ASK a lot of football fans outside of Scotland where St. Johnstone FC are from and they won’t really know. The answer is Perth, a city of 47,000 people on the River Tay, the longest river in Scotland and renowned for quality Salmon fishing.
Despite the success of Glasgow’s Rangers as Scottish champions, Perth can claim to be Scotland’s most successful football city in 2020-21 after winning two major trophies, the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup. St. Johnstone, a club founded in 1884, trebled its honours list by adding to their first major prize, the Scottish Cup, which was won in 2014. The city of Perth went berserk back then as the Saints celebrated their victory over local rivals Dundee United.
The city has an assortment of statues, but they might want to think about a memorial to Shaun Rooney, a 24 year-old defender who scored the winning goals in both competitions. Rooney, a native of Belshill, only joined the club in June 2020 from Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He scored the only goal in the League Cup final against Livingstone on February 2021 and did it again in the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian.
St. Johnstone’s achievement is very significant given the gulf between the “old firm” and the rest of the Scottish Premiership. For example, Celtic players average £ 900,000 annually in wages compared to the Saints’ £ 63,000. Outside the Glasgow duo, only Aberdeen have won the domestic cup double in Scotland.
St. Johnstone have a reputation for being a well-run, prudent club that lives within its means. In 2019-20, they lost £ 20,000 which was a reasonable figure given the covid-19 pandemic. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, they lost £ 258,000 and £ 149,000 respectively.
Over the past few years, they have built up a war chest of cash to enable them to overcome any crises and the timing could not have been better. In 2019-20, the club revealed it had £ 2.8 million in cash at bank, an increase of some £ 700,000 on 2018-19. However, the crisis has meant the club’s creditors almost doubled, largely due to involvement in the government tax delay schemes. The club’s chairman, Steve Brown, told the local media he is bracing himself for a big loss in 2020-21 and that there are a number of deferred liabilities that will erode the cash. A healthy European run in 2021-22 will surely ease the burden.
The club is the envy of many of its rivals. In addition to the sound financial principles, they also have some highly coveted young players, such as skipper Jason Kerr and defender Ali McCann, who has already played for Northern Ireland and is said to be a Celtic target. Goalkeeper Zander Clark has also caught the eye this season and defenders Liam Gordon and Jamie McCart have also attracted suitors. Whether St. Johnstone can hold on to these players remains to be seen, but manager Callum Davidson has hinted they may have to pay a price for success.
Davidson himself could also be on someone’s shopping list. He only took over in June 2020, replacing Tommy Wright, and for a while, it looked like a gamble as the Saints lost seven of the first 10 games under Davidson’s leadership. The emphasis is on teamwork and a strong defence. They don’t score too many, netting only 36 goals in 38 games in the Premiership.
Right now, St. Johnstone have one eye on the 2021-22 Europa League third qualifying round. If they lose that tie, they will gain entry to the new Europa Conference League. Exciting times on the banks of the Tay, especially if the Saints’ team remains intact.