St Johnstone Football Club derives its name from Saint John’s Toun (town) which was the ancient name for the City of Perth and was founded by a group of young men from the cricket team of the same name who were looking for a winter pastime. Although these men undoubtedly kicked a football around in the autumn of 1884 and the date of the club’s formation was – and still is – given as being in that year, subsequent research has revealed that in fact the meeting to officially start a club came on Tuesday 24th February 1885 and the first match played by St Johnstone FC came a few weeks later on 7th March 1885 when Caledonian Railway were defeated 1-0. However, given the clear indication that the St Johnstone Cricket Club members played football prior to the official formation of the club, 1884 continues to be shown as the year of formation on the club crest and on merchandising.
A man by the name of George Valentine, a well known curler in the City, was appointed the club’s first President and he was instrumental in gathering together the money required to pay the cost of St Johnstone’s first ground and each of the original twenty members of the club subscribed £1 to secure the lease on a vacant piece of land – close to the present day South Inch - known as Craigie Haugh, later to be renamed Recreation Grounds. These were officially opened on 15th August 1885 in a match between leading lights of the time Queen’s Park who defeated Our Boys from Dundee 6-0 and were home to the club until 1924.
During their time at the Recreation Grounds, a recommendation was put forward that the club “be floated as a Limited Liability Company” and the Company as we know it today was incorporated in August 1910 with a share capital of £750. Robert Campbell (Honorary President) was soon to be appointed as Chairman of the Club and had the honour of later becoming President of the Scottish Football Association in 1927. Campbell went on to become one of the most important people in the Club’s history as a player, Director and Chairman. It was during his Chairmanship that in 1919 the Club appointed its first Manager, Peter Grant, but even in these days, difficult decisions were required to be taken and his services were dispensed with after just one season.
St Johnstone outgrew the Recreation Grounds and in 1924 moved to the north end of the city to Muirton Park, which was to become their home for the next 65 years. The new ground cost a total of £13,194 and was officially opened on Christmas Day 1924 with a league match against highly appropriate opposition – the side who had helped open the Recreation Grounds, Queen’s Park.
As a club, St Johnstone were fortunate to have attracted some quality managers, notably Tommy Muirhead (1931-1936) who brought unprecedented success to the Club and whose contribution to the Club cannot be overestimated. Bobby Brown (1958-1967) and Willie Ormond (1967-1973) also had successful spells as managers and it was a fine reflection on them and the Club when they each left to become Manager of the Scottish international side.
The Club’s stay at Muirton Park brought some great occasions with promotion being achieved on various occasions including three championship seasons. The best spell was, arguably, under Willie Ormond when it reached the Scottish League Cup Final for the first time in its history in 1969 followed by a third place in the Scottish Football League thereby securing a place in European competition for the first time. Ormond’s men performed with distinction, overcoming quality opposition from West Germany and Hungary before succumbing to Yugoslavian opposition.
In the course of its history, the Club has had to endure numerous financial crises, none more so than in the mid 1980’s. In 1985-1986, the Club finished 30th out of Scotland’s 38 clubs, the performance equalling that of 1952-53, which was the worst in the Club’s post war history. Less than 23,000 diehards turned up for the 23 home games at a by now crumbling Muirton Park and match attendances of under 1,000 became commonplace. Change was certainly required and the Board of Directors approached local businessman, Geoff Brown, and after several meetings, he was appointed Chairman of the Company. Changes were made at board level and a “rights issue” raised £150,000 which solved the Club’s short-term financial problems.
In December 1986 came the news that an approach had been made to the new Chairman to buy Muirton Park and turn it and the adjoining Ice Rink into a retail superstore; in return, the Club would be relocated in a brand new 10,000 seater stadium on the western edge of the city. This was the first step on the road to McDiarmid Park – (named after local farmer Bruce McDiarmid who generously donated the land on which the stadium was built) and on 19th August 1989, in the UK’s first all-seated, purpose-built football stadium was opened – St Johnstone defeated Clydebank 2-1 in the first match at the new stadium.
The new stadium provided the Club with first class facilities for spectators with an all seated stadium for over 10,000 spectators, parking for 1,000 cars and 100 coaches; a synthetic playing surface adjacent to the stadium and conference facilities within the main stand. This was a sign of things to come as many other clubs in Scotland (and indeed England) upgraded their facilities or relocated thus providing much improved facilities and revenue-earning potential.
In it’s relatively short time at McDiarmid Park, the Club has continued its roller coaster ways with promotion and relegation both having been encountered on more than one occasion. A First Division Club when it moved to the new stadium, Alex Totten got the club into the Premier League in 1989/1990, a feat repeated by Paul Sturrock (later to manage in the English Premiership) in 1996/1997. However, pride of place goes to Season 1998/1999 when the heady days of the Willie Ormond era were recaptured as Sandy Clark built on the work done by Sturrock and the club reached the final of the Scottish League Cup (losing 2-1 to Rangers) and finished 3rd in the Scottish Premier League thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup for the second time in its history. Finnish side VPS Vaasa were overcome and although AS Monaco emerged victorious in the next round, St Johnstone Football Club has the proud record of being unbeaten at home in European competition (played 5, won 4, drawn 1).
Following relegation in 2002, season 2004/2005 saw the club play its third successive season in the First Division of the Scottish Football League with former playing hero John Connolly charged with the task of returning the club to the top flight of the game in Scotland. However, it proved to be a desperatly poor season and Saints finished third bottom of the league - only being sure of avoiding relegation to the Second Division in the final weeks of the season. Such a poor season led to Connolly losing his job less than a year after taking over and he was replaced by Owen Coyle, one of Scotland's most prolific goalscorers, who took the club forward before being lured to the managerial post at Burnley in November 2007. His successor Derek McInnes was charged with the responsibility of bringing top flight football back to Perth and he achieved that in season 2008/09 when a club record run of twenty two unbeaten league games laid the foundation for a First Division Championship success which brought SPL football back to Perth after a gap of seven years.
Football would be nowhere without players and St Johnstone Football Club has been fortunate that many fine players have worn our colours over the years – goalkeeper Sandy McLaren, who gained 5 caps for Scotland; Bobby Davidson who was transferred to Arsenal in 1935 for £1,000; Paddy Buckley who played for Saints in the 1950’s and was transferred to Aberdeen for £7,500 in 1952; John Connolly who blossomed under Willie Ormond and was later transferred to Everton for £70,000; Ally McCoist who was transferred as an 18 year old to Sunderland for £400,000 in 1981 and was later inducted into Scotland’s Hall of Fame; Danny Griffin, brought in as a 16 year old from Belfast and later transferred to Dundee United for £600,000 having represented Northern Ireland on numerous occasions during his time in Perth and Callum Davidson who fetched a club record £1.75m when transferred to Blackburn Rovers.
Whilst these are some examples of “high profile” players, it should not be forgotten that players such as Drew Rutherford, Charlie McFadyen, Willie Coburn and Bill McCarry all played more than 300 games for the Club; John Brogan, Ian Rodger, Henry Hall and the aforementioned Paddy Buckley each scored more than 100 goals whilst playing in a royal blue jersey.
More names and more events are sure to be added to the history of Perthshire’s senior club in the years ahead.
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