A Crucial Win Out of Disorder (1975)
(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v Hibs, 8th November 2023)
St. Mirren v Falkirk 1975
League reconstruction in 1975 represented a major landmark in Scottish football history, when the long-standing two-division structure of 18 and 20 clubs was replaced by a new three-tier setup consisting of a ten-team Premier Division and First and Second Divisions of fourteen clubs each. St. Mirren secured their place in the new second tier with two games remaining of the 1974/75 season by finishing sixth in the old Second Division.
Saints made a slow start to the newly-reconstructed First Division League campaign, returning only one win and three 2-2 draws from the first six games. However, the month of October brought three successive victories and yet another 2-2 draw, this time at home to Airdrie, raising Saints to fourth place in the table just behind the Diamonds.
Next up was a home fixture on 8th November 1975 against the previous season's Second Division champions Falkirk.
The programme for season 1975/76 retained the size and format that had been introduced in February 1975 when design and printing responsibilities had fallen to Armac Printing Company of Glasgow. The publication consisted of twelve A5-sized pages printed black on white gloss paper and included the uncharacteristic choice of orange on the outside cover and middle pages.
The front cover displayed the team names alongside the St. Mirren crest and above an action photo from a recent game, the image for the Falkirk match featuring Frank McGarvey and Donny McDowell on the attack at Hamilton. Annoyingly for collectors, the cover omitted the date of the match and this could only be determined from the fixture list on the inside back page.
The inside cover offered a welcome to the visitors from Brockville above a list of the St. Mirren officials and honours. On the opposite page, Manager Alex Ferguson enthused about the display of the team - and the backing of the supporters - in the previous week's match against Airdrie. Despite dropping a point, the side had added excitement to the game, which he deemed an important commodity in present-day football.
Page five's "Spotlight On" featured an action photo and text on winger Jack McGillivray, who had netted from the penalty spot in each of the last two matches. The Half-Time Scoreboard, a short quiz, and Supporters' news filled the remainder of this and the page opposite.
Donny McDowell is outjumped by Falkirk defender Wheatley.
Team mates Allan Munro (left) and Walter Borthwick look on.
As usual, the centre pages listed the two sides and officials and these sat either side of an action photo from the encounter with Airdrie.
Len Wright of the Paisley Daily Express reviewed the meeting between St. Mirren and Falkirk on the closing day of the previous season which, although finishing goalless, had been enough to seal the championship for the Bairns. "Picture Quiz" on the opposite page gave readers the chance to win a whole £1 for naming the two featured players and the venue.
Pages ten and eleven provided appearance and goalscoring details, fixtures for the season and the current league tables. The remainder of the programme, priced 10p, was occupied by adverts.
While most programmes from the 1970s are relatively cheap and plentiful, St. Mirren issues from this season are harder to find.
St. Mirren's recent good form, the visit of the current League Champions and doubtless some persuasion from the home Manager, attracted a crowd of 4,149, similar to that of the previous week's match against Airdrie. This was almost double the level of attendances that Saints had enjoyed only a month previously.
A scrappy match was littered with defensive mistakes. While Falkirk's cautious approach invariably permitted someone to step in and clear their lines, St. Mirren were always liable to pay a high price for any defensive lapses, given their preoccupation with attack.
The home side had the bulk of the pressure during the first half but could consider themselves fortunate to be level at the interval especially when, on one occasion, a failed clearance by home 'keeper Dave McConnell allowed Falkirk's John Mitchell to aim a header towards goal. Luckily, Saints' full-back Ian Reid was on hand to clear the ball off the line.
The half-time substitution of Walter Borthwick for Bert Ferguson improved St. Mirren's position and put Falkirk under more sustained pressure. The visitors' goal had a couple of narrow squeaks, but there was still no breakthrough and frustrations boiled over, leading to the bookings of Saints' Alex Beckett and Bairns' Jimmy Wilson.
With only eight minutes remaining, the deadlock was broken when substitute Borthwick swung over a cross for Frank McGarvey to nod the ball sweetly past Ally Donaldson and give Saints the 1-0 victory which perhaps their play didn't deserve.
In the years since that Falkirk fixture in 1975, St. Mirren have played six games on 8th November, drawing three and losing three. Remarkably, they have yet to score a goal!