Farewell old friend
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Thursday, 1st January 2009
In just two days time, the last ever league game at Love Street will be played. Saturday's match with Motherwell is set to be charged with emotion as thousands of Saints fans bid goodbye to the club's home for the past 115 years.I've only experienced a relatively small part of its history. I'm 24 and probably went to my first Saints game in the late 1980s. My earliest memories involve Campbell Money's testimonial (hammered by Rangers) and a drubbing at the hands of St. Johnstone in 1991/92. That should probably have set me up for what was to come in the years ahead.
I've missed the European nights and the Scottish Cup celebrations, although I'm fortunate enough to have seen two league titles clinched. For the most part the star names have been opposition players like Caniggia and Larsson, rather than Stark, Copland and McGarvey. It's mainly been first division stuff, rather than the top flight, but that hasn't stopped me having memories to share as we get ready to say our final goodbyes.
Picking one highlight is impossible. There's the games that saw us win the first division trophy in 2000 and 2006, Paul McKnight's late winner against Falkirk, Charlie Adam's last minute goal against Queen of the South, John Hewitt's strike in 1995 against Dundee to keep us up, the same player's goal after a ridiculous number of passes against Falkirk, countless wins over Morton in numerous competitions, Stephen McGinn's stunner against Rangers in October, knocking Motherwell out the cup in 2006, Ricky Gillies' last minute goal against Dundee United on a Monday night, wonder goals from Mark Yardley and Barry Lavety and many, many more.
Likewise, picking a lowlight lower than the others is not easy. Saints supporting author Christopher Brookmyre got it spot on when he called Love Street "The Theatre of Suffering" in his book "One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night". We've all gone through pain here on numerous occasions. Among mine are suffering relegation in 2001 despite beating Aberdeen, Yardley's missed penalty against Airdrieonians in 1998 that could have spelt disaster, screaming at a TV screen in a Kirkcudbright pub as we lost to Dunfermline in 2007, numerous screw-ups against lower league teams in the cup, embarrassing defeats to the soapdodgers and humpings at the hands of Celtic, Inverness Caley Thistle, Falkirk and no doubt several other sides.
I'll always have these memories, but after Saturday I'll no longer be able to go back to the place where they happened (aside from the pub in Kirkcudbright). It will stand for a few more months, then it will be gone forever.
It seems silly to get emotional about what is essentially bricks and mortar. If it was a person, animal or even a club that was about to take its final breath it would be understandable. But a football ground? That's just silly.
Well, no. We've all spent hundreds of Saturday afternoons there. Kids have gone along with their parents, fans have met future spouses and one bloke even proposed to his girlfriend on the centre circle. It has been a major part of every St. Mirren fan's life, just like Cappielow has been for Morton fans and Brockville was for Falkirk fans.
A few years ago we were faced with a choice - no club or no Love Street. It was a no-brainer for me. Losing the ground would be a nightmare, but losing Saints would be even worse. As it happens, we've managed to get a brand, spanking new stadium and no debt. It's a fantastic deal.
Sure, the new stadium may be smaller and soulless, but even if we'd been staying put we'd have needed to spend millions on Love Street. It is falling apart, goodness knows how long we'd have gotten away with the main stand in its current condition and the less said about the toilets the better. It's already changed a great deal since 1894. It's changed a lot since I started going. It could almost be compared to Trigger's brush in "Only Fools and Horses" - he'd had the same brush for years but it had had numerous new heads and handles in that time.
We'll all miss Love Street, of that there is no doubt. But as we say our farewells and shed a tear on Saturday night, thinking about all those memories, we should remember just what this move means for the club. As chairman Stewart Gilmour has said on numerous occasions: "The future's bright, the future's black and white." It's cheesy, but it's also true.
St. Mirren Park is dead. Long live St. Mirren Park.