Paul Forsyth, Scotland on Sunday
The great thing about supporting a wee club is that you are one of a relatively limited number to whom it belongs.
On those rare days when your stadium is packed to the gunwales, your team play out of their skin and the television cameras are there to see it, you wonder if the many thousands of Old Firm fans, for whom a sense of ownership is diluted, have ever been bursting with quite the same pride.
I still get the goosebumps thinking about March 31, 1990, when my favourite match, with my favourite team, was kind enough to unfold on my birthday. St Johnstone’s
3-1 defeat of Airdrie, on a sun-kissed day at McDiarmid Park, when the First Division title was at stake, is not listed by anyone outside Perth as one of the Scottish Football League’s greatest games, but that’s their problem, not ours. If anything, it makes it better.
The best games, for supporters of provincial clubs, are not the big ones in Glasgow, where the bond between fans and team, like the match itself, is too often lost. The best ones are more personal. They are in your own ground, where you sit in your own seat, with your own fellow-sufferers, and the experience, if not so loud and dazzling, is real enough to reach out and touch.
With more than 10,000 fans inside, Saints’ recently built ground crackled with energy that day. A point behind Airdrie with a game more played, the home side could not afford to lose, but there also was a feeling – accurate as it turned out – that victory would psychologically cripple their title rivals. A group of Saints fans even sent a wreath to Jimmy Bone, Airdrie’s manager, on the morning of the match.
The game was utterly compelling, a thriller so full of emotional highs and lows that the climax had even the winners holding back their tears. Saints pummeled them, absolutely tore them apart, but after hitting the bar three times, and encountering a quite miraculous goalkeeper in John Martin, they somehow fell behind to Steve Gray’s curling shot with 21 minutes left.
Lesser men would have been floored, but not Saints. Not us. We were up and at them again, now angered by a sense of injustice. Proof that there was a God eventually came when Mark Treanor, teeth memorably gritted, equalised from the penalty spot, and Roddy Grant rose with four minutes left to head us in front. Kenny Ward’s injury-time strike was a stake through Airdrie’s heart.
As if being there wasn’t enough, it was the featured match on Sportscene that night. Dougie Donnelly described it as a match that “had everyone reaching for the superlatives”, “quite simply one of the best … we’ve covered for a very long time”.
I have a wife now, and two kids, but in those days, Saints were your family, or at least it seemed that way. And here they were, on the telly, being praised to the high heavens. You couldn’t have loved them more.