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ERIC NICOLSON: JFK moment for St Johnstone fans – Tommy Wright would take on any fight to defend his club

Tommy Wright with Dave Mackay after winning the Scottish Cup.
Tommy Wright with Dave Mackay after winning the Scottish Cup.

Some fans described the day Alex Totten was sacked as a JFK moment.

No offence to Totten, who was rightly loved and revered by St Johnstone supporters for helping revive their football club, but they will probably be retrospectively downgrading that emotion.

Maybe to Bobby Kennedy.

At 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning, six weeks into a soul-destroying pandemic lockdown, they were informed that the most successful manager in their club’s history had left.

A bucket of water thrown in your face at the start of a weekend doesn’t come any colder.

The Scottish Cup win, the summer European nights, the big victories in Glasgow, the top six finishes right up until the end. All of them with Tommy Wright on the touchline.

It has been almost a decade. A glorious decade that will surely never be surpassed at McDiarmid Park.

Look beyond the extraordinary achievements of Wright’s teams (not team, singular, it has to be stressed, as there wasn’t an individual player Wright was incapable of replacing). There is an even bigger reason Saints fans will be more crestfallen than after any previous managerial departure.

He was the biggest security blanket a club their size, any size, could wish for.

He fought the world for them and their team. The media, referees, opposition players, football associations, fellow managers (Neil McCann famously at the top of that little list) – he would take any of them on if he thought his club or anyone employed by it had been wronged or needed defending.

There was a reason the crowd didn’t turn on Wright when Saints were rock bottom of the Premiership as autumn turned to winter and it felt like every cross ball was a threat and every attack was a goal-conceding counter in the waiting.

They weren’t enjoying watching the football and they certainly weren’t enjoying the results but deep down they knew they couldn’t possibly find a better man to dig them out of the hole. They trusted his assessment, his tactics and his assurance that he still had the energy to wield his spade.

Make no mistake, at every other club in the league in a similar predicament, the calls for change would have been louder than from the stands of McDiarmid.

The revival he had pledged came about. With it, not only did Wright prove the Saints fans – and directors – to be correct in sticking by him, he also did a great service to other bosses who will in future be able to point to the reward showing patience and faith can bring.

Less than an hour after the news had broken of Wright moving on, there was a petition getting set up to rename one of the stands after the man.

Perth people know who and what they are losing.

The odds have tumbled on Wright getting the vacant Northern Ireland job. He will be a more attractive proposition now that he comes at a cheaper price. For what it’s worth, the IFA would be fools not to appoint him even if it costs them all the compensation they got from Stoke City for Michael O’Neill.

But freeing himself up for the post he would love to fill more than any other is a coincidence rather than a reason for Wright quitting Saints, though.

It was fitting that a stunning run of form took the team comfortably clear of the relegation battle and fitting that Wright’s last game was a late win and a characteristic clean-sheet. The guy even managed to get points per game to bend to his will and lift Saints above Hibs and back into the top six.

But it’s not that long ago the signs of the club/manager marriage coming to an end were laid bare with his brutal “beggars belief” assessment of the lack of business in the January transfer window as it drew to a close.

The relationship between Wright and his bosses lasted longer than most in football but it had run its course.

Saints can take their time to appoint a successor. Football won’t be getting played anytime soon.

The new man will have plenty of advantages – a strong playing squad with plenty of room for growth, excellent coaches and a club bank balance that will be the envy of most boardrooms across Scotland.

All of the above, and more, will help him.

Also, don’t forget that Derek McInnes, Steve Lomas and Wright himself have made a mockery of the ‘it can never be the same again’ warnings when there has been a change in the Perth dugout.

There is no escaping the feeling, however, that even against that favourable backdrop, replacing Tommy Wright will be the hardest job in Scottish football.