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STUART COSGROVE: Tears, souvenirs and schemie identification – witnessing St Johnstone’s Betfred Cup heroics was an ‘unbelievable privilege’

Stuart was part of the Saints TV commentary team at Hampden.
Stuart was part of the Saints TV commentary team at Hampden.

Victories always come with mixed emotions.

Most St Johnstone fans will admit to a sense of pure joy that the club triumphed at Hampden on Sunday, winning a tightly contested match courtesy of an immense headed goal by the Bellshill Cafu, Shaun Rooney, the outstanding cult player of the campaign. But the thrill of victory was silenced by the emptiness of the national stadium as the coronavirus lockdown forced Saints fans to watch at home in garishly decorated front rooms or on a laptop on the kitchen table.

I had the unbelievable privilege to be one of the few Saints fans in Hampden, acting as a co-commentator for Saints TV. We sat socially distanced at a rickety trestle table next to two poor guys from Livingston, who looked on painfully as we celebrated the big win.

Emotions were many and varied, A wave of regret was among us for Murray Davidson, the unlucky Saint who had been ruled out with a leg injury and missed out on glory.  There was an awareness that striker Guy Melamed must have felt hugely deflated when manager Callum Davidson read his team lines and the gifted Israeli had dropped to the bench to make way for the more experienced big game player, Craig Conway.

Stuart and Saints TV commentator Steven Watt at Hampden.

Family emotions had swept social media on the day of the game. Goalkeeper Zander Clark’s brother posted photographs of them as chubby kids when they both dreamt of football glory. It was Zander’s save early in the first half that kept Livingston at bay and shook Saints out of their torpor.

Family messages have a special resonance which, thanks to social media, fans can now share in. Young captain Jason Kerr carried the best wishes of his brother Greg, who had joined Saints with him as a teenager but lost out in the lottery of football development and would watch from home, their mother pacing the kitchen, too nervous to watch.

As the celebrations mounted and the official rituals came to a pyrotechnic height, social media erupted with homemade joy, fans bouncing on settees, kissing the dog and waving Saints scarves around the lounge.

Community emotions are what a cup final is all about and, although we have been denied the obligatory open-top bus and the clunky civic reception, the council lit up the bridges and illuminated Norrie Miller Walk in blue and white.  Saints banners had hung from the exterior of pubs and from lampposts around the town, defying local ordinances and proper grammar in their unshrinkable support for Saints.

Then the statisticians showed-up, bringing us obscure facts from the darkness of time to prove that St Johnstone FC are Scotland’s second most successful club in the last decade or that, according to the laws of modest investment, Saints are the greatest club ever by financial turnover. It was as if chairman Steve Brown had paid a gang of Russian bots to flood the web with evidence that he was right and the naïve supporters who wanted him to break the bank were wrong.

Still the emotions flooded in. The stadium staff, who were mainly keen to get home for tea were dismantling the branding and the trackside Covid signs as the small posse of Saints TV guys fought for any bit of memorabilia that was not nailed down.

Colditz in reverse

A feeling of guilty relief rushed through one lucky Saints fan who had donned overalls and industrial gloves and smuggled his way into Hampden with the contractors. It was Colditz in reverse, a brave soldier fighting his way into the impervious citadel for a close-up of David Wotherspoon’s deceptive runs.

It was by now relatively quiet when my big moment came. Walking out onto the pitch alone with two bottles of beer was St Johnstone’s towering centre-back Liam Gordon. Another emotion surged though me, a sort of schemie identification.

Liam had grown up in Firbank Road, the street that cuts down through Letham, the council scheme where I had grown up. Like all good guys who have been visited by a moment of fame, he was happy to pose for celebratory photos.

Liam Gordon on the Hampden turf. Supplied by Stuart Cosgrove.

Behind him, far in the distance, was the other Liam, our holding midfielder and veteran Liam Craig, on his knees and looking up to the heavens, thanking god and his family that, at last, his day had come. It was a compelling and memorable moment which I will store in my mind forever.

By the time I made it home and opened the fridge for the first joyful beer of the day, another image came into my social feed, an old photograph sent by Stuart Cowper. It was an old photograph of his father and my uncle, both now departed, on a day they had been match sponsors at McDiarmid. The framed photo was lovingly draped by an old Saints scarf.

Tears, souvenirs and a feeling that nothing can stop this remarkable football club on a good day. Nothing. Come on You Saints.

JIM SPENCE: St Johnstone are now Scotland’s second most successful club over last decade – why can’t they add more silverware?