St. Mirren go nap at Muirton - 1977

(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v St. Johnstone, 9th February 2022)

During the 1970s, differing League fortunes and a knack of avoiding each other in Cup competitions meant that there were very few matches played between the Saints of Paisley and the Saints of Perth.

St. Johnstone v St. Mirren 1977

St. Johnstone v St. Mirren 1977

St. Johnstone managed two victories, 2-0 and 1-0, in 1970/71 against St. Mirren while both were in the old First Division and contributed to the Buddies' relegation at the end of the season. The Muirton Park men managed to retain their top-flight status in the following seasons and secured the last spot in the inaugural Premier Division of 1975/76. However, finding themselves out of their depth in the Top Ten, they were themselves relegated at the end of that first season.

The format of the new First Division in season 1976/77 was an unusual affair. The first season of the 14-team League had consisted of only 26 rounds of matches and the introduction of the ill-fated Spring Cup, intended to fill the remaining Saturdays, did little to satisfy the ambitions of the Clubs. It was therefore decided that sides would meet each other three times to provide 39 fixtures, notwithstanding the inevitable arguments over the choice of venue for the third match.

The fixture list deemed that St. Mirren would play St. Johnstone once at Paisley, sandwiched between two matches in Perth. The first match on October 9th 1976 ended in a 1-1 draw, Micky Lawson’s first half goal for the home side being equalised by Derek Hyslop in the 59th minute.

The next meeting of the sides was scheduled for Love Street on December 11th, but became the first of a series of snow-enforced postponements which resulted in no football in Paisley for nearly two months.

By the time the Clubs reconvened for their next fixture at Muirton Park on February 12th 1977, St. Mirren were on an astonishing run of twenty-four undefeated League and Cup matches which had taken “Fergie’s Furies” to the top of the League, four points ahead of Clydebank. Meanwhile, St. Johnstone were continuing their freefall from the previous season and were perilously close to the bottom of the table.

The twelve-page St. Johnstone programme was printed blue on white gloss paper, with some red highlights on the outer cover pages. Frustratingly for buyers and collectors alike, the pre-printed cover bore no details of the match to which it represented, and these could only be found by careful scrutiny of the text in the inside pages.

Saints' hat-trick hero Bobby Torrance

Saints' hat-trick hero Bobby Torrance

Page three carried Manager Jim Storrie’s notes, as related to the “Perthshire Advertiser”. The home side’s fixtures and results appeared on page four opposite a welcome and details on the visiting team. The centre pages displayed the team Line-ups, and these seemed to mirror the contrasting fortunes of the sides. While the Buddies’ line up was settled and precisely matched that which took the field, the home side made a number of changes from the published list, as they sought to find the personnel required to avoid the drop.

Page nine turned the spotlight on home forward Jock Sampson, who had made a scoring debut in a Scottish Cup tie earlier in the week. His name joined the list of Muirton scorers listed on the same page. The only remaining reading matter was the half-time scoreboard of that day’s Scottish and English matches on page eleven. There were five pages of adverts.

A crowd of 3,444 saw St. Mirren take the lead in the 8th minute. A Frank McGarvey cross was only partially cleared by the home defence, the ball dropping to Billy Stark, and his 20-yard shot found the net via the right-hand post. The same two players contrived a second goal on the half hour, when Stark’s cutback from the byeline allowed McGarvey to score at the near post. Stark also had a hand in the third goal in 50 minutes when he sent Bobby Torrance clear to lob the advancing ‘keeper from 10 yards. Torrance got his second goal in 75 minutes with a volley from six yards and completed his hat-trick three minutes later to secure the points for the Buddies with a 5-0 victory.

The scoreline was Saints’ biggest winning margin in their march towards the First Division title that season and also remains their biggest ever victory over St. Johnstone. The last match between the sides that season, and indeed that decade, was a 1-1 draw at Love Street on March 8th. Both goals came in the last fifteen minutes with Bobby Reid equalising an earlier effort from Phil Roberts.