THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

From the Stade Louis II to Alloa and Queen of the South in three years, St Johnstone fan Gary Panton charts his club's sharp demise

Why did the team collapse so emphatically last season?
Sandy Clark’s inability to find suitable replacements for the players that achieved third place in the SPL, a League Cup final and a UEFA Cup run earn­ed him the sack back in October. His replacement Billy Stark – whose perennially folded arms and monotone drawl must make him one of the least animated managers in Scottish football hist­ory – struggled to prove he could do much better.

How big is the gap in playing standards between the SPL and the First Division?
Most of the stuff being played in the Scot­tish lower leagues these days isn’t too pret­ty. Then again, neither is most of the stuff in the SPL. There’s little doubt though that there’s a slightly better class of mediocrity up there in the big league.

Would being out of the SPL for more than a year be potentially ruinous?
Chairman Geoff Brown, not known for mincing his words even at the best of times, has already indicated that failure to return to the top flight at the first time of asking could result in part-time football returning to Perth. Such drastic meas­ures could spell a lengthy exile in the lower leagues.

What have been your best and worst moments as a Saints fan?
Best: being among the 1,000 Saintees who travelled to Monaco for our UEFA Cup match in 1999. We lost 3-0, but at least we got to invent some friendly ditties about Fabien Barthez and tax-dodging. Worst would have to be when Stenhousemuir hum­ped us 4-0 in the Scottish Cup in 1995.

Should the Scottish league be opened up to allow regular promotion from other leagues?
Ross County and Caley Thistle have both pro­ved that clubs coming in from outside the SFL do have a genuine chance of doing well, so it’s pretty difficult to argue against some kind of English-style pyramid system. 

Milestones & Millstones 
1929 Sandy McLaren and Willie Imrie become the first – and last – Saints players to appear for Scotland.
1946 Some early X-Files-type stuff as Saints sign two players, both called Jimmy Blyth. One came from Hearts and one from Hibs, but both were defenders of exactly the same height and weight. Even stranger, the two Jimmy Blyths never played at the same time.
1953 Saints win their only national ­trophy to date – the Daily Record Scottish Soccer Golfers Cup.
1960 One in the eye for multinational ­globalisation as Saints refuse an advertising hoarding for Coca-Cola at their Muirton Park ground – on account of it not being blue.
1963 A dour-faced Glaswegian by the name of Alex Ferguson – wonder whatever happened to him? – bags a hat-trick for Saints in a 3-2 win over Rangers at Ibrox.
1971 A first ever jaunt into UEFA Cup football includes a 3-0 trouncing of SV Hamburg at Muirton Park. Apparently, if you stand at the deli counter in Asda, you’re roughly at the spot where Henry Hall scored Saints’ first that night.
1989 That Ferguson bloke brings Man Utd to Perth to open the club’s new McDiarmid Park, Britain’s first ever custom-built all-seater stadium.
1999 A best-ever season for Saints, with a short but sweet stint as Scotland’s “third force” rewarded with another crack at the UEFA Cup. Monaco (including Barthez and Trezeguet) put us out, but are held 3-3 at McDiarmid.
2001 Injury-prone strikers George O’Boyle and Kevin Thomas are given their P45s after being caught snorting a “mysterious white powder” in a trendy local bar. 

Fondly remembered 
Roddy Grant ~ Cripplingly slow, nicotine-addicted striker, who bagged 79 goals in two spells with the club and was rewarded with a testimonial in 2000. Came back to haunt us this season by scoring twice for Brechin City to knock us out of the Challenge Cup – but still adored regardless.

Best forgotten 
John McLelland ~ Known as Herman Munster. Herm took over as manager in December 1992 and, with the club in freefall and a string of signings from the English lower leagues failing miserably, resigned 11 months later. It took three years to build a team good enough to return to the top flight.

From WSC 188 October 2002. What was happening this month

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