Callum Davidson has been the St Johnstone boss for a mere seven months – but the man who appointed him as Tommy Wright’s successor believes he is already well on the way to becoming the next managerial McDiarmid Park “great”.
Perth chairman Steve Brown has lauded Davidson for masterminding Saints’ spectacular Betfred Cup semi-final triumph against Hibs at the weekend and for the manner in which he has taken on the task of following in the footsteps of a club legend, a footballing equivalent of being passed a microphone from Frank Sinatra and asked to sing ‘My Way’.
And now Wright’s former assistant is one game away from joining the Northern Irishman as a cup-winning titan.
“Tommy’s managerial record is second to none,” said Brown.
“Following him was inevitably a big challenge straight away.
“But Callum’s taken it in his stride. No manager we’ve had has had the challenges he’s been faced with in terms of Covid.
“It’s not just keeping the players fit and playing. Things can happen out with our bubble that you have no control over.
“But he’s strong and he’s come through it. If I didn’t think he was any good I wouldn’t have appointed him.
“We knew his calibre and all the things that we thought would stand him in good stead have done just that – his personality, his playing career, his coaching experience and working with Scotland.
“We all make mistakes but he’s shaping up to be one of our great managers already.
“He’s not a full year in the job and he’s got us into a cup final. Who can complain about that?”
Not Saints fans and not Brown.
A current league position of ninth, just four points above bottom and the play-off place, is underwhelming but Brown has watched enough football through the seasons and enough of Davidson’s team in this one to appreciate that the Betfred Cup run provides a fairer reflection on the first term for the new manager than the Premiership campaign.
“Some people might just look at the results, which have been mixed, but for me, we’ve been consistent,” he said.
“We’ve performed well in almost every game. We just haven’t got the results as often as we deserved.
“We went through a run when we weren’t scoring and there were one or two unfortunate refereeing decisions that didn’t go our way.
“Every team will maybe feel they could say the same but it wouldn’t have been far-fetched for us to be in the top six, maybe even above Livingston.
“I was delighted for Callum on Saturday.”
Brown is one of the lucky few who will be able to say “I was there” but the fact that his father and predecessor as chairman, Geoff, decided not to travel to Hampden brings into sharp focus the peculiarity of a historic occasion for St Johnstone.
He’s hoping to be at the final.
“He’s hoping to get his first jag next week or the week after so he’s hoping to be at the final,” said Steve.
“It was all very different (the semi-final) but it was still absolutely fantastic.
“It goes without saying that, in terms of the experience of watching a semi-final at Hampden, it was nothing like it would have been with our fans there.
“But the emotions don’t change.
“We were 3-0 up and quite comfortable but there’s always that niggle in your mind – what happens if they get one back?
“Callum was good enough to remind me before the game that we didn’t have a very good record at Hampden, which I was trying to forget.
“Mind you, the same applied to our record of never having won the Scottish Cup – just because we hadn’t done it in the past didn’t mean we couldn’t win it in 2014 and it was the same on Saturday.
“Listen, we rode our luck before we scored. Murphy chipped the ball against the bar and we were at sixes and sevens for 10 or 15 minutes.
“But you need luck. It’s part of the game. We needed it against Dundee United. There have certainly been plenty of occasions when we’ve not had it.”
It’s the same buzz. It puts Saints on the map again.
Brown added: “It’s a national cup final and we’ve only been to three in our history before this.
“It’s a massive disappointment the fans can’t be there but we know why they can’t be there. It’s not safe to do so, it’s as simple as that.
“However you’re watching it – live or on a screen – it won’t take away from the excitement leading up to it and the emotions we’ll all go through during the game itself. That won’t change.
“It’s the same as I remember from the Scottish Cup final – everybody’s talking about it again, even people who aren’t into football. It’s the same buzz.
“It puts Perth on the map again. We’re still going to be in the media, still going to be on the television and all the rest of it.
“The players have got a lift from it and a sense of achievement.
“They want to give something back.”
The prospect of winning the Betfred Cup is of course an alluring one all on its own. Add into the mix the plans that would follow of how and when Saints supporters would get the chance to greet their heroes in safer times and there really would be a bright light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel in the Fair City.
On the prospect of Jason Kerr bringing the cup on to the McDiarmid Park pitch at the start of next season, Brown said: “That would be something else. It really would.
“To have never won a trophy for 130-odd years, win it and then have an opportunity to win another in such a short space of time is amazing.
“It’s what dreams are made of.
“That’s why I’m in the game, why the manager and players are. And it’s what supporters want for their team. It’s the ambition for everybody and hopefully we’re on our game at the end of February and it bears fruit.
“Having said that, the biggest trophy will be getting those fans back into the ground.”
There will be a personal back-story worthy of telling for every Saints player if they do emerge victorious against Livingston on February 28 but those for Liam Craig and Murray Davidson, numbers two and three in the all-time appearance list but yet to play in a final, will be the most powerful.
“I’m always winding Liam up that he went to Hibs for another 20 quid a week or whatever it was!” Brown joked, referring to Craig’s break in his Saints career that coincided with 2014.
“Muzz was part of our squad but unfortunately was injured for the cup final.
“So I’m delighted for them. They’ve both been such important players for St Johnstone.
“The chance to get a winners’ medal is the same for them as it would have been if there were fans there.
“I know we won seven years ago but they don’t come along too often.
“We’ve not won the League Cup before. The players who won the Scottish Cup in 2014 will be in that category as well – David Wotherspoon, Stevie May and Michael O’Halloran.”
Of all the many emotions Brown has lived since the final whistle blew in an eerie Hampden Park, pride is the prevailing one.
“Yeah it is,” he said.
“With a combination of good managers, good players, good luck and a bit of good judgment it’s been an extraordinary tenure for me.
“As much as there have been times when I couldn’t see it far enough, I couldn’t have asked for anymore. I really couldn’t.”