Destiny has been calling Stevie May since he entered the world 22 years ago. Now he aims to down the same set of opponents on the very date that he wears on the back of the shirt: May 17.
As Tommy Wright noted earlier this week, today’s Scottish Cup final seems “tailor-made” for the striker to make an impact. Having scored five times against United in his last two appearances, May has been in potent form against them.
Perhaps surprisingly, the St Johnstone manager resisted the temptation to wrap the striker in cotton wool in recent weeks, although he might not have wanted to encourage the perception that today’s game is all about one young man. It isn’t, of course.
May is the first to admit that strike partner Steven MacLean has made a considerable contribution to his own success this season, after battling back from injury. “Anybody here and anybody who’s played with him will tell you how good he is,” he said yesterday. “His touch, hold-up play and the experience he brings is second to none.” Dundee United, meanwhile, have their own set of talented potential game-changers.
However, May is the player in the most eye-catching form. The energetic, bustling striker would not have thanked Wright for keeping him on the sidelines in the countdown to the final. In any case, as he stressed yesterday (while being sure to touch some wood), he has a good record with injuries.
He has played 48 games already this season, and made 40 appearances in the previous campaign, when he played mostly on loan for Hamilton Accies. It was in the season before that, when he scored 19 times in 22 games while on loan at Alloa, when he began to really announce himself – although he did score on his debut for St Johnstone as far back as May 2009.
There is a feeling that he has been building towards this moment. Now he has the opportunity to write himself in the history books by helping St Johnstone win the Scottish Cup for the first time. The focus is very much on someone who has scored 27 times already this season. Five of these goals have come against United, including a hat-trick in a 3-0 win in December. He is being cast as the most likely match-winner today by many observers.
Indeed, it is written in the stars that sparkle above the loamy Perthshire fields on cup final eve, isn’t it, Stevie? He is not so sure. He was asked yesterday for his thoughts on the quirk of having ‘17’ – the number he was given at the start of this season – and ‘May’ written across his back, something first picked up on after he scored twice against Aberdeen last month to take St Johnstone into the final. Despite the long hair and the tattoos, he is a down-to-earth sort of guy. There is no point getting mystical with May.
“It is a nice little coincidence, but I am not superstitious at all,” he shrugged. “I’d probably say superstitions are a mentally weak thing to think about. It’s down to us at the end of the day. Nothing is going to win us the game apart from ourselves. I wouldn’t read too much into that.”
Others are, however. Walk through Perth this week, and you cannot fail to notice the T-shirts stretched out in shop front window displays, all bearing the same legend: May 17.
“I wish I was getting a cut of the merchandise, I have missed out massively,” lamented May with a smile, although he is set to put pen to paper on a lucrative new contract after the final, once either the dust kicked up by the cup-winning parade settles, or the disappointments at having missed out on a chance at glory recedes.
“We’ll wait until the cup final is past,” he said. “There is no point having anything in your way when you’ve got that.
“You can only have one focus and that’s the final, it is too much to sort out until then.” Although all his thoughts are concentrated on this afternoon’s game, he looks remarkably relaxed for someone who is preparing to carry the hopes of 15,000 St Johnstone supporters on his shoulders. He is the local boy made good, although such is the geography of an area divided by a broad, majestic river, the place where May grew up, Newburgh, is actually in Fife. The town is situated on the southern bank of the Tay, on the main road between Perth and Cupar, which is where May went to school.
“I was born in Perth but my mum and dad live in Newburgh, which is ten miles outwith the city, so I wasn’t really in and around the city at a young age,” he explained. “I was more brought up in the country.”
It is surprising he became a footballer at all, since the school he attended, Bell Baxter, is dominated by rugby. “I played a few times and I was all right because I was fast but that was as far as it went,” said May. Out of 1,800 pupils, he was the only one signed up to a football club. Now he is again feeling special after becoming the main object of the St Johnstone fans’ affections.
As well as being their team’s main goal threat, he is their mascot. It is a lot to ask of a 21-year-old. “The only thing I get nervous about is speeches,” said May, although the designer-clothes clad player handled this chore well enough after being presented with the young player of the year award by football writers at a dinner last weekend, in front of several hundred guests.
The only name on his shirt this afternoon will be his own. There is every chance those in Perth and beyond will have reason to remember it for years to come.