History & Honours
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.
The City of Perth is fortunate to have two huge expanses of open parkland. Called the North and South Inches, it was at the latter that the players of the infant St Johnstone FC trained and played their earliest home matches.
It's widely accepted that the Club was formed in 1884 but during research on his book "Bristling with Possibilities – The Official History of St Johnstone FC" published in 1997, author Alastair Blair found, within the pages of The Perthshire Constitutional newspaper dated 25th February 1885, a report on a meeting, which had taken the previous evening. The report read as follows: "At a meeting of the St Johnstone Cricket Club held on 6th inst. It was proposed to start an Association Football Club. A meeting for that purpose was held last night, when the following office bearers were elected...". So the Club was actually formed on 24th February 1885 but for the sake of simplicity and consistency the year 1884 continues to be shown within the club crest.
Although it appears that members of the St Johnstone Cricket Club had certainly first kicked a ball around on the inch in the summer and autumn of 1884, the first ever match played by St Johnstone FC took place on 7th March 1885 when Caledonian Railway were defeated 1-0. That historic game of football took place on the South Inch – in all probability, to be exact, it is likely to have taken place on the Lesser South Inch, the area of parkland to the east of the road to Edinburgh which is still used for football to this day.
Four more matches were played at the South Inch but it became clear that if the fledgling club was going to establish itself as a serious footballing force they were going to have to follow the lead of other Perth sides such as Fair City Athletic and Pullars Rangers and find themselves a ground they could call their own.
The twenty original members of the Club each gave £1 and following negotiations with Sir Robert Moncrieff over the summer of 1885 a lease was taken out on a strip of land known as Craigie Haugh. Directly opposite Perth prison (itself opened in 1842) the new ground was situated just behind the present-day petrol station on land now occupied by Stephens the housebuilder.
The ground was named the St Johnstone Recreation Grounds and was to be home for the club until 1924. The official opening of the ground took place on 15th August 1885 when the highly respected – and already seven times winners of the Scottish Cup - Queen's Park took on Our Boys of Dundee, the Glasgow side winning 6-0.
St Johnstone's first game at their new home was on 12th September 1885 when Dundee side Our Boys Old Boys inflicted a 6-2 defeat.
In the years that followed Saints made extensive use of their ground. Friendly matches, the many cup competitions which were the order of the day at that time (Perthshire Cup, Reid Cup, Atholl Cup), Northern League (Saints admitted in 1891), Scottish FA Cup, Central League, City and County League – all these competitions and many more featured at the Edinburgh road venue.
The playing surface was frequently, to put it kindly, 'on the soft side'. In his book, Alastair Blair tells of the time in 1909 when Saints were drawn at home to Rangers in the 1st round of the Scottish Cup. It was the biggest game in the club's twenty four year history but in the preceding week the Recreation Grounds were so badly flooded that the Fire Brigade spent from Thursday morning to Friday at noon pumping water from the playing surface. A group of volunteers then scraped the pitch and spread several tons of cinders on it and despite further rain – and the offer of £100 from Rangers to switch the tie to Glasgow – the match took place as scheduled with Rangers winning 3-0.
Water ingress to the park continued to be a problem over the years – four years later such a problem occurred DURING a Scottish Cup 2nd round tie against East Fife on 8th February 1913. The Perthshire Courier report from the time states "The game had not been long in progress when water commenced to make its appearance round the track ...the tide sent the water back the drain pipes and got outlet at various parts around the pitch. As the water made, so speculation was rife as to the match being brought to an abrupt conclusion before time had expired. Deep trenches were made and a willing staff of workers were kept employed bailing out the water. It was no 'small drop in the bucket' but a God flood and but for the energy of Groundsman McVean and his many helpers coping with the 'invasion', the match could not have been played out."
The Courier reporter went onto say "It can be said safely that there has been more money spent by St Johnstone in trying to combat the elements as affecting the ground than the cost of fitting up a palatial establishment where the floods cometh not! Countless matches have had to be postponed through flooding and thousands of tons of sand and cinders have been sunk in the bog ...the pitch must be heightened about five feet or another ground secured. This question of ground cannot be put off much longer; the existence of the Club is at stake."
Two years later and the troublesome playing surface found another use with large areas of it being turned over to the military authorities as part of the Great War effort and the club had to make representations to those authorities to repair the pitch once the War effort had ended.
We can’t be 100% sure but it is likely that the biggest crowd ever to watch a game at the St Johnstone Recreation Grounds was the approximately 12,000 who crammed in for a promotion battle with Clydebank in April 1923 – Saints won the game but didn't make the First Division.
A meeting of the Club shareholders held in the Guild Hall on 26th February 1924 spelled the beginning of the end for "The Recs". Attendees were informed that it was an informal meeting to get the views on the requirement for a new grandstand at the existing ground or a move to a new home.
Mr Charles Craig submitted the following report: "The present playing pitch is 110 yards by 70 yards with 5 yard margins round same. The access to the high embankments at three corners is very much restricted and the only available place for the grandstand would be with its back to Proudfoot Buildings. The aspect was none too good as the afternoon sun would be shining into the face of the stand occupants. It was estimated that to prevent recurrence of flooding it would be necessary to raise the present level by three feet. This would probably cost £3,000-£4,000 including cutting turf and relaying same with all the necessary drains and outlets, but did not include making embankments in and round the playing pitch. The turf proposed would require to be carted from the nearest source available. The present stand and pavilion would require to be demolished and as these buildings were in more or less a dilapidated condition would be of no value when they moved, but would rather incur further outlay. The attention of the directors had been drawn to the difficulties in controlling large crowds leaving after the finish of matches owing to the congested nature of the exits."
The ground Committee having carefully considered all the circumstances were forced to the conclusion that the reconstruction of the present ground was not practical and a move to a new stadium was the only option.
On 26th February 1924 at the same meeting at which Mr Charles Craig had reported that the Club needed to leave the Recreation Grounds, he submitted another report on behalf of the Ground Committee on a proposed site at South Muirton, Dunkeld in the following terms:
"Having visited this ground we are quite satisfied with the situation and the opportunity it presents towards the making of an ideal football ground. Negotiations have been entered into for acquiring seven acres of ground at South Muirton, Dunkeld Road which provides for an enclosure of six acres, with a triangular piece of ground adjoining Florence Place for the parking of motor cars."
And so it was that the Club put the wheels in motion to end their association with the Recreation Grounds and on Christmas Day 1924 that Queens Park – who had participated in the first match at the previous ground – became the first team to play a the new ground and a crowd estimated at 12,000 watched the league encounter between Saints and the Glasgow team with the new hosts fittingly winning the game by two goals to one.
The Club accounts were later to show that the new home cost St Johnstone a total of £13, 194 around £8,600 of which had been paid ‘up front’ by way of debenture schemes and other money making schemes.
The new ground on (at that time) the northern edge of town was to be home for the next 65 or so years and was to witness many great games and occasions. In terms of football matches there were many memorable days: the 6-1 defeat of Bo’ness in April 1932 that saw Saints gain promotion back to the First Division; the jubilant scenes which followed the team’s 1-1 League Cup quarter-final home draw with Motherwell in September 1961, a result that saw Saints reach the last four of that competition for the first time; the final game of that same 1961/62 season when local rivals Dundee came to Muirton looking for the win that would see them crowned champions of Scotland but consign Saints to relegation – 26,500 saw the visitors win 3-0; memorable UEFA Cup nights in the autumn of 1971, not least the stunning 3-0 defeat of German side Hamburg; the John Brogan-inspired 1-0 win over Dunfermline Athletic in May 1983 that brought the First Division title to Perth and of course the emotional day when 6,728 folk turned up to see Saints play at the Grand Old Ground for the very last time in a match against Ayr United.
The site at Muirton was used for more than just football though and although various suggestions were made as to what events could be staged to bring in additional revenue (among them dog racing and athletics) most of the non-football occasions were one-offs: hockey internationals, Highland Games, cattle sales, Paeants, donkey racing and at least two re-enactments of the Battle of the Clans were just some of the uses the wide expanse of Muirton Park was put to over the years.
Tenancy of the ground was relinquished during the Second World War to allow Saints to save on rates and taxes and during the conflict the ground became a training area for the Home Guard and was used for storage of various War materials. It didn’t lose its football connections altogether though and one of the handful of matches played during the War saw a full Army international in October 1941 between Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Having been built in 1924 it was some 37 years before there would be significant development of the ground and that came last in 1961 when work was completed on the construction of a covered enclosure on the east side of the ground opposite the main stand.
Three years later floodlights were installed and officially switched on when FA Cup holders West Ham United came to Perth – along with the famous trophy – on 16th December 1964.
In terms of attendances, the biggest ever crowd to make its way into the Dunkeld Road stadium was 29,972. The occasion was a match against Dundee but not – as is often wrongly stated – for the championship/relegation decider in 1962. The occasion of the record-breaking crowd (the biggest ever crowd to watch Saints in Perth) was a Scottish Cup tie in February 1951 which Dundee won 3-1.
At the other end of the scale we have the paltry 466 brave souls who turned up to watch Saints defeat Albion Rovers in April 1986. This was St Johnstone Football Club at arguably the lowest ebb in its history as the debt-ridden club fought out a meaningless end of season fixture in Scotland’s bottom league in front of just 39 dozen people.
A year earlier, in May 1985, the dreadful fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground which claimed the lives of 52 people had brought the safety of football grounds into sharp focus and claimed the lives of 52 people had brought the safety of football grounds into sharp focus and it quickly became apparent that the 61 year old stand at Muirton Park – with seating and flooring made of wood – had the same potential for disaster and indeed did not meet the requirements of the Safety at Sports Grounds Act on 1975.
A year later, and with new Chairman Geoff Brown at the helm, the Club were approached by the Asda supermarket chain who were looking for a site for a store in the Fair City. Lengthy and skilful negotiations followed and the outcome was that a deal was struck which would see Asda foot the bill of just over £4 million to build anew stadium for Saints and in return they would use Muirton Park as the site of their new store.
The final game at Muirton Park – the 1,227th competitive Saints game at the stadium – saw Ayr United as the visitors and the fact that they won the game 1-0 (former Saints player John Sludden going down in history as the last ever goal scorer at the venue) mattered little to an emotional Perth support who invaded the pitch at the end to take in the surroundings one last time, with many heading home with their own little piece of the famous old ground.