,” he said. “But the danger with that is in terms of your league, you look at teams in England and they can’t cope with it. We would need probably a first-team squad – and I mean seniors – of maybe 24 outfield players.
“But if you were to qualify the finances might allow you to do that. So it’s swings and roundabouts, chicken and egg. That will be our first target when we come back: to do well in Europe again. We made a brilliant start to this season and that was credit to the players. We came back so fit and we were trying to be as positive as possible. We weren’t concerned about the fact Rosenborg were midway through their season: we turned that on its head and said they might be a bit jaded – you know how it is mid-season, you might want a rest. I think we tried to be positive and tried to put a positive outlook on most things.
“I think it is unrealistic to expect us to do it [reach the group stages]. Okay, we beat Rosenborg and we should’ve beaten Minsk, because we were a better side than them.
“But Rosenborg had a budget of €22-24 million and then I think we would’ve played Anderlecht of Belgium. And, again, they are another level – the same level as Rosenborg.
“So it’s tough for Scottish football to break through. Even for Neil Lennon it’s tough to attract the quality of players that he wants to progress Celtic in the Champions League.
“I want to see all Scottish clubs do well in Europe. If they get good results it helps our coefficient and that in turn can only help our clubs get better draws. Again, it’s difficult: finances are difficult at all Scottish clubs at the minute.”
Wright hopes and plans to strengthen his squad, not only with new recruits but also by promoting some young players he believes are ready to make the step up. “Realistically, if I can get three players in...we’re speaking to one or two, but it’s early days.
“We will be able to do that within the current budget. Any manager wants more players. It would be nice to get one or two more in on top of that. But we have a lot of good young players coming to the fore next season.”
Wright has also come to the fore thanks to the cup win, and knows he may now attract interest from other clubs, just as his predecessor Steve Lomas did. But he appears more concerned with furthering the interests of St Johnstone than he is in his own individual prospects.
“If that happens, it happens. But I’m contracted to St Johnstone. I’m more than happy at St Johnstone. I’m not one who looks to do well and then get away from a club. That’s not how I operate.
“I’m more than happy to continue here. I joke with the chairman that I’ll be the first manager who gets a testimonial. He knocks that back and says I’ll only ever be sacked or sold – so don’t worry about testimonials.”