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My Saints

GFOP Marc Cowan sent us this poetic tale of St. Mirren fandom that proves in football, you always have hope. But sometimes hope is all you need. 

Sunday March 17th, 2013. 

To most of Scotland it was a cold wet winter afternoon, one best spent indoors. 

To me and 17,000 other St Mirren supporters, who gathered in the south side of Glasgow, in one of the worlds oldest and most famous football stadiums, it would be the day that 26 years of waiting, and suffering, would finally come to an end. 

My love affair with St Mirren began around 1980. My family owned a store close to the stadium and used to advertise in the match day program. We were not supporters, but the club gave us 2 season tickets, and I was about 11 years old the first time my dad took me to see them play. In these days they won about as much as they lost. I knew I did not want to be a Rangers or a Celtic fan. My dad bought me a St Mirren scarf and by the end of that season I had become a fan. 

Alex Ferguson had recently left us to take over at Aberdeen, and the club was enjoying what would be by our standards, some brief moderate success. One season we finished in third place and qualified to play in what is now the Europa League. We made it to a few semi finals, but ultimately always fell at that penultimate hurdle. Usually in some very unfortunate manner. I remember the feeling of hopelessness at losing a semi final replay to Rangers at Hampden to a goal that never crossed the line, and another semi final replay to Aberdeen due to 2 catastrophic goalkeeping errors when we were 2-1 ahead. We also lost an unbelievable European tie when we conceded 2 goals in the last 3 minutes at home, to be eliminated from what looked like an unassailable position. That was the life of a St Mirren fan. Some crazy games, some glorious failure, but on the whole it was good times. We were a decent top half team, with some quality players, who never won anything. We were regularly on the tv, and I followed them all over the country, seldom missing a game. 

Then came 1987. St Mirren made the Scottish Cup final. Their first since 1962. We would play Dundee United, who were also in the UEFA cup final that year. There was no way we could beat them. No- one gave us a chance. But we pulled it off in dramatic fashion. One Ian Ferguson goal in extra time and I had tasted the ultimate as a football fan. Cup Final Glory. For a team that had an average attendance of around 5,000, we had around 30,000 supporting us that day. The streets of Paisley were lined after the game, and the players that day became St Mirren legends. I shed tears in the stadium that day. We had arrived. I had arrived. I supported a real team. Everyone I knew called to congratulate me. I was on top of the world. All the ups and downs had been worth it. We were champions. Who knew how long it would be till we tasted cup success again. 

What should have been a catalyst to kick on from though back fired quite dramatically, and within 5 years we were relegated, and began over 15 years in the wilderness. Promotion would be followed by relegation and the standard of football became quite painful to watch. A succession of managers failed to lift the gloom, and we limped from season to season. I left Glasgow during this period, but would come home a couple of times a year and always catch a few games. There was a time when I went almost 5 years without seeing a victory. 

In 2006 we were promoted back to the premier league and in 2009 we surprisingly managed to reach a Scottish Cup Semi Final against Glasgow Rangers. I could not come back for it and it was not on regular tv in the US. I managed to find a Rangers supporters club that was showing it in New York. A 2 hour drive from my home. The game started at 7.30am US time. I booked a hotel in New York for the Friday night and was outside the supporters bar at 7am. I had my st Mirren shirt and my 27 year old scarf on. The first 3 people to show up were 3 other St Mirren fans. By the time the game started there were about 20 Rangers fans and the 4 of us. We took the far end of the bar. Rangers scored in the first 3 minutes, we were never in it and it finished 3-0. I left before the end and as I walked out one of the Rangers fans told me to fxxk off. Nice bunch. 

In 2010, we reached the League Cup Final. It was our first final since 1987 and again it was against Glasgow Rangers. We were huge outsiders. But I had to come home. The stadium was full. 10,000 St Mirren fans and about 40,000 Rangers. Late in the game Rangers had 2 players red carded. This was it. Our time had come. The long wait for another trophy was going to come to an end. We were playing well. We had looked the more likely to score, before the red cards. Surely now we had a 2 player advantage we would be victorious. But once it looked like it was there for us we could not grab it. The Rangers fans created an incredible atmosphere. You could feel the electricity in the stadium. Their players rose to it. Our players froze. We stopped playing. As fluent as we had looked we lost all composure. Passes went astray players were gripped by fear. With a few minutes to go we lost a goal. Disaster. It was over. Lost 1-0. I flew home the next day. Gutted. It was painful. 

And so to March 17th. 2013. The old scarf is back on and I am standing next to my dad surrounded by 17000 St Mirren fans. The stadium is full. Our oppoents, Hearts from Edinburgh, fill the rest of the seats to a 45,000 capacity. As our manager Danny Lennon leads the players out the noise is deafening. 

The game starts. 

Hearts have all the ball. St Mirren are racked with nerves. No-one seems to be able to bring any composure to the team. Even our more experienced players are toiling and it is no surprise that after 10 minutes Hearts score. A good goal but avoidable. For the next 20 minutes it is all Hearts. We should be 4 down as they miss chance after chance. But there is a calmness in the St Mirren end of the stadium. Almost a sense of inevitability. It’s St Mirren. We don’t really win stuff. Things go wrong for us. The crowd are quiet. Waiting for Hearts to put us out of our misery with another couple of goals. 

And then from nowhere it happens. Right before half time we score. A breakaway from nothing. Beautiful pass from Steven Thompson to Gary Teale. A great run and instead of trying to shoot, which most players would have done he squares the ball to the on rushing Asmi Goncalves who strokes it into an open goal from 10 yards. The St Mirren end erupts. The feeling of relief is palpable. We should be gone and we are level. Shortly after the referee blows for half time. Half time passes very quickly. I go inside and watch the goals on the tv monitor. We should be beaten already and we are not. Could this be our day. Hearts must be a bit deflated and we are energized by the equalizer. 

The second half begins. 

46 seconds gone and the ball is crossed in from the left towards our talisman Steven Thompson. Steven Thompson the lifelong St Mirren fan who stood on the terraces as an 8 year old in 1987 watching St Miiren win their last trophy. Who won every honor there is to win with Rangers. Who went to England and played in the Premiership while also playing 16 times for Scotland. And who as the offers came in for him made the decision to earn a lot less money but to finish his career at the club he has supported all his life. He loses his marker and with one move lashes the ball into the back of the net. 46 seconds gone in the second half and we have turned it round. We are ahead. The St Mirren end is bouncing. 

The game continues and now St Mirren are playing with confidence. We are passing the ball the way Danny likes it and the 17000 are beginning to believe. 66 minutes gone and a magnificent 1-2 between Conner Newton and Goncalves leaves Newton one on one with the goalkeeper. Without thinking he hammers it into the bottom corner and we move into uncharted territory. As one the St Mirren end rises. Some stand still. Some are hugging. Some just jumping in the air and many are in tears. The wait could be over. For a moment I relaxed, and basked in the glory of a 2 goal lead in a cup final. And then I remember. It’s St Mirren. It cannot be over. Things are never this easy. Not ever. 

Now Hearts must throw everything at us. Their fans know it and their players know it. They rise and raise the noise level. We wait for the onslaught. And it comes. We hold out till the 70th minute. We hold out till the 80th minute. Now we have 10 minutes with a 2 goal lead. Thompson goes off injured. In the 85th minute Hearts hit the bar. In the 86th Hearts score and Goncalves goes off injured. Now we have 4 minutes plus stoppage time to hold out. It becomes unbearable. People are screaming all around. I am finding it hard to watch. In the 90th minute Hearts hit the post and the ball is whipped clear. The 17000 are praying for a whistle. The 25,000 are willing their team to score. It’s a mad house of emotion. 

St Mirren clear the ball up the field and it stays there until the whistle blows. 

It’s over. 

We’ve done it 

We’ve won. 

My dad and I are hugging. 

The players are celebrating. 

The wait is over. The wait is over. 

I was 19. Now I’m 44. 

It’s why I am a football fan. It’s why I love St Mirren. 

We lift the trophy. The Hearts fans quietly slip away. We hardly notice as the St Mirren players celebrate in front of us. Grown men are unashamedly weeping. Strangers are hugging. Kids not realizing the specialness and uniqueness of the occasion. 17000 people who don’t want to leave. Who have no idea when they will get to do this again. If ever. I am so glad that my dad has got to see it. For those who go every week and travel the country. This is really for them. The rest of us are the fair weather fans. But it sure feels good to be one today. We slowly trickle out and make our way back to our cars. Something remains inside the stadium. The feeling of joy for that moment of victory belongs in the stadium. The memory comes with you. 

We head to Paisley where the team are greeted by thousands as they tour the town in an open top bus. Scenes of joy not seen since 1987. The young and the old celebrate together. People hanging out of windows as the bus goes by. The rain is pouring down but nobody seems to notice. Today this set of players became legends. Their names will forever go down in the history of St Mirren. Their pictures will line the corridors of our stadium. The first team to win the League Cup in the clubs 133 year history. 

Later that night I end up at the team hotel. I am there when the team arrive triumphantly with the cup. I have the opportunity to congratulate and thank them personally for making this day possible. Can this day get any better. Team manager Danny Lennon hands me the cup and I hold it aloft as if I scored the winning goal. I share a drink with the owner Stuart Gilmour. And then it is time to go. 

Arriving home weary eyed I pour a large whiskey and sit down to watch the game all over again. As the enormity of the day begins to sink in a tear comes to my eye. I think about how many days passed between 1987 and 2013. How life changed in that time. And how many days will pass between today and the next time this may happen. It has not been an easy road all these years. St Mirren fans have bourne the brunt of much dissapointment and waited patiently for 26 years in between our victories. But it was worth waiting for.