FLYING to Armenia and back was tough, and the prospect of a 9,000-mile round trip to Kazakhstan seems horrendous but St Johnstone defender Tam Scobbie reckons it’s a piece of cake compared to the efforts of volunteers raising money in memory of his schoolfriend and team-mate Craig Gowans.
Gowans, who played with Scobbie at Falkirk, tragically died aged 17 ten years ago when training equipment he was carrying connected with an overhead power cable at the Little Kerse ground in Grangemouth.
His family and friends have been raising money ever since and their latest project – a 105-hour continuous 11-a-side football match – has smashed their £37,000 target and is on course to raise double that when it concludes at 10pm tonight.
That has been inspirational for Scobbie as he plots to over-turn a 1-0 deficit against Alashkert in Perth tomorrow night to help St Johnstone reach the second qualifying round of the Europa League.
The Saints defender said: “It’s been good. I was down seeing Craig’s mum and dad yesterday.
“They were great. I spoke to some of the people who were playing – Craig’s brother and sister – who’d just come off an eight-hour stint on the pitch. They were getting a couple of hours’ rest before going back on to do a 12-hour stint overnight.
“It’s a 105 hours continuous match which will finish at 10pm on Wednesday. It started on Sunday so they were just halfway through when I got there.
“Their spirits were amazing. There were some players who were still running about on the pitch giving it everything and there were others who were knackered and flat out on the pitch with people coming on to help them.
“‘Tomorrow will be the ten-year mark since Craig’s accident at Falkirk so I think I will head down for the finish and watch them bring it home. It certainly puts flight times into perspective when we’re travelling in Europe. They are looking to try to push it to £74,000 which would be double Craig’s number. Hopefully everyone sticks to it. They are doing a fantastic job.”
The fundraising effort is a fantastic boost for Scobbie as Saints look to reach the next phase where they will likely meet Kairat Almaty from Kazakhstan who are defending a 2-0 lead over Red Star Belgrade.
However, he knows there will have to be a major improvement in performance after Saints struggled in the heat of Yerevan.
He said: “That’s probably the worst performance we’ve had in Europe away from home.
“Even during the season, when we haven’t played well we’ve always been aggressive and in opponents’ faces but, because of the travelling and climate, we just didn’t perform on the day and that’s something we have to rectify.
“I don’t think the climate or the travelling helped over there and they’ll have to deal with that coming over here.
“We’ll watch the video and look at the things we did wrong and, hopefully, we’ll show the fans who will come out that we are in with a fighting chance.
“It would be massively disappointing to go out at the first hurdle. We spoke about that when we came back.
“We didn’t want to come back a couple of weeks early for nothing, especially when we’ve had a bit of success in the three seasons before by getting through a couple of rounds.
“We have to keep it tight at the back and try to play some attacking football to give us an opportunity to get to the next round.
“They were a good side over there, but back at McDiarmid, on our day we can beat anyone. We’ll certainly put up a better show than we did over there.”
St Johnstone have knocked out far better teams than the Armenians – like Rosenborg of Norway and Swiss side Lucerne – so Scobbie knows they should be capable of completing the job tomorrow night.
He said: “If the St Johnstone team that played last season, especially the last five games, shows up then I think we’ll have a good chance of beating this side.
“They’ll probably think, going by our performance last week, that we aren’t a good side, but it’s up to us to show them that we are a good side and we have proved that in the last four years by getting into Europe and beating good teams like Lucerne and Rosenborg.”
Saints, meanwhile, are having a look at Jim McAlister in training after the midfielder left Dundee last season.