A Classic Draw at Tannadice (1978)

(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v Livingston, 25th November 2023)

On Saturday 25th November 1978, St. Mirren travelled to Tannadice to face Dundee United in a Premier League match. After fourteen rounds of the current campaign, the Tangerines were top of the table while Saints lay in eighth place yet, remarkably, there were only three points between the sides!

Dundee United v St. Mirren 1978

Dundee United v St. Mirren 1978

Since their promotion to the Premier League the season before, Saints had lost in all five meetings with United, including a 3-1 defeat at Love Street earlier in the season, so there was plenty of incentive for the Buddies to turn the tables and move up the league.

The Dundee United programme was a sixteen-page A5 sized issue, printed black on white gloss paper throughout. The only exception was the cover, which included the host side's tangerine colours and carried an illustration of two players with long legs and short shorts! The match details and 15 pence price tag were printed at the bottom of the page.

The roll call of Club officials appeared on page three above the team line-ups, which accurately listed those who took the field, minus the substitutes.

"The Boss's Spot" by Manager Jim McLean exemplified the rule by which he run the Club during his 22-year tenure. After commenting on the previous weeks' match against Motherwell and the injuries affecting the club, he turned his attention to the setback in the transfer negotiations to bring Ayr United's Walker McCall to Dundee United.

It appeared that the transfer had been agreed, but the player then indicated that he wished to return to the USA during the close season period. This was a step too far for McLean. He wanted players at Tannadice to give 100% to the club, and did not see several months of their rest period in America as aiding that cause, so the transfer was off.

On page five, "Down Memory Lane" provided reports and full details of United's matches from 5, 10 and 15 years ago against Third Lanark, Morton and Ayr United respectively. This preceded the centre page spread, which listed the Half-Time scoreboard for fourteen other Scottish League matches being played that day.

"With the Reserves" covered the Tannadice Second XI's previous two matches, which had returned disappointing results. The page also brought disappointing reading for Saints' fans as the league table showed their team in bottom spot.

"Saints Review" appeaered to highlight Dundee United's dominance in matches between the clubs. However, on closer inspection, the analysis only covered post war fixtures. In fact, Saints had had an 80% success rate before then! On the opposite page, United's defender and Reserve Coach Walter Smith was the subject of "Meet The Payers".

Fixtures, the League Table, and First Team Marksmen brought the reading matter to a close in an issue which contained seven pages of adverts. It is not too difficult to obtain nowadays.

Robert Torrance

Goalscorer Robert Torrance

A crowd of just 6.896 - the lowest Premier League attendance of the day - were treated to a fine afternoon's entertainment and even Jim McLean had to admit that St. Mirren, and especially their midfield, had been magnificent.

The match started well for the home side when, in just four minutes, a cross from Paul Sturrock was met by Bobby Robinson at the back post and his header teed up Billy Kirkwood for the opening goal.

St. Mirren immediately retaliated, but Billy Stark squandered a chance set up for him by Jimmy Bone. Visiting 'keeper Billy Thomson was then twice called into action to repel efforts from Kirkwood and Graham Honeyman.

Saints equalised in the 19th minute when a Billy Abercromby corner was misdirected by Robinson into the path of an unmarked Robert Torrance who headed home.

The visitors proceeded to take control of the game and Billy Stark had two good chances within the next ten minutes; the first when he shot straight at home goalie Hamish McAlpine and the second when a dazzling run past three opponents ended with his shot being tipped over the bar.

Billy Thomson was again called into action, almost being caught by a surprise Kirkwood back-heeler and then capturing a flicked header from his own player, Lex Richardson, who had tried to deal with a Robinson cross.

The end-to-end action continued unabated after the interval. Kirkwood headed wide, Saints had a strong penalty claim dismissed after Ray Stewart felled Torrance and Billy Thomson brought off another reflex save from Paul Hegarty's glancing header following a Sturrock corner.

The home side almost stole the points in the last minute when a Honeyman effort hit the post and trundled along the goal line but the danger was cleared.

With the points shared and other results going their way, St. Mirren moved up two places in the Premier League, where now only four points separated nine of the ten sides.