'THE GREATEST DAY' BY KIERAN CLARK

As we celebrate the first anniversary of St. Johnstone’s maiden victory in the Scottish Cup, it is truly hard to believe that a full 12 months have now passed. Indeed, that is a bit of a cliché. People often say the same whenever a birthday comes round, or in the weeks building-up to Christmas.

However, it would be fair to say that the 17th of May 2014 goes beyond that for all Saints fans. It certainly does for this supporter. The memories are so vivid and detailed - simply because they are relived in the mind on an almost daily basis. The sights, sounds and emotions can all be fully recalled as we reflect on that extraordinary day.

The whole occasion was rather overwhelming. The ultimate dream throughout the years of following Saints was to win the Scottish Cup. It was the pinnacle. The cup final has always been the game of the season - the showpiece and marquee fixture - and the fact that Saints were part of it was certainly difficult to comprehend. It didn’t truly sink in until the teams came out for the warmup at Celtic Park.

Like any football club, there have been so many highs and lows in the history of St. Johnstone. Relegations, promotions, European adventures and despairing nights at the likes of Berwick and Montrose, there had been everything you could imagine for supporters to look back on in the pubs and buses together.

Well, almost. The one caveat to the history of the Perth Saints had been the absence of a major trophy. It led to ridicule from supporters of other clubs, and an enduring sense of underachievement and frustration from those wearing blue and white scarves. That tangible sense of exasperation only grew over the years with each passing defeat in a semi-final – eight of them featuring in the Scottish Cup.

That was something dispelled after the semi-final against Aberdeen at Ibrox. There was a release of energy after years of pent-up disappointment under the rainy Glasgow sky; at the conclusion of that dramatic second half. As the talismanic Stevie May fired in those two brilliant goals, the demons of so many crushing afternoons had finally been exorcised. St. Johnstone had vanquished that eternal barrier and reached the showpiece.

One thing that was always in the forefront of the mind in the days leading up to the final was a sense of good fortune. We were the lucky ones who would be present to see it. In 130 years of history, there were generations – tens of thousands of Saints supporters who never lived to witness their dream come true. That was certainly a powerful emotion for many in attendance. Very powerful.

Personally, the prominence of that sentiment was partly the result of attending the final with a very close friend; whose father (a Saints supporter of decades) had sadly passed away just a few months prior. He would have so dearly loved to have experienced that momentous occasion in Glasgow.

It was an all-too close reminder of the inherent cruelty and unfairness of life, but also of the importance that football can play throughout it for so many people. The magical escapism of the game. Pantomime for adults.

Many in attendance were representing deceased friends and relatives. Sons and daughters standing for their parents, middle-aged men who had never forgotten their grandfather who introduced them to the terraces of Muirton, and even those familiar faces who had sadly long disappeared from the East Stand at McDiarmid.

In a way, that almost placed a sense of responsibility onto the shoulders of the lucky 15,000 who were all privileged to be present inside Celtic Park on that afternoon. We were representing the history of the club and all those who had come to love and support it throughout the past century and beyond.

Now all we needed was the team to actually go on and win it.

Easier said than done, and there weren’t any real expectations as to what to expect from the match. Hopeful, at best. Perhaps that was a result of being unable to comprehend the idea of Saints somehow lifting the trophy. But it was possible. From a footballing perspective, there was certainly no reason why it couldn’t happen.

It was the largest Saints crowd that anyone had ever seen. An historic total befitting the magnitude of the occasion. From all over the world, people bought into the final. That in itself was special to see, and it was an incredible experience to soak in the atmosphere of the Jock Stein Stand – which was soon to be christened the Steven MacLean End.

Being an unashamed sentimentalist when it comes to everything St. Johnstone, there were a few tears at the start of the warmup as the team emerged from the famous tunnel on a rainy afternoon at one of the great arenas in football. The first of many, it has to be said.

As the stadium began to fill and the anticipation grew, the nerves flourished in tandem. However, an unexpected sense of calm and acceptance came in the minutes leading up to kick-off – during the spectacle of thousands of Saints fans waving their scarves during the prolonged and spine-tingling Espana chant.

It was mesmerising to be part of not just a support of that size – but of a crowd that was so vocally and fervent in their backing of St. Johnstone. It made the whole experience worthwhile. No matter what was to follow. Those few minutes were intoxicating and significant. And yes, there were some more tears. Throughout personal strife, illness and worry, St Johnstone, and the Scottish Cup dream, had always been a constant and thoroughly enjoyable distraction in life. And as the expectant 47,000 in the stadium rose from their seats to welcome the two Tayside clubs - as the team came out of that tunnel - in blue – it almost felt like that dream had in a way already been fulfilled. We were ready.

So much about the day and the experience is vivid in the memory – but the actual match is a blur with only a few (admittedly pretty memorable) moments of genuine clarity. Thankfully we have the DVD to fill any blanks.

One thing that is clear was the heart-stopping instant when Ryan Dow of Dundee United’s effort on goal clipped off the inside of Alan Mannus’ left-hand post, and – somehow – avoided rebounding off the goalkeeper’s back as the ball trickled along the line. It was inexplicable. And so the belief grew.

As Steven Anderson – the dictionary definition of a stalwart – headed the ball into a gaping net to make that crucial breakthrough just before half-time, the scenes of celebration were beyond jubilant in the stands. Leading in the cup final. We didn’t quite know how to react to being in that position.

The corner of a teary eye spotted Tommy Wright - whose exuberant celebrations had been a highlight of the cup run - charging down the touchline in impassioned and unrestrained delight. The manager was channelling the emotions that every fan was experiencing inside the stadium and beyond at that moment.

During half-time, as supporters continued to digest Ando’s goal, the tannoy system began to play Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. The lyrics: “Whoa, we're half way there” had never carried so much weight.

The second-half was unpredictable and emotionally tumultuous for every fan. Dundee United came close to scoring on a number of occasions, while David Wotherspoon almost produced a wonder goal after weaving magically through an assortment of defenders, before Stevie May saw a celebratory moment of his own correctly chalked off for hand-ball.

However, the star-striker would ultimately play a defining role in the final, as his pass deflected into the path of a determined Steven MacLean, who beat an onrushing Radoslaw Cierzniak to slot the ball into the goal in-front of the masses of St. Johnstone supporters; etching his name forever in the history of the club and Scottish football.

As everyone around celebrated manically with the elusive trophy being all-but clinched, this particular supporter stood in stunned disbelief. Was this really happening? On the outside, it was certainly the least animated of goal celebrations. However, on the inside, it was anything but. Innumerable emotions flowed through the head as tears ran down the cheeks. It was a truly transcendent experience.

The final-whistle was the cue for emotional embraces all round – with the dreams of thousands being collectively fulfilled at the same time as Dave Mackay triumphantly raised the oldest trophy in world football. It was the culmination of a journey for all supporters. For some it had been just a few years, while for others it had been decades.

The parade on the Sunday was the proverbial icing on the cake. Getting into the town early, and seeing the crowds slowly build-up on the high street – the numbers surpassing even the most optimistic expectations – there was a sense of civic unity. St. Johnstone had brought the city and county together in collective joy.

It was also a triumph for the generations of fans to come in future. This will be the date and achievement that they will celebrate and commemorate in future decades, in the same mould as Celtic’s European Cup victory in 1967. The Scottish Cup winning side – led by Tommy Wright – are our Lisbon Lions, and they will be rightly remembered and revered as such.

It will forever be the date for all Saints supporters to look back on - present and future.

17th of May 2014. The greatest day.