Temporary reconstruction of Scottish football will bring postponed and prolonged pain, as Kevin McGowne knows full well.
But even though the former St Johnstone defender played in a Perth side that suffered final-day relegation the last time the top flight was cut in numbers, the former defender still believes there is a case for sparing Hearts the drop this time around.
Jam Tarts owner Ann Budge is the joint-chair of a taskforce put in place by the SPFL to look into reorganising the league set-up in time for next season in the wake of the controversial vote to bring the current campaign in the lower divisions to a premature end, with the Premiership expected to soon follow.
Budge has previously stated the case for “temporary readjustment” of the structure to ensure “no club is financially penalised as a consequence of these exceptional circumstances”.
On that basis if the Premiership is expanded to 14 clubs from 12 ahead of 2020/21, which is the only realistic option, that would mean a bigger relegation cull further down the track, possibly as soon as the following campaign.
Back in 1994, Saints were the third bottom reconstruction fall guys.
And the bitter memories of beating Motherwell at Fir Park but going down on goal difference are still vivid for McGowne over a quarter of a century later.
“That was my lowest point of my career,” he said. “Along with losing 4-0 to Stenhousemuir in the cup when I was with Saints.
“I never felt worse than after those two games.
“But obviously there were more implications with relegation than in a one-off cup shock. It was horrible – the worst feeling ever.
“We were well clear of Dundee and Raith Rovers. They were relegated long before the end of the season.
“We were third bottom in a 12-team league and we went down on goal difference.
“It is incredible looking back. A quarter of the league was being relegated.
“We ended up on 40 points, the same as Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock and just two points behind Dundee United in sixth place.
“Remember it was two points for a win back in those days.”
Saints certainly hadn’t been producing relegation form in the last couple of months of the season. Before losing to Aberdeen on the penultimate day of the campaign, Paul Sturrock’s men had put together a seven-game unbeaten run, which included a draw at Celtic Park.
“Going into the last game Thistle could have gone down,” McGowne, who still lives in Perth and has a tiling business in the city, recalled. “Same with Kilmarnock. Hearts were also in the mix. They all survived and we went down.
“It was out of our hands. We did beat Motherwell in the last game at Fir Park but it wasn’t quite enough.
“Paul Sturrock had come in during November after we got off to a bad start under John McClelland.
“Luggy and John Blackley were very professional but couldn’t quite keep us up. The odds were stacked against us with three going down that season to create a 10-club top division.
“We had really picked up, despite losing our top scorer Paul Wright to injury.
“We felt we deserved to stay up.
“I suppose the result which killed us was a 1-0 defeat from Aberdeen in the second last game. That proved pivotal.
“I remember a late mistake from John Inglis allowed Brian Irvine to grab their winner in the last few minutes. That did us in.
“A point would have kept our fate in our own hands.”
Billy Dodds moved on before Saints began life in the second tier, with Inglis following him to Pittodrie a few months later, but McGowne was happy to stay at McDiarmid Park.
He said: “I was 22 or whatever at the time and I was loving my time at St Johnstone.
“I did have the opportunity to sign for Tommy Burns at Kilmarnock but I changed my mind.
“I could see my game was progressing well under Luggy and Sloop so I signed for another two years after that.
“I had only played a season at St Mirren before moving to Perth so I felt I still had to build my career.
“I didn’t have a problem with John McClelland but I felt there was more professionalism about the club when Paul Sturrock came in and eventually he took Saints back into the top league.”
The accusation of self-interest for Hearts is an obvious one now that it has become clear they will drop out of the Premiership if the ball does not come back out and reconstruction fails to materialise.
McGowne, though, is taking a broader view.
“The most important thing in the current climate is that football clubs survive,” he pointed out.
“If that means 14 clubs in the top division for the next season or so then let’s bite the bullet. If it means a club like Hearts surviving, so be it.
“Hearts had eight games left to close a four point gap.
“That would be perfectly possible, especially when you come to playing the teams round about you.
“I have always said the league is a lot poorer without the likes of Hearts, Dundee, Dundee United, Hibs and Rangers, who have all had spells out of it.
“The country can’t afford a club like Hearts dropping out.
“You want competition in the league and OK, they have had a bad season but Hearts are one of the biggest clubs the country.
“Unlike when I was relegated with St Johnstone – and that was a low point of my career – these are exceptional times. Unique.
“Back then the plan was to relegate three clubs to create a 10-team Premier League.
“It might be painful further down the line. But this is a unique crisis we are dealing with.
“So I do think we should go to 14, keeping Hearts and bringing in Dundee United and Inverness.”
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