Farewell to Love Street

Triumph, agony, high farce and even a ghost: St Mirren Park has seen it all in its 114 years, discovers Paul Forsyth

FOR 114 years, they have performed the same ritual, congregating on the site of a former brickworks on the north side of Paisley, there to support the local football club. For those who set their clock by St Mirren, that fortnightly pilgrimage to Love Street has been all they know, one of the few pleasures in life that can be relied on to remain. Its centrepiece might be the ramshackle relic of a bygone age, but it's their ramshackle relic.

Now, football is moving the goalposts. And the pitch. And the antique stand that has never quite made it as far as the corner flags. Or rather, it is building new ones half a mile away in Greenhill Road, where the latest of Scotland's identikit stadiums has sprung, allowing the club to clear its debt, and Tesco to do as they please with Love Street. Unless Brechin City take them to a replay in the following weekend's Scottish Cup third-round tie, this Saturday's league match against Motherwell will be the last at St Mirren Park, the final chance to say goodbye.

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Flitting is one of the most stressful things in life. While the club's board have taken on the administrative burden, fans are coming to terms with the emotional one. Hundreds of former players have been invited to the Motherwell match, where they will remember the good and the bad: the party held at Love Street after their 1987 Scottish Cup triumph, the UEFA Cup defeat by Hammarby in 1985, the 47,438 who crammed inside for a League Cup tie against Celtic in 1949, and that curiosity of a title triumph by the same visitors in 1986.

Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Ruud Gullit are among the greats who have graced the old ground. Once a classic oval with a track that played host to speedway and greyhound racing, now a grudging hybrid with plastic seats on three sides, St Mirren Park dragged itself reluctantly towards a new era, only to realise on the precipice that enough was enough, that the club would be better off without it. On Saturday, the people of Paisley, the people of St Mirren, will pay tribute.


Former player and manager

I joined St Mirren when I was 13, and became an assistant groundsman at 15, cleaning the terracing and helping to cut the grass. The way you had to do it – up and down the pitch, then across it – meant that you covered about 10 miles. I used it as part of my training. I was an apprentice painter, and the chairman, Willie Todd, told me to come in and give a coat of gloss, in black, grey and red, to as many seats as I could. So I did that on the Friday. On the Saturday, they still weren't dry. Everyone that came to the match had their clothes damaged, and the club had to compensate them. I was pulled in and told that I had cost them a fortune.



If someone says football match to me, the picture that comes into my head is that view from the North Bank, looking across to the main stand. Whether it was jumping up and down, or putting your head in your hands, it happened on that spot. I laugh when I think about a Kilmarnock game I went to in the early 1980s. We won by five or six, and it was in the days when everybody was smoking. I remember this guy tapping my pal on the shoulder and saying, "you're on fire by the way". A cigarette had landed in his pocket. It was the "by the way" that got me.


Manager of 1987 Scottish Cup-winning team

The big party had been on the Saturday night, with thousands gathered outside the town hall, but the best bit for me was the following day. We did a tour round Paisley in an open-topped bus, which culminated in a parade of Love Street, which was packed out. The ground had its best coat on that day, as if it had been waiting to greet us. The only thing it lacked was a game of football. From there, we went direct to the airport to play in a four-team tournament in Singapore. We won that as well.



I was here for a reserve game with Rangers in the late 1980s, and we were sitting in that away dressing room, getting a row from our coach, John McGregor, because we had lost. It must have been a warm day because the old wooden window frame was ajar. John slammed his hand on the sill in a fit of rage, and the window came down and jammed his fingers. We were all sitting there terrified, but he just continued ranting and raving. He couldn't get his hand out so he asked the doctor, Campbell Ogilvie's father, to help him. When the fingers came out, they were like a cartoon character's, red and throbbing.


Former Radio 1 DJ

Down here in London I am very much a Crystal Palace fan, but north of the haggis line, my team are St Mirren. It started when I did a genealogy programme years ago. I knew my mother was from Glasgow somewhere, but I didn't know until then that it was Paisley. I had a cousin who lived in Love Street, right opposite the ground. So in the 1982-83 season, I went up and met the family in their house. I saw St Mirren lose to Celtic, but it was a fantastic weekend. The stadium had an atmosphere. It has obviously seen better days, but if the wood and the beams could talk, there would be some pretty good stories.

I wore the shirt on Top of the Pops once. I came up another time and did a turn as part of Jackie Copland's testimonial. If I remember rightly, the venue was Toledo Junction. I met the players. I'd love to come again. It's one of these things where you just need an excuse.


Shareholder, season-ticket holder, former programme editor

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A large number of fans have asked to have their ashes scattered on the pitch at Love Street. In one game, there was a ball trundling in towards the other goalkeeper. He came out to pick it up, and just as he bent down, it jumped over his hands. They said it had bobbled on a mound of human remains. It had been helped into the net by the supernatural.


In November 1981, Jim Clunie was sacked for swearing. He had offended a director's wife, whose name, I think, was Maggie Faulds. So on the terraces at that time, there were all these chants about Maggie Faulds. In a home game just before Christmas, there was a half-time display by the army, which involved a rifle drill. When they looked up at the North Bank, the home support chanted back: "All we are asking is shoot Maggie Faulds".


Member of 1959 Scottish Cup-winning team

The 1959-61 St Mirren team were pretty special. Not only did they win the cup, they beat Rangers at Ibrox for the first time in 54 years. In the quarter-final of that cup, we were a goal down to Dunfermline with six or seven minutes left. It looked as if we were going out, but we sneaked two goals in the last three or four minutes, the first of which I scored. I was chasing a through ball, Harry Melrose was coming at me like a runaway elephant, and the goalkeeper, Eddie Connachan, was closing me down. Just before the three of us converged, I managed to slip it into the net.


Hammarby is probably every St Mirren fan's worst memory. We were heading into the latter stages of the UEFA Cup. We had drawn 3-3 with them away from home, and beaten Slavia Prague in the previous round. Frank McGarvey went with three minutes left because we were winning 1-0. He had scored the goal, and I think they took him off to get the plaudits. He went straight down the tunnel. Even if we drew, we were through.

They scored, and it went into injury time. They scored again, and it was disallowed. Then the goalie kicked it up the park, it came off somebody's head, and it was 2-1. We took the centre, and that was it. Horrible. Everybody was stunned. I ran up the tunnel to the bath, and McGarvey had no idea. He was in there celebrating, soap in his hair, the whole lot, and I said, 'we're out'. He thought I was winding him up. That horrible feeling in the stomach, I can still feel it now.


Crime novelist

I've always been fond of St Mirren. One of my books, Pitch Black, is set in the world of football. I made up a team called Kelvin FC, but when I was writing it, I had Love Street in my mind. In fact, the whole thing was Love Street transposed to somewhere near the Kelvin Hall. When I do research, I don't read books or look at the internet, I go and ask questions. So I got talking to groundsmen, backroom staff, people who did police inspections.

The kitman told me they had a ghost. I thought, 'a ghost in the boot room? That's too good not to use'. Love Street straddles three centuries. When you go into the trophy room, there are sepia photos of young footballers, some of whom lost their lives in the war. There is an atmosphere of death about the place. At St Mirren, they don't know who the ghost is, but in my story, it was a young chap who died in battle.


Jimmy Bone and I had decided that we didn't want to fine players, so we came up with an alternative punishment. There was a long cupboard in the home dressing room, about four feet high, and two feet wide. We decided that anyone who had committed a disciplinary offence would be made to stand on top of it and sing. It scared the life out of some of them. If they didn't do it, they were power-hosed in the shower area for two minutes. Ian Ferguson was the hangman.


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Celtic fans used to wander into the St Mirren end and make themselves visible in a provocative way. I remember once, there was this boy of about 15 or 16 staggering around in front of the North Bank. The St Mirren fans largely ignored him because he was so drunk, but at one point, this half-eaten pie came sailing over my head and hit him smack in the face. He just stood there and let it slip slowly off.


Former player

The one thing that sticks out in my mind is when we got relegated in 1971. It was after a 2-2 draw at Love Street with Celtic, who had Billy McNeill, Stevie Chalmers and Jimmy Johnstone in their team. I was only a young lad, and never really felt the repercussions, but it was a massive blow for the manager, Wilson Humphries. I had been signed by the present chairman's uncle, Jack Gilmour. Billy Fulton was my partner in central defence. I was lucky to have good partners throughout my career – Norman Hunter at Leeds, Martin Buchan at Manchester United – and Billy was up there with any of them.

The main stand was dated in those days, so you know how bad it must be now. The atmosphere wasn't brilliant either. The fans were too far away. We had those big muddy areas behind the goals, where the players used to train. They were a bit of an eyesore. The whole place was an eyesore to tell you the truth. St Mirren were the nearest club to Kilbirnie, where I was brought up, and you always have a strong affection for your first team, but I will not be sorry to see the back of Love Street. It's time it was pulled down.


You have to realise that the move is helping St Mirren. It is setting them up to compete in the SPL for years to come. Ferguslie was where they had their first home ground, so they're going home if you like. But the last match will be a sad occasion. Most managers know the dressing room, their office and the pitch, but I knew every part of that stadium, the boiler room, every nook and cranny. The new stadiums look a bit like sports centres, but when you go in the front door of Love Street and up those stairs, it's like being at home. I was not the most educated person, but I have always had a great imagination, and I can picture every part of St Mirren Park in my mind. I'm sure the supporters will have their own picture. The bricks are coming down, but the memories aren't. In that sense, it will never die.

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