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STUART COSGROVE: St Johnstone have been blessed by David Wotherspoon — my Uncle Jimmy would have loved him

David Wotherspoon lifts the Scottish Cup for a second time.
David Wotherspoon lifts the Scottish Cup for a second time.

On Saturday evening, as the half-naked body of St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson slid on a river of champagne across a blue Marmoleum floor inside the dressing rooms at Hampden Park, I could not have been happier.

I always imagined that Steven MacLean’s winning goal in the 2014 Cup final would be the pinnacle of Saints and naked torsos, but how wrong can you be? This was our boss, our leader and a moment of celebration that ranks high in St Johnstone’s history.

This remarkable club, which I have had the lifelong honour of supporting, achieved the impossible dream, winning back-to-back national cup finals. Unbeaten in all cup games this season, the Tayside Invincibles have lifted yet another trophy.

The stories behind the headlines are always the most compelling. So, there was a joyful symmetry in St Johnstone’s cup-winning goal being scored by the irrepressible Shaun Rooney, the great nephew of Benny Rooney, the Saints’ captain who led us to the 1969 League Cup final against Jock Stein’s Celtic.

We fell short that day and there would be many more disappointments to come, but self-confidence has surged through St Johnstone since we moved to McDiarmid Park and at last we are getting our rewards.

Shaun, the great-nephew of Benny Rooney

Another story that shaped Saturday’s final was COVID-19. With fans unable to enter the stadium, most watched on television — but that was not the pandemic’s only influence.

The first club to fall foul of the virus was Aberdeen, whose players were criticised for breaking protocols. Ironically, one of them, Craig Bryson, moved on to St Johnstone and proved his worth as the virus gripped our cup final squad.

Bryson was at his efficient best, holding possession in front of the Three Musketeers: Jason Kerr, Liam Gordon and Jamie McCart. I cannot think of defensive players that have contributed so much to the club across its history.

The Three Musketeers

Back in 1929, Willie Imrie and Sandy McLaren were the first Saints players to be capped for Scotland, with Imrie scoring against Germany in Bergen. John Lambie and Willie Coburn were stalwarts in our great late Sixties team, and few can forget the monumental contribution that Fraser Wright and Steven Anderson made to our 2014 Scottish Cup-winning team.

But for all of that nostalgia, it is our three young defenders who have been the rock on which success has been built.

“Spoony is football at its most romantic”

In the days running up to the final BBC Scotland asked me to write a love letter to David Wotherspoon, my favourite Saints player of the current generation.

It was a film that opened with the words: “When young boys dream of playing football, they imagine they are David Wotherspoon. The weaving runs, the elegant feints, the effortless nutmegs, the audacious step-overs followed by a defence-piercing pass or an effortless bending shot. Spoony is football at its most romantic.”

The film unknowingly predicted what was to come: a piece of clever interplay between Spoony and his left-sided partner Callum Booth which climaxed with the most wicked check-back you’ll ever witness, so deceptive it left the Hibernian midfielder Alex Gogic isolated and beaten. The cross found Rooney’s head and Saints were in dreamland.

Romantic: Wotherspoon

There is a personal story in every final and for me there is an incredibly special memory. My Uncle Jimmy was one of the many Scots from Perth, Dundee and Fife who were captured at St Valery in the early years of the Second World War.

He was forced to march to prisoner-of-war camp on the German-Polish border. Jimmy found himself incarcerated in a camp with several other Perth men, and inevitably they set up a St Johnstone Supporters Group in the camp alongside Davie Freil, a celebrity Saints fan of day gone by.

Football had been abandoned only a few weeks into the 1939-40 season, so they spent their days behind the wire planning to escape and remembering the big players of the past — Jimmy Caskie, Jimmy Beattie and Percy Dickie.

When my Uncle Jimmy came back from the War, Saints had a very real rival for his affections as the Perth Panthers ice hockey team beat all before them to become British champions.

Like many of his generation, work was in short supply and he chose to emigrate to Canada, where he lived out the rest of his life in Uranium City in Saskatchewan.

We only met a couple of times after that but on one occasion, in Perth’s Civil Service Club, he told me he had lost touch with Scottish football and followed the Canadian national team.

At times of great emotion — a birth, a marriage, or a funeral — we feel the need to reach out to those close to us, to hug them, to reassure them or, when they are gone, to whisper messages within our thoughts.

I’m not ashamed to say that on Saturday night I sat alone with a beer and quietly spoke to my Uncle Jimmy. He would have loved the story of the boy from Bridge of Earn who won the cup for Saints after scoring on his international debut for Canada.

There is no finer player than Spoony — we have been blessed.