St Johnstone fans turn Perth into a blue heaven

St Johnstone captain Dave Mackay hoists the Scottish Cup aloft amid a blizzard of tickertape. Picture: SNS
St Johnstone captain Dave Mackay hoists the Scottish Cup aloft amid a blizzard of tickertape. Picture: SNS
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Even though blue and white confetti seemed to be everywhere, even though they had watched their team score two goals and concede none, there were still probably many St Johnstone fans who needed to see the open-topped bus before they could believe that it had finally happened.

“Winners of the 2014 Scottish Cup – it’s the first time we have said this…St Johnstone!” roared the Tannoy man at Celtic Park on Saturday. But many might have feared that this had been a dream and so made their way bright and early to McDiarmid Park yesterday to seek further proof that, yes, their team had really done it.

Parked as discreetly as it is possible to park an open-topped bus was the vehicle that confirmed Perth was about to experience its first cup parade. The players clambered aboard and the bus inched away on its historic journey. As well as being the starting point for a cup winners’ parade, the club car park was also hosting a bric a brac sale.

But then this happens every Sunday morning – it was the cup parade that was intruding. “Ah havnae sold nearly as much as normal,” rued one salesman. The trinket to end all trinkets took pride of place at the front of the bus, glinting in the sun.

Do you remember the first time? Not many get to experience the thrill of witnessing their club win a first major honour after 130 years of effort. At Celtic Park, 15,000 St Johnstone supporters saw history unfold in front of their eyes against Dundee United. And yesterday, 25,000 packed the streets of Perth as a new chapter was written in St Johnstone’s annals; that excellent club history tome, entitled Bristling with Possibilities, is now in need of a severe re-write.

In its postscript, written in 1997, the authors Alastair Blair and Brian Doyle ask, reasonably, that if Raith Rovers can win a major honour, as they had done three years earlier, then why not St Johnstone? “If the Rovers can do it, why not Saints? A trophy, that’s all we, the fans, ask for. Nearly every other comparable Scottish club has achieved this by now.”

There are other clubs that cannot be compared with St Johnstone, those who chased success by spending money on the never-never. Gretna did not lift a major trophy, but reached a Scottish Cup final eight years before St Johnstone, and came a missed penalty away from winning the cup against Hearts.

“In terms of the cup, we have had it thrown in our face that we have never won anything,” said Steve Brown yesterday. “We have had supporters on the terraces tell us that using language I could not possibly use here,” added the chairman, who succeeded his father in this role three years ago.

“Outside of the big six, it seemed the only way to do it is to do what the likes of Gretna have done and I am delighted they failed. That shouldn’t be what it is about. We are getting plaudits now but it has taken a long, long time. We live within our means and that’s the way it should be. It has taken 30 years of Brown involvement and I am absolutely delighted, especially for my father. The policy he has put in place has actually borne fruit.”

Vindication arrived on a feast of Stevens. An airborne Steven Anderson sent his header high into the net on the stroke of half-time and then the grounded Steven MacLean flicked the ball home after 84 minutes. This second goal was the one when you felt the St Johnstone fans finally believed the wait was about to end.

Prior to this, they had seemed strangely subdued, as if struggling to take in the enormity of a moment some had dreamed about for several decades.

The promise of victory had drawn hundreds back from across the world. But how were they expected to cope with the reality of winning, now that it appeared to lie so near at hand?

Robin Wilson travelled from the west coast of Canada for the occasion. After emigrating last year, it took St Johnstone precisely seven months to do what they had not managed in his lifetime by reaching the Scottish Cup final. He wore his 35-year-old scarf to the game. “I thought it was a jinx!” he said yesterday. Many others probably picked garments from their wardrobes with the same sense of suspicion on Saturday morning.

“The story of St Johnstone has not been one of successes. Rather, it has been one of difficulties, anxieties and struggles.” This was Robert Campbell, the then St Johnstone chairman, speaking at the club’s golden jubilee dinner in 1935. The story of St Johnstone lasted another 50 years, and more, without success – at least not in the form of a major trophy. In the seasons directly after their centenary, the club suffered successive relegations.

So both Saturday and yesterday were most definitely days for the fans; they were pay-back. You remembered, too, those who were not there. Don McVicar, the powerful left-back who died aged 43 in 2006, after a four-year battle with motor neurone disease, and his team-mate and club record appearance holder Drew Rutherford, who passed away from cancer just weeks earlier, when in his early 50s. Both were club stalwarts who would have loved this weekend.

And also Ian Redford, whose greatest achievements came in a Dundee United shirt, but whose heart belonged to St Johnstone, for whom he played towards the end of his career. There was a lovely tribute from his son, also Ian, in Saturday’s match programme.

Born too late to see his elegant footballing father in his prime, he recalled how his “best footballing memories of Dad was playing five-a-side football with him on the astroturf at McDiarmid Park with my uncle Gavin and my school mates”.

It’s a lovely, poignant image; a well-loved footballer having a kickabout in the shadow of the stadium he once graced, near to where he was remembered at a funeral in Perth just a few short months ago.

By chance Ray Stewart, who played in the same Errol Rovers youth team as Redford, was attending a birthday party yesterday at the Royal George hotel, where a post-parade club function was being hosted.

“I have a foot in both camps but I made my choice and went with St Johnstone on Saturday,” said Stewart, who played full-back for Dundee United and West Ham United, and enjoyed a short stint with St Johnstone towards the end of his career. “I am a local boy and I played for them, which was a dream for me. He should be Lord Provost. What he has done for this city is magnificent,” the 54 year old continued, with reference to Geoff Brown, who resuscitated the club in 1986. “This will be remembered forever.

“I am a homegrown guy, and though most of my career was elsewhere, this is my team,” he added.

Stewart’s mother passed away recently, while he is preparing to undergo heart surgery shortly. Now based in Bridge of Earn, he came as close as anyone to summing up an emotional weekend: “We all come home, eventually.”