LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

St Johnstone

Saints win cup double to resume European adventure

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Sole representatives of Perth in the upper levels of Scottish football, St Johnstone have enjoyed a long period of stability and relative success, lifting two cup trophies in 2021. These wins followed the historic one of seven years earlier.

Three third-place finishes and two losing appearances in the League Cup final were all the Saints had to show for 130 years of football – until a gutsy performance against Dundee United brought the Scottish Cup to Perth for the first time in 2014.

No, this wasn’t the golden era of manager Willie Ormond in the early 1970s – but European adventures were back, and for the first time there was a buzz around McDiarmid Park, a post-Heysel new-build stadium on the outskirts of Perth.

Pre-Ormond, St Johnstone’s form was patchy at best. Founded in 1884, a member of the former Second Division from 1911, the Saints did little of note for more than half a century except move from the Recreation Grounds to Muirton Park in 1924.

All changed for the good with the arrival of Willie Ormond, an ex-Famous Five forward at Hibs, in 1967. Within two years, the Saints had reached in a major final, a 1-0 League Cup defeat to Celtic, the team with later Everton forwards Jim Pearson and John Connolly finishing third in the league two years later.

Pearson scored in both legs of the Saints’ debut in Europe, a 4-2 aggregate win over Hamburg, Uwe Seeler and all, in 1971. After beating Vasas, St Johnstone fell to Željezničar in the third round of the UEFA Cup.

After Ormond’s departure for the Scotland job and the 1974 World Cup, St Johnstone sank to their lowest level yet, the third flight. It required the funds of Perth-born construction mogul Geoff Brown to step in, invest in the team and build the all-seater McDiarmid Park, for the Saints to return to the top flight.

In his 25 years as chairman, Brown hired and fired managers such as Alex Totten, Paul Sturrock and Owen Coyle. But his last hire, Steve Lomas, with previous managerial experience at non-league St Neots from Cambridgeshire, achieved the best results. Bringing in his former Northern Ireland teammate Tommy Wright as assistant, Lomas led the Saints to their first European foray in over a decade in 2011-12.

While defeat to the semi-pros of Eskişehirspor was disappointing – the Turkish side then drew with Marseille – St Johnstone went on to finish third in the Premiership in 2013. Lomas had already alerted many clubs south of the border to his capabilities. Poached by Millwall, the former West Ham midfielder struggled in south-east London while Wright stepped up to the plate at McDiarmid Park.

Beating an always tricky Rosenborg Trondheim in the Europa League, Wright’s Saints lucked out to FC Minsk on penalties but progressed at home in the Scottish Cup. Making the final for the first time thanks to two goals from home-grown striker Stevie May over Aberdeen in the semi, St Johnstone faced Dundee United at Celtic Park. 

Though outnumbered by Arabs in the crowd, St Johnstone stunned their Tayside rivals with a headed goal from former Dundee United youth player, centre-back Steven Anderson, right on half-time. A sterling performance from forward Steve MacLean – who had failed to convert the vital last penalty against Minsk months before – was capped by vital late second goal to push the tie, and the cup, beyond United’s reach. St Johnstone had won the Scottish Cup for the first time.

That July, MacLean made no mistake at McDiarmid Park, converting the first penalty in the shoot-out against Luzern in the Europa League. Stevie May’s goal in Slovakia was not enough to save the subsequent tie against Spartak Trnava. Not only were the Saints out but May, a key part of the Saints’ recent success, was off to Sheffield Wednesday.

Without May’s goals, St Johnstone suffered a miserable autumn in 2014-15 but rallied to a fourth-place finish. With MacLean now the main goalscorer, the Saints hunted down another European place in 2017. Again, the Saints were found wanting against little-known opposition, modest Trakai of Lithuania beating the Perth side home and away.

Replacing Wright in 2020, former Saints and Scotland midfielder Callum Davidson had started his coaching career at his old club with a string of defeats in the league. The cups were a different matter. Around an echoing Hampden in the pandemic winter of 2020-21, St Johnstone swept aside Hibs 3-0 in the League Cup semi-final, then edged out Livingston by a single goal.

That April at Ibrox, Saints stalwart Zander Clark played a blinder, the keeper going up for a stoppage-time corner after two hours of football and heading on a corner for Chris Kane to net. A stunned Rangers, who had scored only five minutes before, then failed to convert two of the penalties as a buoyant Clark saved the day again.

Again, Hampden was empty for the semi and final, St Johnstone collecting a second cup trophy in as many months with narrow victories over St Mirren and Hibs. Drawing multi-titled Galatasaray in the Europa League, Davidson’s side gained a creditable draw in Istanbul. 

Holding the Turks by the same 1-1 scoreline at McDiarmid Park, the Saints succumbed to a a second-half onslaught and dropped down to the newly established Conference League, where a LASK Linz side proved too strong. Back in Scotland, St Johnstone lost their way, and needed a play-off win over Inverness to maintain their long Premiership presence.

Things barely improved in 2022-23, prompting the departure of manager Davidson – and chairman Steve Brown, who had been overseeing the club for the previous decade after his father’s sterling stewardship for more than 20 years before then. This lack of continuity was reflected the following season, one of patchy league form and managerial changes.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

The first of Britain’s new breed of all-seater football stadiums, McDiarmid Park was built on farmland north-west of Perth by the A9. Circumstances had combined to initiate the move from Muirton Park, which had been the club’s home since 1924: a crumbling old ground, a new chairman and an offer from supermarket giant Asda to fund construction in exchange for the land at Muirton.

The project was also of its time, post-Heysel and -Bradford, safety and comfort the watchwords for a new era. McDiarmid Park also has aesthetic value. Four one-tier stands contain neat rows of seating in bright, primary colours.

The south, Ormond Stand, named after the revered manager of the early 1970s, is usually allocated for families. Away fans are placed in the North Stand or main West one depending on demand. Capacity is 10,696.

getting here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

McDiarmid Park is on Perth’s north-western outskirts and too far to walk from the city centre. McDiarmid Park has its own stop, served by bus 2 from Stop B (by Perth North Church) on central Mill Street, journey time 15mins. Alternatively, bus 1 sets off from Stop A (by Ladbrokes) on Mill Street, going to the Tulloch Institute alongside the stadium.

Each runs every 15-20mins Mon-Sat, every 30mins Sun, with services until late evening every day. Note that these routes are circular – even if you get on the bus heading in the other direction, you’ll still get to the ground, but it will take twice as long.

A taxi from town should cost around £14.

The sat nav code for McDiarmid Park is PH1 2SJ. On match days, there are limited spaces at the stadium car park, £5 per vehicle. Stewards are on hand to guide drivers. Failing that, the Tesco store next door (Huntingdon Tower Road, PH1 2NR) also offers parking slots for £5/car. The shop currently operates until midnight every day of the week.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket office (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, match-day Sat 1.30pm-half time, eve match 6pm-half time) can be found behind the Main West Stand. 

Online sales are also available. For enquiries, contact 01738 455 000 during office hours (see above) or ticketsales@perthsaints.co.uk.

Unless Celtic or Rangers are the visitors, games never sell out. Admission is £25, £14 for seniors and under-20s, under-12s enter free with a paying adult. Prices rise for Old Firm visits and families receive a discount in the Ormond Stand.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Saints Shop (Tue-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-1pm, match-day Sat 10am-kick off & for 30mins after final whistle) is near the main car park at the east corner of the Ormond Stand. 

Current first-team tops feature thin white pinstripes down the club’s traditional blue, away is a slightly Leedsy white with a yellow collar, cuffs and markings, where blue also makes an appearance. Third kit is black with blue pinstripes and purple collar and cuffs.

Retro tops, home and away, date back to the 1980s. All merchandise, of course, features the somewhat Byzantine double-headed eagle, said to celebrate Perth’s Roman heritage.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

As there are no options around the ground, your best bet is to dive into either of two decent hostelries on Mill Street or Murray Street, near the stop for bus 2 to the stadium.

You can follow match action at Sandeman, which fills a former public library with TV screens and lively chatter. Over the road beside the Perth Playhouse cinema, The Foundry is a former ironworks converted into a pub/restaurant offering match-watching, pool, darts, decent beers and excellent food.

Five minutes away on Barossa Street, a members-only St Johnstone Supporters’ Club operates six days a week except for Sundays.

At McDiarmid Park, the bar behind the Main Stand should serve home and away supporters on match days.