History - Significant Saints
Highlighting the contribution of certain people within a club's history is always a difficult exercise and an emotive subject. Whatever group of individuals you eventually choose is guaranteed to be greeted with agreement from some and look of puzzlement or horror from others.
As a base for the list below we have used the series of articles written by Alastair Blair for the match programme in season 1996/1997 and our thanks go to him for his permission to use them. Alastair’s selection has been augmented by one or two others we have chosen.
Some are chosen for the longevity of their service, some are chosen for their outstanding ability, a few are listed because of the impact they made during a relatively short spell with Saints or their achievements after leaving the club and a couple are included to mark their absolute devotion to St Johnstone.
Whatever the thinking behind their inclusion, they are all Great Saints and in acknowledging that there are many more names that could have been included we hope they give a sample of the sort of characters who have helped paint the club’s colourful history.
Sergei Baltacha was undoubtedly one of the most talented footballers ever to pull on a St Johnstone jersey. He spent most of his career with Dynamo Kiev, before coming to England in the late 1980s to play for Ipswich Town. Ipswich tended to play him in midfield, rather than at sweeper, alleging that his poor command of the English language might be dangerous in the heat of the penalty box.
Perthshire-lad Ian Redford was also in the East Anglian side at that time and he suggested to Sergei that he might consider a move to Scotland when his contract at Portman Road was over.
Thus it came about that on the 25th May 1990, a few weeks after promotion to the Premier League had been secured, Saints announced the biggest signing they have probably ever made. At no other time in the club’s history have the management invested in a player who had anything like Baltacha’s pedigree. Nearly 50 caps for his country (and no two-bit national side this – but the powerful Soviet Russian side), coupled with a bagful of domestic Russian honours, a European Cup Winners Cup medal and countless other honours meant that Sergei was like no other Saints before him.
Of crucial importance was the assurance given to him that, unlike Ipswich, Saints would play him at sweeper, the position he had made his own at Dynamo Kiev since the age of 18. Now he was 32, and looking for a fresh challenge.
St Johnstone did not start too well with Baltacha in the hearts of their defence. A defeat by Clyde in the Skol Cup and some poor league performances meant that some might have wondered if Ipswich were right after all. One newspaper report suggested that Baltacha would need to use all his experience to pull together a St Johnstone defence which had looked distinctly shaky in some of the early matches.
However as we all now know, it came wonderfully right in those autumn months of 1990. the 5-0 win against Aberdeen and a series of superb performances against Rangers, Celtic and Hearts meant the rest of Scotland sat up and took notice of the new Premier upstarts. And at the back of the defence, marshalling all those players who had little or no experience at this level of football was Sergei Baltacha. His timing, positioning and passing were quite exceptional. In particular, his ability to look up and ping a ball sixty yards to a Saints player was uncanny. Usually it was Allan Moore or Steve Maskrey who were the recipients of these magnificent passes and the ease with which Sergei transformed defence into attack was something to behold. Defensively, his timing in the tackle was also superb, as was his reading of the game. In one match, a 0-0 draw with rangers at McDiarmid, he slid in to get the ball from Mo Johnston while facing towards his own goal. However, his skill in hooking the ball away from the rangers’ forward and then getting to his feet to clear upfield, all within six inches of the touchline, was quite breathtaking. The general consensus of opinion was that if this was how he performed at the tail-end of his career, what must he have been like when he was in his prime?
Latterly Sergei – whose daughter Elena later made her mark as a professional tennis player - fell from favour when John McClelland came to Perth as manager. He went to Inverness Caley as player manager but was not a great success there. However, this is immaterial: for St Johnstone fans there is the memory of one of the greatest defenders, if not the greatest, we have ever seen in St Johnstone’s colours.
The one and only Brogie. For most Saints fans, the name John Brogan conjures up a vision of the ball nestling in the back of the opposition net while we all capered about the terracing in delight.
John Brogan came to St Johnstone in February 1977. He was signed by Jim Storrie because Derek O’Connor who had been signed from East Fife in January to score goals, had been injured. So Mr Storrie plucked Brogie from Albion Rovers and he made his debut on 19th February against Dumbarton. The PA reported “Newcomer Brogan displayed some nice touches and showed he will be an asset to the side.” By the end of that season, Saints, who had been fighting relegation, held onto their First Division status, with John scoring six goals from 15 games. For the seven and a bit seasons he was at Perth, apart from a period in 1980-81 when he had a dispute with Saints, his (like Drew Rutherford’s) was one of the first names of the teamsheet. Unlike Drew, John put the ball in the opposition net with wonderful regularity.
Eveyone will have their own memories of a Brogan goal. Like all the great predatory strikers, he had the knack of being in the right place at the right time, and crucially when he had to kick the ball over the line from six yards out, he didn’t miss.
My own favourite memory is not of a goal, not even a proper game. Saints were in the Premier League in season 1983-84 and John Brogan found it much more difficult to score than he had in the lower leagues. However, this was when the Soccer Sixes first took off, and in the early televised event from Coasters Arena in Falkirk, Brogie was given the ball some twenty yards out. He unleashed a shot of such power, which the keeper could only knock away, that he was actually interviewed about it afterwards, even though it didn’t result in a goal!
As we all know, John’s relentless scoring meant that he eventually eclipsed Ian Rodger’s record of 116 goals. This was marked by a presentation, by Ian Rodger, of a Golden Boot, which still has pride of place in John’s home.
His record breaking 117th striker came against Alloa on the 20th November 1982. And he kept on scoring, finally ending up on 140 goals from 277 starts. The finest striker ever to wear the royal blue of St Johnstone.
A pivotal figure in the history of St Johnstone Football Club, Robert Campbell was a young solicitor who played for the club as early as 1892 and whose legacy remains to this day.
After a desperately poor 1905-06 season a Special Meeting of the club was held on 9th April 1906 at which a heated debate took place about the way the club was being run with protestors looking for a new direction from the committee and in particular the issue of whether the club should become professional or remain amateur was debated.
The decision on that vital issue was held over until the AGM of the club two weeks later and at that later meeting, after heated discussion, the move to professionalism was decided on as the way ahead (but a move to change the name of the team to Perth FC found no favour) and a new committee was formed.
Writing in the Official Club History ‘Bristling With Possibilities’, Alastair Blair takes up the story: “In fact, the choice of officials was crucial to the further success of the club. One man in particular was to go on to make a bigger impact on St Johnstone than any other person before or since – a young solicitor named Robert Campbell. He was appointed honorary president, with Alex Wright as president.
Robert Campbell, who had already held office as club president before, eventually became president of the SFA and was the central character in Saints’ administration almost up to the Second World War. He, as much as anyone, was responsible for the healthy progress of the club from non-league to Scottish League status.”
Under Campbell’s leadership Saints became an established and respected Scottish Football League side and moved from the Recreation Grounds to Muirton Park – a stadium that the club and the city of Perth could be proud of. Campbell became club president and such was the high regard he was held in within the Scottish game he later became president of the SFA.
Later in the history book, Alastair writes the following about Robert Campbell’s death. “….this period also saw the end of an era when Robert Campbell, St Johnstone’s Chairman and guiding light for nearly 40 years, died on 6th April 1938, after several months’ illness. He was 66 and had had an association with the club since he made his debut as a player on the 29th October 1892 in a 1-1 draw with Saints’ early rivals, Fair City Athletic.
Robert Campbell was the real power behind virtually everything that St Johnstone had achieved up till that point in time. Not only was he a central character in Saints’ history, but he was extremely well respected throughout the Scottish game. Indeed, it is perhaps not stretching a point to suggest that many of the problems which St Johnstone encountered in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War might not have occurred if Bob Campbell had still been in charge.
But history is always full of “what ifs” and the best tribute we can pay is to state that, in our opinion, he has been the single most important person in St Johnstone’s history to date.
In the days before there was a manager, it was Robert Campbell and his fellow directors who picked the team. He was involved in the campaign which led to St Johnstone becoming a professional club, and a limited liability company. He played an important role in the drive to obtain Scottish League status. He was instrumental in making sure that the club regained their Scottish League status after the First World War. He was extensively involved in the move from the Recreation Grounds to Muirton. He became President of the SFA. He brought in Tommy Muirhead, the club’s first great manager. No other man has made such a contribution over such a lengthy period of time.”
What Robert Campbell would make of McDiarmid Park, the modern game and the communication medium that is the internet, we can only surmise. However, one thing is for sure – he, more than anyone, deserves his place in the history section of this website and he would no doubt be pleased that the Campbell Suite within the current stadium is named in his honour.
There is no doubt that using the criteria which most people would use to define ‘greatness’ in a footballer, Joe Carr would not qualify. However, in researching the Club’s history, his love (and there is no other word suitable) for the club came shining through, even though many years have passed since he donned a St Johnstone jersey.
When speaking the author of the official club history, Alastair Blair, asked Joe “What is your favourite memory of playing for Saints?”, Joe replied “Every moment of my time with St Johnstone”, and in answer to the question about his “Worst Memories”, Joe wrote, “None, well maybe having to leave at the end of my career…like John Dick (the Chairman) I loved the Club”. Would that St Johnstone could have had more like him!
So, our choice is purely sentimental, but despite this it is also worth recording that Joe was a talented footballer who gave many years of service to St Johnstone, delighting many thousands of fans along the way. Moreover, all the other players who were his contemporaries had nothing but praise for him, with Billy Taylor in particular recalling how Joe and his wife took him under their wing when he came to Muirton as a young lad.
A left winger, Joe was extremely popular with the Perth fans. In some ways he was the Henry Hall of his day, although without Henry’s scoring prowess. He came to St Johnstone in 1953, having played junior football in his home area of Kilsyth, and stayed for nine seasons. Saints were his only senior club and Joe was an exceptional servant.
His length of service is reflected in the fact that he features a long way up the tables for most appearances and for number of goals scored. In 230 games he scored 70 times – not a bad rate for a winger, and one which puts him 8th equal in the goalscoring charts alongside Harry Ferguson and Gordon Whitelaw.
Joe was a dab hand from the penalty spot and recorded that one of his favourite memories was scoring against Hibs’ Ronnie Simpson at Easter Road in season 1960-61. Simpson had been unbeatable from the spot that season, having saved all seven penalties awarded against his team. Up stepped Joe and Ronnie’s impressive run was ended, although it didn’t do Saints much good as they lost the game 3-1.
A well deserved testimonial game was arranged for Joe on the 8th November 1961. Falkirk provided the opposition and some 4,200 fans turned out to watch Saints 2-1. Joe Carr didn’t score that night, but his Perth career wasn’t quite over. He still made a handful of appearances, finally bowing out on the 10th of February 1962. By this time Bobby kemp, another skilful outside left, was on Saints’ books and he too continued the lineage of good left wingers which was to be continued by Fred Aitken. However, while both were arguably more talented, none could match Joe in their intensity of their loyalty to St Johnstone. Who says sentiment has no place in football?!
John Colburn is included here simply because he is the man who is credited with starting the ball rolling – literally. Peter Baxter, in his book, “Football in Perthshire”, written at the end of the 19th century, records that Colburn was the person responsible for the formation of St Johnstone. This clearly makes him a notable Saint!
John Colburn was introduced to football in Kelso, prior to moving to Dunkeld in the early 1880s, where he worked in the fishing tackle shop owned by a Mr R Anderson. This gentleman was a member of Queen’s Park and a prominent early enthusiast for the game. John Colburn was noted to be a good forward and we don’t know for certain, this fact may have influenced Mr Anderson’s decision to employ him. From Dunkeld, John found his way to Perth and joined the St Johnstone Cricket Club. It seems he was more than a capable cricketer.
The summer game was the big sport in Perth at this time, with reputably more than 100 clubs in the city! Certainly, it seems that the dominance of cricket in Perth was one of the reasons why the association game was slow to develop. However, with football becoming popular throughout Scotland in the 1880s it was inevitable that more clubs would be formed, even in Perthshire. The first club in Perth was Pullars Rangers, which began life in 1884.
The story goes that it was in the autumn of 1884, after cricket practice one evening, John Colburn suggested to a number of his cricketing friends that they might like to try the game with the big ball. This article was purchased and, as Peter Baxter describes the scene, “it was quite custom for a time, for the football to be brought forth, and promiscuous kicking to be indulged in”. The impression we have is that the cricketers developed their interests from what would nowadays be referred to as a bounce game.
From these humble, carefree kick-abouts, St Johnstone Football Club came officially into being the following year, 1885. John Colborn did play in the first ever St Johnstone line up, against Caledonian Railway, on 7th of March 1885, but we do not know much about what happened to him thereafter. We know he played at least one game for Pullars Rangers, and it seems that his association with St Johnstone was limited to the very early days. There are some reports of John’s prowess with the cricket bat, notably when he helped St Johnstone Cricket Club win the final of the Perth City Cup at the end of the summer of 1885. St Johnstone scored 81 runs, with Colburn only making a modest contribution, but their opposition, Pullars Dyeworks, could only muster 59 runs in reply.
John Colburn must be forever in our debt. Without him there might have been no St Johnstone – a though too terrible to contemplate!
In the opinion of many, the best playing in living memory at Perth.
John Connolly has given many people memories of football as it ought to be: of grace and pace and a single-minded belief in his own ability to destroy the hapless defenders who tried to shack. With John, moments of balletic athleticism were a natural part of his game. Almost without exception, his teammates at Muirton told us that he was the best player in the great Ormond side and they all noted that he had the arrogance on the pitch which separates the great from the good. The interplay between Connolly, Henry Hall and the rest of that most gifted of forward lines was a joy to behold.
Connolly was born in Barrhead in 1950 and after schools football came to Perth, like Alex MacDonald, from juvenile side Glasgow United. Willie Ormond had brought a number of youngsters of varying ages to Muirton over Christmas 1967 and in January 1968 he signed Connolly, initially as a part-timer. John had taken part in a trial game and opposing him that day was the experienced figure of Benny Rooney. Benny recalled how the young Connolly scored a hat-trick and was a real handful for him. John was only 18 but the impression he had made on Benny Rooney was not a one-off. All who saw him were sure the lad could make it and went on to make his debut in the last game of that season, against already relegated Motherwell at Muirton. Although John scored the only goal of the game, the P.A’s report gave no hint of what was to come. “John Connolly…..might be the answer (to Saints’ lack of a free scoring forward)” they wrote, “but only if he speeds up his play considerably”.
They were soon to change their tune as Connolly revealed that he could do much more that speed up his play. He was never quite such a prolific scorer as Henry Hall, but 55 goals from 133 matches is still an impressive total.
In his own opinion, John’s finest moment in a St Johnstone shirt came in the game against Hamburg at Perth. He really turned it on for us that night, and while all the team performed exceptionally, it was John Connolly who continually destroyed the German defence with a series of breathtaking runs, especially down the left wing, and from one of these Jim Pearson scored the second goal. His ability to beat his man on either side, with pace and body swerve, was demonstrated to the full that night and it was unfortunate that his “goal” was disallowed for a foul on the keeper. Nonetheless, that first ever European night at Muirton, and John’s special part in it, was something to be treasured.
Such talent was, regrettably, not going to stay long at Muirton. There was a great deal of interest in the Saints’ youngster, with various top English clubs making regular visits to chart his progress. Inevitably the lure of the big fee was too much for the Saints’ Board and towards the end of the 1971-72 season a £70,000 offer was accepted from Everton.
Today, in common with all of Ormond’s players, John Connolly looks back on his playing days with Saints as the happiest of his career. He was a fabulous player and his skills were eventually recognised during his time at Goodison with the award of one Scottish international cap. This was against Switzerland in 1973. Like Henry Hall, John suffered from playing his football at a time when there was a surfeit of brilliant forwards but he was clearly talented enough to hold his own in the highest company.
Our only regret was that he wasn’t capped while with St Johnstone – it would have been a richly deserved honour for a superbly gifted player.
John returned to the club as Manager in May 2004, having enjoyed a successful time in charge of Queen of the South, but regrettably he struggled to get his side on the right track and he left the club after barely a year at the helm.
For the newer generation of Saints supporters, John will be associated with that ill-fated time as Manager but it is as a player he should be remembered – few in the club’s history have been better in that respect.
On the face of it, our rigorous selection criteria for those included in Notable Saints, could easily have kept Bobby Davidson out. However, he is included because he summed up the brilliance of one of the best, if not the best, St Johnstone sides of all time.
Bobby came from Leslie in Fife and was spotted in 1931, playing for local club Bowhill Rovers by the Saints from Edinburgh – St Bernards. The St Bernards’ Directors who went to see him were most impressed and believed they may have found the next Alex James. Davidson was certainly an exceptionally gifted player and he soon attracted scouts to the Gymnasium from Arsenal, Preston, Middlesbrough and St Johnstone.
In March 1933, Tommy Muirhead came in with an offer which St Bernards could not refuse and Davidson became a Perth Saint, with £200 going in the opposite direction. St Bernards also insisted on a clause which would give them 25 % of any subsequent transfer fee and this was to prove a most astute move. The P.A was guarded in its comments about the pint-sized forward, but tried to sound the optimistic note. “About this Davidson…..” they wrote, “not so much is known in these parts…I do wish this Robert Davidson had boasted three or four inches more than his 5 foot 5 inches. But they say he has qualities which balance, and more than balance, his Lilliputian stature. Someone has even compared him to Alex James.”
Whilst not in the James class, Robert Davidson, like many others of his size, possessed outstanding skills. In addition, he had a kick like a mule and long-range shooting was a speciality which made him particularly popular with the Muirton fans and not very popular with opposing goalkeepers.
Saints had a superb forward line for much of the 1930’s and Bobby Davidson’s contribution at inside right during his time at Perth was second to none. The P.A was soon convinced of his merits, making particular reference to his strength on the ball and thrusting forays into attack which struck fear into the hearts of opposition defenders.
Talents such as his was certain to attract further attention and, just like St Bernards before them, St Johnstone were unable to turn down a big money offer when it came in. Bobby had impressed the Arsenal when he played against them in the friendly at Muirton in September 1934. Even more meritorious was his selection for the Scottish League team against the Irish League at Firhill a few weeks later. The London club, then the dominant force in English football (and in effect the strongest club side in world football at that time) came in with a bid of £4,000 and on 1st February 1935 Bobby moved South.. He was to remain with the Arsenal almost up to the Second World War, and although for the most part not an automatic first choice, he had several spells of consistent goal scoring and played at the very top of his trade for quite a few years.
Although undoubtedly a great player, Bobby Davidson had another side to his character which was to cause the Saints’ management the odd moment of grief. In photographs he invariably has a mischievous grin, but his bubbly personality, ready wit and loose tongue weren’t always popular with referees. Indeed he was fined and censured by the SFA whist with St Johnstone and it is evident that he was in some respects pleased to leave Scottish football for Highbury because he believed he was a marked man as far as the authorities were concerned.
As far as his fans at Perth were concerned, he was a star – the kind of player to enliven a dull game and give you the memories of excitement, skill and most of all sheer exuberance of a talented athlete playing at the peak of his form.
Callum Davidson was born in Stirling and is noteworthy in St Johnstone history as the player transferred for the largest transfer fee.
Despite the lure of prefessional golf and university, Callum decided to give full-time football a go and he made his Saints debut against Raith Rovers in August 1994 although it would be a couple of seasons before he really made an impact at first team level.
His impressive performances for Saints brought two Scotland Under 21 caps and inevitably attracted interest from several bigger clubs and he was signed by Blackburn Rovers in February 1998 for £1.75m - a fee to St Johnstone which has never been surpassed.
He spent two years at Ewood Park making 66 League appearances and once away from McDiarmid Park and in the public eye with Blackburn he won a total of 17 caps for Scotland, the first coming against Lithuania in 1999 and the last coming in 2003 against Canada.
Harry’s place in St Johnstone history is due to a number of factors. Firstly, he was clearly a very good player – good enough to be chosen as reserve for the inside left position for the Scottish League against the Irish League in October 1935 – and secondly he was with the club for 12 seasons, longer than anyone else. Moreover, he scored 70 goals in his time at Perth, making him Xth equal in the all-time scoring stakes and he still holds the joint club record for goals in the Scottish Cup with Steve Maskrey.
Although starting out as a wing half, Harry was equally capable of playing (as the Scottish League selectors indicated) at inside forward. A naturally left sided player, he was a gifted footballer who combined deftness of touch with the athletic ability necessary for any midfield player. By all accounts, he was a gentleman too, a home-loving man with a quiet, unselfish approach to life. On the field, he would not shirk his responsibilities but would rather try to retrieve an awkward situation than pass the buck (and the ball!) to one of his team-mates.
Harry’s skills attracted the scouts from south of the border, but when big money offers came in for him, with the promise of financial incentive way beyond those which Saints could offer, he was not prepared to shift. Blackburn Rovers, who bought several Saints’ stars in the inter-war period, offered a substantial fee (reportedly some £1,600) as well as attractive personal terms in January 1933, but despite the lure of the lucre Ferguson was happy at Perth and would not go.
In total, he played 285 times and was without doubt the kind of club servant every team wishes, but seldom gets. In recognition of his sterling service he was given a testimonial match against Manchester City, captained by the late, great Matt Busby. This took place on 23rd September 1935. Harry scored a hat-trick that night, and although the light blues scored one more, the match yielded a surplus of £109:4:4d, which the Saints Board rounded up to £120. It was a fitting reward for a display of loyalty which was to carry on for several more seasons yet.
Harry Ferguson eventually played his last game for the club he had served so well on 13th February 1937. This was a game against Clyde in the Scottish Cup which Saints unfortunately lost 3-1. It is a pity he couldn’t have gone out on a high note – no-one would have deserved it more.
Jimmy Fleming was a west coast boy who made his name at St Johnstone, moved to Rangers, and then won Scottish caps and many domestic medals.
Born in Glasgow in 1901, Fleming was playing for Shettleston juniors when Saints first showed interest in him. The St Johnstone Board were on the look-out for a goalscorer to help the club gain promotion and they watched Jimmy several times in October 1923. More than one attempt was made to get him, although they finally got their man with a signing-on fee of £20 and a weekly wage of £6.
Saints were confident they had made a sound investment and so too was a Mr David Wood from a local stationery firm. He gave Saints’ Chairman, Robert Campbell, a cheque for £5 to help towards Fleming’s signing-on fee.
Jimmy Fleming made an immediate impression. He was a very adaptable forward, often playing on the left wing, although it was generally agreed that centre-forward was his best position.
By the end of November 1923, Saints were top of their Division. With some spectacular scores being notched up by the Perth side, Jimmy Fleming was hailed as a new hero and his skills left their mark not just on the Saints’ fans, but also on those unfortunates detailed to play against him.
In a 5-1 win over Kings Park, he scored Saints’ last counter in tremendous style – so much so, that Waugh, the Kings Park left back, shook his hand, to great cheers for his sportsmanship.
St Johnstone duly went on that season to win, for the first time, promotion to the First Division of the Scottish League and Jimmy Fleming had more than repaid the Board’s faith in him. He had proved adept at putting the ball in the net and was especially good in the air – with 50 goals from 77 games.
Inevitably, his abilities were such that the bigger clubs began to show interest and in October 1925, two years after joining Saints, he signed for Rangers, in a player exchange deal.
While at Ibrox, Jimmy was capped three times and toured with the 1929 touring party to Norway, Germany and Holland along with Saints’ own Willie Imrie and Sandy McLaren. He maintained his prodigious scoring rate while at rangers, including 9 goals against Blairgowrie in the Scottish Cup in season 1933-34. The next season, as he neared the end of his career, he was transferred to Ayr United, where he stayed for another couple of seasons.
He did, however, make the occasional return visit to Perth, most notably in 1934 when he refereed the Perth vs Dundee ex-professionals match to raise funds for a new clubhouse for Perth Artisans Golf Club.
Jimmy Fleming was a patently a great striker. Like Tommy Cairns (who also went to Ibrox) before him, he only had a relatively brief spell with St Johnstone. It is an unfortunate fact of footballing life that for clubs like Saints to prosper they usually have to sell on the family silver.
Jimmy Fleming was a most valuable asset, but perhaps more importantly he was a key player in the first Saints team to gain promotion to the top League of Scottish football – a place which should be the club’s natural environment. Jimmy died in May 1969.
“We all agree, Henry is better than anyone” was a line from a ditty which frequently disturbed the rafters of the enclosure in the glory days that were Willie Ormond’s St Johnstone side. And so he was.
Henry is still the third top scorer of all time, with 114 goals from 253 appearances, but there should be no doubt that unlike virtually everyone else who has scored lots of goals for the club, he did it at the top level. This is not to disparage the achievements of others such as Rodger and Brogan, but rather to emphasise the quality of Hall.
Moreover, Henry produced goals regularly every season and it is likely that if he hadn’t been part of Jackie Stewart’s clear-out of ex-Ormond players, he would have continued to provide many goals and possibly have been the out and out top scorer of all time.
Willie Ormond knew what he was doing when he broke Saints’ record transfer fee by paying Stirling Albion £15,000 for their diminutive forward. The fans’ favourite Alex McDonald had just departed for Ibrox, but Henry quickly made the supporters forget about their former hero by proving himself to be an outstanding poacher. Moreover, he was increasingly able to take advantage of the exceptional quality of the other forwards available to Willie Ormond, and with men like the experienced Gordon Whitelaw and young stars such as Fred Aitken and John Connolly, the fans were treated to some wonderful football and some great goals. Henry was one of those forwards who have the ability to be in the right place at the right time. He benefited from the great team spirit which ran through the Saints’ team and although he was primarily thought of as a scorer of goals, it should be recalled that he was a very skilful player in his own right. But it was for his goals that we all remember him and the fact that he was Saints’ top scorer in his first three seasons at Muirton speaks for itself.
Henry Hall’s skills were not just appreciated at Perth. In his own opinion, he wasn’t big or strong enough to play for Scotland, but he was still good enough to join the small but select band of St Johnstone players who have been capped by the Scottish League. Any international ambitions were to be severely affected by the fact that Henry played his football at a time when Scottish football in general had a surfeit of great strikers, but despite this he was at or near the top of the goalscoring charts for several years in a row.
Everyone who saw Hall play will remember one of his goals, but for many the one that sticks in the memory is his first, and only, European goal scored in the epic 3-0 defeat of Hamburg at Muirton. By his own standards it was nothing special, but in many ways it was a typical Hall goal. Running onto a great ball from Ian McPhee, Henry tucked the ball past the Germans’ keeper for the first strike of what was to be a memorable night. A simple goal, brilliantly executed. So many of them were, but they all count and the knack of propelling the ball over the line from six or so yards is a priceless one which so few really have, but Henry Hall possessed in abundance. We have not seen his like and St Johnstone have been the poorer because of it.
A Fifer, born in Methil in March 1908 William Noble Imrie came to Saints from Dunniker juniors in May 1927. A powerful right half, Imrie was to prove a valuable asset as Saints strove to consolidate their position in the First Division.
A red haired, uncompromising player with more than a modicum of skill, Willie’s biggest claim to fame is that he is, to date, the only Saints player ever to score a goal for Scotland while playing with the club.
His debut came on the second game of the 1927-28 season, away to Aberdeen in the Dewar Shield on 17th August 1927. Saints won 3-1 and although Imrie played at centre-half that day he wasn’t chosen for the league team until 1st October, when he played at his normal position of right half. He became the first choice for this position for the rest of his time with Saints and informed an impressive half-back line, usually with Andy Swallow in the centre and either Hugh Lafferty or Jimmy Bolton at left half. He also occasionally turned out at inside right and, even more occasionally, scored.
Although described in contemporary reports as a hard tackling, long-kicking wing half, Willie Imrie was not just a ball-winner. His abilities were noted by the Scottish selectors for the international tour of Norway, Germany and Holland in the summer of 1929. Like Sandy McLaren, he made his debut in international colours in the match against Norway on 26th May 1929. The Daily Record’s reporter with the touring party described Imrie as the star half-back in Scotland’s 7-3 victory. Also present on this tour was Jimmy Fleming, the ex-Saint who had gone on to great success with Rangers and Scotland and Jimmy Crapnell, the Airdrieonians full back who would go on to manage Saints.
The next match on the tour, against a Norwegian XI, did not count as an international, but this didn’t matter as Willie Imrie did not play. However, he was back in the side for the game against Germany, played in front of a crowd of some 50,000 in Berlin. The Record’s correspondent filed his report to say that, Rush had put the Germans ahead five minutes “after the tea interval”! He then recorded that the Scots put some pressure on and with time running out, Hugh Morton of Kilmarnock equalised. The next day’s paper saw a revised report, in which the credit for the goal was properly attributed to Willie Imrie. The goal came about when, following a Scottish attack, instigated by fine work from Imrie and Aberdeen’s Alex Cheyne, the German goalkeeper was penalised for carrying the ball outside his area. Hugh Morton took the resulting free-kick and from this, Imrie headed the ball home and wrote himself into the St Johnstone record books.
Willie’s career with Saints was then almost over. He only played in six league matches the following season, and even turned out at centre forward in a Dewar Shield tie against East Stirlingshire. It is worth noting that he was being challenged for his place at right-half by another of our Notable Saints, the young Harry Ferguson. Nevertheless, Blackburn Rovers recognised international talent when they saw it and in September 1929 the St Johnstone Board accepted the Lancashire club’s offer of £4,300. Willie last game for Saints was on the 14th of September away at Dens Park, with Saints beating their Tayside rivals 1-0.
After several successful season with Blackburn, Willie moved to Newcastle United in 1934 and then ended his career with a brief spell at Swansea Town and then, just before the outbreak of war, at Swindon Town.
Like, Sandy McLaren, Willie Imrie’s life was to be cut short. Whilst on wartime service with the RAF he contracted a fatal illness at the end of 1944. He was only 36 years old.
His time with Saints may not have been very long and his impact on the club less than many before and after him but there is no doubt that no other product of the club’s youth policy has gone onto achieve so much in the game and become such a household name.
Speaking the club’s official history book Bristling with Possibilities, Stuart recalled that McCoist had arrived late for the game but had politely apologised and was sent into the game to see what he could do.
Stuart said “After only five minutes I knew he was going to be one of the best and we knew other clubs were after him so we invited him and his family up the next weekend. We made him welcome and the rest, as they say, is history.”
At the age of just 16 years and 7 months McCoist made his debut in a 3-0 win over Raith Rovers on 7th April 1979 but it was to be over a year and a host of substitute appearances before he netted his first goal which came against Dumbarton at Boghead in August 1980. It was the first of what proved to be 23 goals in a prolific season as he announced his arrival on the Scottish scene in no mean style.
When he started the following season in similar style – a goal in four out of the five opening League Cup sectional fixtures – it became obvious that Saints were going to be unable to hold onto such a special talent and Rangers, Wolves, Middlesborough and Sunderland all tabled offers. In the end it was the last named club who were successful and an initial fee of £355,000 saw McCoist head to Roker Park. Further fees of £25,000 were due to Saints on completion of 25 first team start for Sunderland and on him gaining two international caps while on Wearside.
His time with Sunderland was relatively unsuccessful – 8 goals in 56 appearances – and it was only when he returned to Scotland and signed for Rangers that his career took off.
During his fifteen years with Rangers, McCoist achieved an array of honours, including nine league championship medals, a Scottish Cup medal, and nine League Cup medals. He was Europe's top goal scorer twice (in 1992 and 1993), as well as being named Scotland's "Player of the Year" in 1992. McCoist is Rangers' all-time leading goalscorer (with 251 league goals; 355 in all competitions) and Scotland's fifth-highest scorer, with 19 goals.
McCoist was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and he is also a member of the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, having gained 61 international caps.
Finishing his playing career with Kilmarnock, he joined the Scotland national team coaching staff in 2004 under his former manager at Rangers, Walter Smith and followed Smith to Ibrox in January 2007 becoming an assistant manager with Kenny McDowall.
His move to that post at Ibrox led to the end of a highly successful period as a captain on BBC quiz show A Question of Sport which made him a household name during the period 1996 to 2007.
It is a fact that Saints and Rangers have had many playing and managerial connections throughout the years, both on the playing side and managerial side.
Tommy Muirhead was a very famous player with Rangers in the years after the First World War and then throughout the 1920’s. A Fifer, Tommy was born in Cowdenbeath on 31st January 1897 and began his senior career with Hibernian. A cultured wing half/inside right, Muirhead was capped eight times for Scotland between 1922 and 1930. As you would expect, a range of domestic honours also came his way whilst at Ibrox, and when he finished his playing career he went into sports journalism. However, in June 1931 he became St Johnstone manager, taking over from another former Ranger (and one of the few men to have played for both halves of the Old Firm), David Taylor. Saints had previously tried to sign Muirhead as a player as came towards the end of his career.
At this time, Saints were in the Second Division. Within one season, Tommy Muirhead had re-structured and motivated his side to promotion. In particular, the signing of the prodigiously talented teenager, Jimmy Benson, was to prove a masterstroke.
Once promoted, Muirhead’s St Johnstone side took the First Division by storm. Over the next few years, Saints became one of the best team in Scotland, on occasion leading the Division and consistently being regarded as one of the top half a dozen sides in the country – an opinion backed up by their league position (5th) in seasons 1932-33 and 1934-35. In between, in season 1933-34, St Johnstone came up against Muirhead’s old team in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, with Rangers running out narrow winners by the only goal of the game.
Muirhead appears to have had all the gifts necessary for a great manager. He was clearly a first-class footballer himself, and , crucially, had the necessary man-management skills which so few managers actually possess, but so many aspire to. He commanded the loyalty and respect of his players and this, coupled with his knack of signing some really great players (Benson, Bobby Davidson, Jimmy Caskie, Percy Dickie and many more) made him a stand-out manager.
As so often happens, talented Saints get head-hunted. After an approach by Sheffield Wednesday had come to nought, Preston North End, then a top First Division English league side, targeted Muirhead and he parted company with St Johnstone in May 1936. He left Preston in May 1937 and returned to sports journalism. Tommy Muirhead died in June 1979.
His record with St Johnstone is second to none. His sides won nearly 60% of the points available to them, winning 101 of the 205 matches played under his charge, drawing 42, losing only 62.
When Paddy Buckley left St Johnstone for Aberdeen, Saints had a crying need for someone to bang the goals in. Ian Rodger was the man chosen to go in the opposite direction to fill the gap left by Buckley, and, whilst perhaps not in Paddy’s class as a striker, Ian was to establish himself as what was then the club’s highest scorer of all time. His total of 116 goals stood unchallenged until John Brogan overhauled it in season 1982/83.
Ian was signed by his former colleague and Saints’ new manager, Johnny Pattillo, in the summer of 1953. He made his debut at Muirton on 8th August 1953 in front of a crowd of 7,000 against Cowdenbeath in the League Cup. He scored that day, although Saints lost by 4 goals to 2. However this was the start of a truly prolific run of goals. In his first season Ian Rodger scored 35 times, at an average of exactly a goal a game. George Valentine, then a club director, remembered him as “a quiet man, a nice chap but he did what we signed him for – he scored goals”.
His signing involved a fee of £1,500. This was more than Saints could really afford but Aberdeen agreed to receive the money in two stages. The first sum of £500 was to be paid at the outset and the balance was to be at Pittodrie by the end of April 1954. This was not to prove possible. To put it mildly, St Johnstone were skint at this time and they didn’t actually finish paying for Rodger’s transfer until well after his last game, on 15th February 1958.
On the field, Ian linked well in his first season with another new signing, right winger Dougie Newlands. Although Newlands moved south after one season, Ian Rodger didn’t seem to miss him and kept knocking the goals in, year after year. He scored his 100th on the first day of 1957, against Dundee United at Tannadice and on 9th March that year he overtook Paddy Buckley’s record of 104 goals. By this time he was coming to the end of his Saints’ career, but he had one more season in him and still managed six strikes in 1957-58. He eventually lost his place, initially to Ally Murray and then to the highly talented George Whitelaw, who was moved from inside forward, doubtless having learned a few tricks from the master in the centre.
Although Ain Rodger is sadly no longer with us, there are still a good few St Johnstone fans who will rejoice in the memory of a razor sharp centre forward for whom goals were the main reason to be on the park. He may not have been at the club at one of its better periods, but Ian Rodger’s contribution still ranks with the best.
Drew Rutherford we think, would probably not have claimed to be the most talented player ever seen in St Johnstone colours. Nonetheless, his contribution to the club, measured in terms of games played is second to none. His all-time record number of appearances measures 342 in total, with a miserly addition of 18 goals being testimony to Drew’s skills lying more in the realms of defence than attack.
Jim Storrie brought Drew to Muirton from East Fife early in 1977 at a time when the team was crying out for a good, strong centre half. His debut came on 23rd February that year, in a 1-1 draw in the First Division game with Morton. It didn’t take long for Drew to score, with his first goal coming only a few weeks later in a game at Muirton against East Fife on 19th March 1977. Saints won 3-1 on the day, but it wasn’t until the 12th August 1978 when he contributed to a 302 win over Montrose, again at Muirton, that he scored a second.
A solid, reliable defender, Drew’s consistency was his greatest strength and by the time he reached the milestone of 300 games, he had missed only 11 games in nearly 7 years. He saw off a number of challengers for the number 5 shirt and formed a series of excellent defensive partnerships, principally with Alex Caldwell in the period leading up to promotion to the Premier League in 1983. Drew’s importance was apparent from very early in his Saints’ career. He came into the side which was struggling to avoid relegation and his and fellow newcomer John Brogan’s contributions were crucial in keeping Saints in the First Division 1976-77.
It took a few more seasons and several more managers before St Johnstone could trouble the elite forces in the Premier League. When we eventually made it, in 1983, Drew had a chance to go to Tynecastle. Ironically, hearts had been promoted as runners-up to Saints the previous year, but Drew chose to stay at Perth. He enjoyed his stint in the top flight but St Johnstone, still then a part-time club, couldn’t cope with the pressure and, as we all know, plunged headlong over the next two years into the Second Division. During that period, when he turned out against Hamilton on 6th April 1985, Drew overtook Charlie McFadyen’s longstanding record of 337 appearances. Sadly, it would not be long before he played his last game for the club and this came against Clyde on 11th May that year.
With Saints then relegated from the First Division in 1985 Drew refused terms for playing in the Second Division and headed to Cowdenbeath. It was the end of an era.
Tragically, in 2005, cancer robbed Drew of life at the age of only 52.
Joe Toner’s place in St Johnstone history is assured by virtue of one simple fact: he was the first player to receive international recognition while playing for the club. He came to Perth from Woolwich Arsenal, having already been capped for his country – which was Ireland.
A tricky, pocket-sized left winger, he had an unfortunate start to his Muirton career. He signed in January 192 and made his debut on the 1SIXth of that month in a First Division match against Motherwell. Saints lost 4-1 but the Perthshire Advertiser, displaying an unusual degree of inaccuracy noted, “The Englishman(sic), who is by no means a giant, gave indications of being a sound investment for the Saints. He made the most of any chances he got, but I do feel that he was needlessly starved in the second half.”
A few weeks later Cowdenbeath came to Perth but Toner’s involvement in the match lasted only 12 minutes. He sustained a broken ankle in an accidental collision with Murray of Cowdenbeath. This was doubly unfortunate as the same player had broken Saints’ Bert Wilson’s leg in the corresponding away fixture earlier that season!
Although his injury was not quite as bad as first feared, Joe was out of action for some time and eventually started the 1926-27 season in the reserves. His first outing that term came against Rangers and this too was marred by injury. This time it was a knock to left half Hugh Lafferty which meant that he had to hobble along the left wing, with Joe Toner taking his midfield berth. With Saints already one goal up and dominating, Joe was brought down in the box and Neil McBain slotted home the spot kick. Although Jimmy Fleming, now with Rangers, reduced the leeway in the second half, St Johnstone held on for an all too rare victory against the Glasgow giants.
A few weeks later the P.A reported on a 4- hammering of Falkirk where two Irish selectors were present to watch Joe. He scored the first and generally must have impressed, because he was subsequently chosen to represent his country in a game against England at Liverpool in October 1926. This match ended 5-5, with Toner reported to have played “a very serviceable game”.
Further international honours came Joe’s way in 1927. Unfortunately for him though, Pocock, who replaced him in the Saints team on the 22nd February while he was away in Belfast, played extremely well and retained his place for the rest of the season. Tony came back for only one more appearance in Saints’ colours, against Alloa in the Penman Cup tie played on 20th April 1927. The last two league games of that season saw Harry Nicholson take over at outside-left and he went on to make the position his own for the next few years.
This meant the end of Joe Toner’s Saints’ career, but in his relatively brief time at Muirton Park he had distinguished himself by becoming the club’s first capped player.
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