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Martin Buglione: St Johnstone’s last non-league star who scored a ‘van Basten goal’, represented England and appeared on reality TV

The mid-90s player got a fairy tale start to his Perth career but not a fairy tale ending.

Martin Buglione.
Martin Buglione. Image: SNS.

For St Johnstone supporters in their mid-30s or older, the deadline day arrival of unknown striker Adama Sidibeh from Warrington Rylands would have brought back memories of one man – Martin Buglione.

Dipping into the English non-leagues hasn’t been a traditional recruitment strategy for the Perth club down the years.

But it was when John McClelland was the manager in the mid-90s.

Courier Sport look back to Buglione’s short spell at McDiarmid Park and a post-Saints story that saw him represent his country after he turned 50 and enter the world of reality TV.

The McClelland era

Having been brought in as a player/coach in the summer of 1992 at the age of 36, former Northern Ireland, Rangers and Leeds United defender, McClelland, was promoted to the position of manager a few months later following the sacking of Alex Totten.

Whether you believe McClelland was a boss who created dressing room cliques or was brought down by them, his signing policy was certainly a departure from Totten’s.

David Byrne (Watford), Anthony Cole (Middlesbrough), John Budden (Crystal Palace) and Paul Ramsey (Cardiff City) were among the players brought in from down south who were new to the Scottish game.

But the signing that raised the most eyebrows, and created the most intrigue, was the centre-forward who was in the middle of a prolific goal-scoring season in the Beazer Homes League Southern Division.

A roofer to trade, Buglione was 23 and had scored 50 times in the 1992/93 campaign, including three consecutive hat-tricks, when Margate agreed to let him sign for Saints in late March, 1993 for an undisclosed fee with a sell-on clause included.

Martin Buglione in action for St Johnstone.
Martin Buglione in action for St Johnstone. Image: SNS.

Before that, he had played for Enfield, Walthamstow Avenue, Boreham Wood, Dagenham, Welling United, Tonbridge Angels and Alma Swanley.

“A few clubs have been inquiring about him (Airdrie were understood to be one of them),” said McClelland, who had given Buglione a trial and game-time with the Saints reserves before making a contract offer.

“I was a late starter myself in senior football and this is the chance he has been waiting for.

“Because of the fee, it’s no great gamble. Maybe he’s one of those players who has slipped through the net. We decided it was worth taking a chance on Martin.”

Van Basten-esque goal and dream debut

Buglione featured in a friendly against Glenavon before he and fellow new boy, Cole, were given their competitive debuts against Hibs at Easter Road.

He scored after just 12 minutes, with a sweet 30-yard left-foot strike from a tight angle that the Perth Advertiser match report suggested would have made Marco van Basten proud, and was the man of the match in a 2-2 draw.

McClelland said: “He led the line well, brought others into play and generally looked the part. He lived up to my expectations. I think the Perth public will enjoy his play but he won’t get carried away.”

There were only 3,500 supporters in the stadium for the midweek game between two mid-table teams safe from relegation but for the Saints fans who travelled to Leith it has become one of those ‘I was there’ nights when Buglione’s name crops up.

A trophy and a part-time goalie

There were nine more games left in that season and Buglione started all but one of them.

The final match was at Tynecastle and he again found Edinburgh to his liking, scoring one of the Saints goals in a 3-1 victory.

McClelland was trying to get as much game-time into his raw recruit as he could before the summer break, with Buglione scoring a hat-trick in a Forfarshire Cup semi-final against Dundee between those Premier League contests.

And he even helped Saints lift that trophy for the first time.

Buglione put a side with a mix of first-teamers and reserve players in front against Montrose after four minutes, with Allan Moore and Stevie Maskrey doing the rest of the damage in the 4-1 victory.

Saints finished the Links Park game with 10 men and Buglione wearing gloves after goalkeeper John Donegan had been red-carded.

Back down the road

There would be no more competitive goals for Buglione in a Saints shirt.

He only got four starts in the first few months of the 1993/94 campaign and even before the change of manager from McClelland to Paul Sturrock, it was clear that the gamble in plucking a striker out of non-league obscurity wasn’t going to have a fairy tale ending to match the fairy tale start.

Mark Buglione evades a challenge from ex-Saint. Mark Treanor when St Johnstone faced Falkirk in 1993.
Mark Buglione evades a challenge from ex-Saint. Mark Treanor when St Johnstone faced Falkirk in 1993. Image: SNS.

Less than two months after taking charge, Sturrock sold Buglione for £10,000 to Sittingbourne of the Southern Premier League, reportedly before an appearance-related payment to Margate was due to kick-in.

Buglione went for one more trial with a professional club, Gillingham, but this time it didn’t result in a contract offer and he would go on to make no fewer than 14 other moves across the south of England, finishing off with Great Wakering Rovers in 2005.

His last ‘shop window’ moment turned out to be a 1997 FA Cup clash with Ray Wilkins’ Fulham in his second spell with Margate (where he became their all-time record goal scorer – 158 goals in 288 games) but that ended in dressing room tears after he was forced off with a knee injury.

Buglione did get a song written about him before the game, though!

An England call-up and reality TV

In an interview last year, looking back on a career that lasted 21 years and saw him play for 21 clubs, Buglione named Paul Wright as his best team-mate and Ally McCoist his best opponent.

Unlike those two, he isn’t finished playing just yet.

Into his 50s, Buglione has been starring with Three Lions on his shirt for the England Veterans.

And in 2020 he found a claim to fame few, if any, former St Johnstone players have on their Wikipedia page – an appearance on reality TV.

‘First Dates Hotel’ tried to help him find love, with Buglione proudly showing the Channel 4 cameras a picture of him in his Saints kit as he reflected on his “childhood dream” of playing professional football.