LONG memories will be employed by St Johnstone fans for the short trip to Dundee this afternoon as the First Division title moves tantalisingly into view.
If Derek McInnes' side can take all three points today, and should Partick Thistle also fall to Livingston, then the Perth side's supporters will be dancing in the streets of Dundee while toasting becoming First Division champions.
The location is significant given what occurred nearly 47 years ago to the day. St Johnstone were then ridden by a different form of anxiety when hosting Dundee, the team they now love to hate. The reasons for this enmity are perhaps more complex than just one football match, although if it had to be distilled down to 90 minutes then we need look no further than what occurred at Muirton Park on 28 April, 1962.
Dundee's part in the Perth side's relegation from the First Division that year has not been forgotten. And if we are supposed to hate it when our friends become successful, how much harder to accept the triumph of an enemy. The St Johnstone fans among the 26,500 fans who crammed into Muirton Park on a sun-dappled afternoon had to cope with a wretched twin blow; not just demotion to the old Second Division having begun the day five places from bottom, but local rivals' Dundee's own delight upon sealing the Scottish title for the first and only time in the club's history. As well being outgunned 3-0 in their own lair, St Johnstone fans were also heavily outnumbered. Dundee fans swept into the town en masse, eager to see the coronation.
Bob Shankly's stylish Dundee side simply had to avoid defeat to St Johnstone to lift the title. The Perth side were also aware that fate lay within their hands. Anything other than a defeat would see them survive to play another season in the First Division. Stirling Albion were already doomed at the bottom. But St Mirren, Airdrie and Falkirk occupied the positions directly above, with St Johnstone two points clear of the first two, and a point clear of Falkirk. But with their rivals all at home on the last day, St Johnstone's inferior goal average – then favoured over goal difference – meant nothing could be presumed.
"It was quite intense," recalled Jim Lachlan, who featured in defence for St Johnstone that day. Now 75, he added: "It was life and death for us as well. From what I can remember the ground was so full there were people sitting on the cinder track."
One of those forced to watch the game from this position was Stewart Duff, long-time managing director of St Johnstone. Only 13 at the time, he recalls it having a big impact on his youth. Days that were meant to be gilded were soured by these gleeful invaders from Dens Park, particularly when it was confirmed all of St Johnstone's relegation rivals had won.
"Victory would be very sweet today, put it that way," said Duff yesterday. "It would soothe the wounds it a bit. All the directors, including our chairman Geoff Brown, were supporters of St Johnstone as boys. They all know what it means. It's always nice to beat Dundee."
Meetings between the teams held more significance for Dundee then, since United were still emerging. But St Johnstone have retained the idea of Dundee as the main rivals, although they often shared more meaningful games with United at the time.
"Funnily enough, back then we felt the games with Dundee United had more of an edge," said Lachlan. "But Dundee were the team everyone wanted to beat."
But this proved beyond St Johnstone, who included a young Alex Ferguson in their side that day. The knife was twisted further when they later learned that Dundee's third goal had proved the decisive one.
"We were fifth bottom at 3pm," recalled Lachlan. "A draw or even being beaten 2-0 would have done. It was just that third goal. And I remember Alex Ferguson also scoring a goal that day, which was disallowed."
Lachlan, who now lives in Crieff, remains in touch with Ferguson and also goalkeeper Bill Taylor. Club legend Charlie McFadyen sadly died at the end of last year.
"Alex still phones me now and again," Lachlan added. "He is building a house up here near Gleneagles. I think he wants to retire there. He phoned me a fortnight ago for a wee blether after I sent down to him something that was in the Perthshire Advertiser. It was to do with the 19-game unbeaten run record, which we set the following season and the current side recently bettered."