Arguably, in a domestic context, it makes them the Scottish team of any season. The two trophy haul in his first campaign in the frontline, doesn’t just make their man at helm, Callum Davidson, the manager of this season. Arguably, in a domestic context, it makes him the manager of any season in the Scottish game.
Such is the magnitude of the feat the Perth club pulled off with the 1-0 final defeat of a feeble Hibs, it is dastardly difficult to do it full justice. It is an achievement for the ages, all times, and one that demonstrates not just the enduring power of Scottish football to confound and move, but to reset the parameters of the possible. Shaun Rooney did that with his clinching strike. He joked afterwards it was a good bet for him to follow up his matchwinner for the 1-0 League Cup final triumph in February, even if it was 10,000/1. It was those odds for a reason. For it can be stated without fear of contradiction that this personal wing-back’s personal double is entirely without precedent. No player in the 74 seasons in which the two cups have been contested had ever been the solitary scorer across both finals.
Putting it all into context
To give proper context to the array of bonkers facets that elevate St Johnstone becoming only the fourth club to win a cup double, financial clout is the place to start. The McDiarmid Park side’s budget is understood to be only the seventh highest among this season’s top flight clubs. It is half that of Hibs and a tenth of champions’ Rangers football outlay, while Celtic boast 12 times their spend. These differentials are supposed to make provincial clubs patsies when it comes to picking up silverware. Moreover, though, St Johnstone are unremarkable even in terms of provincial clubs parting with their pounds on players. They exist in a cluster of clubs in the bottom-end range in the salary stakes across the Premiership. They are essentially on a level with Motherwell, Ross County and St Mirren.
It is this fact that means that to talk of St Johnstone becoming the first team since Aberdeen in 1989-90 to bag both cups in a season doesn’t have great relevance. When the side led by joint managers Alex Smith and Jocky Scott snared the knock-out silverware in 1989-90, to follow on from Alex Ferguson’s team doing so in 1985-86 and so ending Rangers and Celtic’s monopoly of such success, they still operated in the financial ballpark of Glasgow’s behemoths. The haves and the have-nots weren’t so marked. Now though St Johnstone have a cup double in the most extraordinary fashion, because they are very much one of the have-nots. When football was shut down last March by the global pandemic that has cruelly robbed their supporters of bearing personal witness to their team’s Hampden anointments over the past three months, St Johnstone’s average home attendance was below even Ross County, as the 10th highest of the then 12 top flight clubs.
By all measures, the Perth side aren’t even one of the biggest dozen clubs across all the senior set-ups. And yet, in another sense, they tower about the whole damn lot. We will reflect forever boggle-eyed on how Davidson piloted them to the footballing heavens this season. This impish, astute, engaging little man has deployed a degree of tactical nous that allows him to become the most outstanding member of a club that previously only had 14 entrants. In chronological order from earliest, Davidson follows Bill Struth, Scott Symon, Jock Stein, Jock Wallace, John Greig, Alex Ferguson, Alex Smith and Jocky Scott, Walter Smith, Dick Advocaat, Martin O’Neill, Alex McLeish, Brendan Rodgers and Neil Lennon in lifting both Scottish Cup and League Cup in the same season. Yet none of these individuals had the odds against such an achievement so firmly stacked against them as the man who has immediately become St Johnstone’s most iconic manager.
What Davidson has done
He has spectacularly upset these odds by demonstrating the mountain-moving capabilities of team structure and team bonding, of instilling in modest players an unstinting, almost supernatural, belief in a system. St Johnstone had the measure of the Easter Road side – notably, for the fourth straight meeting between the clubs, Jack Ross’s men drawing blanks in all of them – because they themselves are so measured. Their back three Jason Kerr, Liam Gordon and Jamie McCart are the foundations on which Davidson has built an impervious structure. An edifice that has allowed them to emerge unscathed from no fewer than 13 cup ties across this colossal campaign.
It makes for artful, if not always particularly dazzling, football. But by God, there was nothing sober about the aftermath it created. As the covid-dictated on-pitch presentations unfolded, it was impossible not to well up as Murray Davidson clasped then raised the cup as if welded to it, as his team-mates circled him to give him his adoring, going-beserk, audience. It could be no other way when the midfielder missed out through injury on the only two previous occasions St Johnstone had claimed silverware – the 2014 Scottish Cup, and the League Cup the other month.
Likewise, David Wotherspoon gave us one of the great moments in the competition’s history when he sobbed uncontrollably before dropping an f-bomb when grabbed for live television at full time, before he then ended the interview bubbling all over again as he thanked his wife and children. In many living rooms across the country, it is hard to believe such raw emotion wasn’t the trigger for tears aplenty. St Johnstone haven’t just captured a staggering cup double this year. They have captured hearts.