Championship Deciders and Souvenirs

(first published in the match programmes for St. Mirren v Hearts, 21st February 2020 and St. Mirren v St. Johnstone, 4th March 2020)

St. Mirren have been League Champions in the second tier of Scottish football on five occasions and each of these has been recognised in some form by a programme souvenir.

St. Mirren v Arbroath 1968

St. Mirren v Arbroath 1968

In 1967/68, Saints aimed to bounce straight back after the previous season’s relegation and win the Second Division Championship. By the end of March, they had lost only one match and were well clear at the top but, with the finishing line in sight, they began to stutter. A win away to Montrose on 6th April would have clinched promotion, but the match suffered a late postponement due to snow. In the rearranged match four days later, Saints had two first half goals disallowed and the Montrose ‘keeper played a blinder, resulting in a 0-0 draw. Promotion was finally gained, but only just, on Saturday, April 13th in a 2-2 draw against Albion Rovers at Love Street. On the following Wednesday, Saints hosted nearest challengers Arbroath in a re-run of the match which had been abandoned due to heavy rain in the previous January. This proved to be the Title-winning match, the game ending in another draw, 1-1.

Saints issued a 12-page programme for the Albion Rovers and Arbroath matches, both of which were along similar lines to the rest of that season’s issues. The front cover featured an action photo of Frank Treacy scoring against Ipswich in the previous season’s Paisley Charity Cup. The match details were given, but not the date, which could only be determined from the internal fixture list. Alex Wright’s “Manager’s View” appeared on page 3. Player statistics, fixtures and the league table were given on pages 4 and 5 and the team line ups occupied the centre pages. Page 8 displayed a St. Mirren Pen Picture and the Half-Time Score Board was on page 9. The remainder of the programme consisted of adverts.

In the programme for the next match against Forfar Athletic, Manager Alex Wright was critical of the team’s performances in the previous two matches and sympathised with the supporters who had turned out to watch. It must have had an effect on the players, as they proceeded to score eighteen goals in the final four matches, taking their League tally to 100.

St. Mirren v Montrose 1977

St. Mirren v Montrose 1977

St. Mirren v Raith R. 2000

St. Mirren v Raith R. 2000

Nine years later, “Fergie’s Furies” stormed their way to the 1976/77 First Division title, hitting the top of the league in October and maintaining that position until the end despite a consistent challenge from Clydebank. Promotion was gained thanks to a 3-1 away win against Raith Rovers on April 9th and the usual Starks Park programme was available. The match at Dens Park on April 19th saw a champagne performance from Saints as they trounced Dundee 4-0 to win the Title. Unfortunately for Saints fans, no programme was issued for this rearranged match to mark the occasion. However, Saints produced a “League Champions Souvenir Programme” for the final match of the season against Montrose on Saturday April 30th. This was an enlarged 20-page issue, the four extra pages from the normal fare featuring photos from notable matches from earlier in the season. The programme was also notable for being the first in over two years to feature the full match details on the cover! A crowd of 8,631 saw Saints end the season with a 2-2 draw.

The next Title was achieved in season 1999/2000. Promotion was earned at Ayr’s Somerset Park on April 22nd with a 2-1 victory and Ayr’s usual programme was issued. This set up a decider against Raith Rovers at Love Street on April 29th and Saints secured the point they needed with a 3-0 win. The usual 32-page full colour programme avoided any mention about winning Titles so as not to tempt fate. It did, however, include a black and white reproduction of eight pages of the 1977 souvenir in the centre pages. St. Mirren programmes from the 1999/2000 season are amongst the most difficult to obtain, perhaps due to the combination of a reduced print run and increased attendances on the way to the Title. The League decider programme and the reduced size issues for the postponed and rearranged matches against Clydebank are particularly rare and now command much higher prices than the original £1.50 cover price.

St. Mirren v St. Johnstone 2009

St. Mirren v St. Johnstone 2006

The Challenge Cup was already resident in the St. Mirren trophy cabinet as Saints headed towards the 2005/06 First Division Championship. The Title winning game came against Dundee at Paisley on April 15th as 7,629 spectators saw the Buddies gain the required two points with a 2-1 win through goals by Kirk Broadfoot and Billy Mehmet. The usual 32-page programme was issued for the deciding match.

For the final game of the season against St. Johnstone two weeks later, a “Special 48-page Souvenir Edition” was on sale to mark the winning of the Championship. Gus MacPherson’s column and “Black and White News” were followed by a feature on the opponents from Perth. David Grier’s “View from the North Bank” then looked back on the efforts of the Club during their five-year spell in Division One. A match report from the Dundee decider, “A Word from Stewart Gilmour”, images of Kirk Broadfoot and Charlie Adam and a quiz featuring a selection of British players from 1978 closed the first half of the souvenir. Photo action from the deciding game and the subsequent celebrations occupied the centre four pages.

The second half of the programme opened with features on Kevin McGowne and Andy Millen who were marking appearance milestones. SMISA news was followed by action photos from the previous week’s match at Stranraer and from the Bell’s Challenge Cup win earlier in the season. There were a number of historical articles, including a review of the season, memories of George Best’s debut for Hibs at Love Street, previous League Championship wins and a profile of Walter Borthwick, who had played for both Paisley and Perth Saints. A match report from Stranraer, stats, team line-ups and player sponsorship completed the souvenir. It is an issue which doesn’t appear very often on dealers lists but, when it does, it can usually command more than the original £3 cover price.

St. Mirren v Norton 2018

St. Mirren v Morton 2018

The most recent success came in 2017/18. Having avoided a disastrous drop to League One in the previous season, the transformation of the team under Jack Ross was remarkable. Saints hit the top spot in early September and, despite a couple of minor setbacks, didn’t look back. The Title could have been won at Brechin with six matches left, prompting a large travelling support to descend on Glebe Park, but the celebrations were delayed when nearest challengers Livingston also won to keep their slim challenge alive. It was then on to Tannadice against Dundee United for a rearranged match which had been snowed off in March. The original programme was issued and was augmented by a single sheet update but its importance as a championship winning souvenir evaporated as Saints lost 1-0. At the third attempt, Saints got the single point they required by means of a 0-0 draw against Livingston at Greenhill Road on April 14th.

The final programme of the season against Morton on April 21st was similar to other issues of the season, but the usual 48 pages was extended by eight pages to include extensive photographic coverage of the Livingston game and of earlier milestones on the road to the Premiership. Jack Ross’s comments were followed by Club news and a match report on the Title-winning game. There were four pages covering the opponents from Greenock and memories of the previous season’s 4-1 victory at Cappielow. Features on Hall of Fame member Steven Thompson and Captain Stephen McGinn brought the first half to a close. After all the celebratory photos, Alan Gallacher’s “Football Bloody Hell” discussed the Club’s change in fortunes during Jack Ross’s time in charge. The usual stats and marketing pages followed, and the issue was rounded off by an interview with goalkeeper Craig Samson. This programme, and those for the remainder of that Championship-winning season, are still easily available at cover price.