Rosenborg win ‘reward for St Johnstone’s patience’

Murray Davidson holds off Morecambe's Andrew Fleming in his first game since re-signing for Saints. Picture: SNS
Murray Davidson holds off Morecambe's Andrew Fleming in his first game since re-signing for Saints. Picture: SNS
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GEOFF Brown turns 70 today but he would be happy if his beloved St Johnstone deliver a Europa League present on Thursday.

He’ll settle down in front of the computer and seek out a live stream from the FC Minsk clash in Belarus.

But the Perth club owner and former chairman, who spent 25 years at the coal face, might just allow himself a look back at just how far Saints have come since he rescued them from the brink of bankruptcy in 1986.

“I wasn’t in Norway for the Rosenborg tie. It was a lot of hassle,” he explained. “I managed to get a stream on the computer so it wasn’t too bad. I’m at most games now and I only miss them for special reasons – like when my horse is running.

“I’m not going to Minsk because I get really bad travel motion sickness and I’ve been told it’s four hours from the airport to the ground. If we get through and there’s an easier destination to reach, then I’ll go.

“It’s my birthday and it would be nice to celebrate with a win this week. It’s not often this happens and we’ve got a realistic chance to win the next tie. It would be tremendous.

“But I’m a great believer in only lifting your sights as far as you can see and once you get there then you try to lift again. I never looked beyond that. I wasn’t one to say ‘let’s do this and let’s do that’.

“In this case, it has been very much a crawl but it’s nice to be in the top league and competing in Europe.

“When I look back, we were drawn against Forfar in the cup and their chairman Gordon Webster phoned me and said ‘I’ll give you a wager that we’ll beat you’.

“I said to him ‘I’ll give you an even better wager, you might beat us in the cup, but you’ll never beat us again’. And, to this day, they’ve never managed it. That shows you how the aims have changed.”

He recalled: “When I came in, St Johnstone were signing players out of the junior league. A number of junior sides would have beaten them at that time. They were really bad.

“So it was a very special night against Rosenborg. I was one of the ones who was fortunate enough to be at Muirton Park when we beat Hamburg in 1971.

“Against Rosenborg, it was a different era and it was heartening to see a lot of young faces who had never witnessed anything like that before.

“If you look back over the 129 years of history, there haven’t been a lot of what you would describe as special nights. When you look at the history of Rosenborg, it was very special.

“Hamburg was special – John Connolly, Henry Hall and Jim Pearson – and there was a bigger crowd. It was dreary Muirton Park. At that time in Scotland, you had a wage limit, so your team was the team that was put together. In the case of St Johnstone, it was Willie Ormond who put it together.

“Money didn’t come into it as much as it does today. But Hamburg were a big club from a big city. We have to always remember that Perth has a population which is very small in the context of senior football.

“The night after Hamburg, I just went home – with no money. In those days you didn’t exactly have a lot of money.”

Brown might have stepped aside to allow son Steve to assume the reins 18 months ago but he keeps an eye on the cash flow.

He said: “I’ve had to work hard to make the pennies and I believe that any business must pay its way. All the guys who have been with me on the board of St Johnstone have been fans – there hasn’t been anyone in for the soirees, the freebies or the trips.

“Everyone that has been here has done it voluntarily. Nobody got any money out of St Johnstone. That was our principle, to try and be sensible.”

Brown remained true to those principles as a string of clubs, from Livingston to Rangers, recklessly chased a dream and gambled with the very existence of their clubs.

“Livingston was the one that sickened me the most when they were offering players twice or three times what we were paying,” he admitted, remembering Livi pillaging McDiarmid for Alan Main, Gary Bollan and Nathan Lowndes.

“Perth might only have 45,000 people but our crowds were as good as, if not better, than Livingston. That was crazy when you saw that happening, and then you saw it with Dundee.

“But I think the thing that stuck in the throat most of all was that nothing was in place to move those clubs out of the higher leagues at the time. Motherwell and Dundee were in administration and were left in the league and we were a league below them.

“Then you had a Gretna coming up who were always on the road to disaster and nothing was done about it. That was upsetting. Maybe our reward was the win over Rosenborg and it was great to see.”

Brown has been thrilled by the interest generated by Saints’ exploits and reckons the Minsk return leg is tailor made for television.

“I thought the BBC might have looked at it. If you look back over the years, there haven’t been many clubs progressed past the first round.

“We’ve just knocked out Rosenborg – is that not the time to step in? They wouldn’t have to pay big money.”

St Johnstone 0-1 Morecambe: Returning Davidson eligible for Minsk trip

ST JOHNSTONE slipped to a narrow defeat against League Two side Morecambe on Saturday – in front of just 871 fans – but there remains a positive mood in the camp ahead of Thursday’s Europa League clash against FC Minsk.

None of the side that sealed an aggregate win over Rosenborg last week were involved at the weekend, and the Shrimps scored the only goal of the game on 33 minutes when Marcus Marshall raced clear and sent a shot past goalkeeper Zander Clark via an upright.

Saints manager Tommy Wright spent yesterday sifting through footage of Minsk, supplied by Valletta. But with no time to look over the Belarus cup winners in action, Wright turned to one-time Newcastle youth player Mark Miller for the inside track.

“Minsk put Valletta out and I have seen bits of them. Mark has been very helpful,” said the manager. “The Maltese said if they had been into their season they might have come through it.

“Minsk probably won’t be the quality of Rosenborg but it will still be a difficult tie. People might fancy us to go through but we will remind the players no-one expected us to beat Rosenborg. We will approach it in a professional manner.”

Murray Davidson made his second debut for St Johnstone on Saturday after signing a 12-month contract. After beating the Uefa signing deadline, he will be on the fight to Belarus this week.