St Mirren Gentleman’s Club was formed in 1875 with the initial sporting interests being cricket and rugby. The name originates from Saint Mirin the patron saint of Paisley and came about after they initially called themselves ‘Venus Cricket Club’. Asked for a donation, a local man agreed to provide 10/- on the understanding that they would change to a name with local connotations
Two years later, due to the increasing popularity of football they started a team (for the first match six members of the cricket team were in the line-up), and the first home match was played at the same ground, on the Shortroods estate, used by the cricket club. It resulted in a 1-0 win over Johnstone Britannia with the first-ever goal scored by John Goold.
The club’s colours in their first season were scarlet and blue hoops but by year two they had switched to the black and white hoops then in 1884 to the stripes that have remained as their kit for most of the time since then (there was a brief period around 1900 when they worse cream shirts and then in the early sixties they tried white shirts, one season going with striped shorts!).
St Mirren’s stay at Shortroods was short-lived as were stays at Abingdon Park and Thistle Park, with the last-named being their home when they first entered the Scottish Cup. Then in 1882 came a lengthier stint at Westmarch estate and it was while playing here that St Mirren became one of the founder members of the Scottish League in 1890. At this time the Buddies (so-named because natives of Paisley were often called ‘Bodies’) had their first two international players, Andrew Brown and James ‘Daddy’ Dunlop.
The first league match at Westmarch was a 4-2 victory against local rivals Abercorn but for their first two seasons in the league the team struggled near the foot of the table although they managed to climb to third in 1892-93.
After 11 years, during which time a stand had been erected and a crowd of 8,000 had attended a match against Celtic, the club decided it was time to move on after the landlord at Westmarch decided to double the rent. First the Buddies tried to move back to Shortroods but eventually a site was found and developed on Love Street.
The club went out with a bang at Westmarch, the last match there being a 10-0 Paisley Charity Cup win over Abercorn in March 1894.
For the opening season the new ground was known as Fullerton Park – the landlord, with whom a 10-year lease had been agreed, was a Mr. Fullerton – and their first fixture at their new home saw a 3-0 defeat to Celtic. In truth Love Street probably wasn’t the ideal venue but it was in an ideal location, being closer to the centre of town compared with their previous homes. On the downside, it was cramped and, having been built on the site of a former building works, had terrible drainage.
The club rebuilt the pavilion behind the goal at the Love Street end and constructed a five-deep grandstand along one side of the pitch. This brought capacity to a paltry 1,000.
As the initial ten-year lease came to an end, the club approached Mr. Fullerton with a plan to buy the freehold. However, the owner set a much higher price than expected, and gave them three options. Buy the freehold, pay a vastly increased rent, or get out. Fortunately the club had an alternative and approached the owners of Shortroods about the possibility of moving back to their original home. This move was enough to scare Mr. Fullerton into reducing his asking price and the club was able to buy the freehold of Love Street for £3,900.
On the pitch the club provided Scotland with their captain for the first and -thus far – only time when Thomas Jackson had the honour of leading the team out against Wales at Wrexham.
CIn 1908 the Buddies reached their first major final. Wins over Third Lanark, Motherwell, Hearts and Kilmarnock saw them reach the Scottish Cup Final. However, in front of 58,000 people they were hammered 5-1 by Celtic, who were completing the double, at Hampden Park
Next on the agenda at Love Street was buying the properties adjoining the stadium in order to expand. This, however took a great deal of time – and was interrupted by the First World War – so it wasn’t until 1920 that the club had the land and were in position to start redeveloping.
Once they had completed the land purchase the club moved the pitch 40 yards and started on redevelopment. In 1921 the club revealed plans for massive set of works with oval earth embankments on three sides and a grandstand with room for 4,000 seared and Another 3,500 on the terrace below. This would see capacity rise to a massive 60,000. However, due to the depression and rising prices initial costs doubled.
Work started on the new grandstand in 1921. The original plan had this running the length of the pitch but the club eventually built a scaled-down version as prices rose. The total cost was still £30,000 after the initial budget indicated £17,500.
It was always stated that the original plans would be carried out later in stages as money became available but this never happened. Still, the work carried out was recognised in 1923 when Love Street hosted its first and only international, a 2-0 win for Scotland over Wales.
In 1922 the club had an honour that has certainly become greater as it has moved further into history. Spanish champions Barcelona were opening their gleaming new Camp de Les Corts stadium, and invited Saints and Notts County to compete for the initial Barcelona Cup.
The Buddies were in fact the first opposition at the new stadium. Playing twice in two days they lost 2-1 and 1-0 in front of 20,000 fans to a Barcelona side that might have been beefed up with a few guests as some reports call it a ‘Spanish Select’ team.
A few days later they played the English team for the trophy and ran out 2-1 winners after extra time thanks to a pair of Dunky Walker goals in front of another 20,000 crowd. The club stayed in Spain after winning the Cup, playing two games against a Northern Spain select team in Santander and one against Sporting Gijon.
First Big Trophy
Five years after the improvements to Love Street were made Saints won their biggest trophy to date when claiming the 1926 Scottish Cup. The tournament started with an easy 4-0 win over Mid Annandale. They then beat Arbroath (after a replay), Partick Thistle and Airdrieonians to set up a semi-final clash with Rangers. A solitary goal success over Rangers at Celtic Park set up a Final with Celtic and the chance of revenge for that 1908 defeat.
Again Celtic were going for the double but a 3rd minute goal from Davie McCrae settle Saints down. Jimmy Howieson added a second halfway through the first half and they went on to take the cup in front of a 100,000 crowd.
After the match every player was given a bottle of whiskey but McCrae declared that he wouldn’t drink his until the trophy returned to Paisley. The wait would be 33 years.
Following that Cup win, and a 4th place finish that year Saints might have been expected to challenge more regularly for honours. In fact the opposite was true as, both on and off the pitch, little happened. A Cup final appearance in 1934 was followed by relegation the next season, although they bounced straight back. Aside from that it a long period of mid-table mediocrity for the Paisley faithful, a record 47,438 of whom turned up for a match against Celtic in 1949.
The mid-1950s saw a roof added at the North Bank and a few years later floodlights were installed.
The floodlights caused a major problem. Because of the stadium’s position, directly on the flight path to the local airport, lights were initially placed along the grandstand and North Bank. But the grandstand did not run the full length of the pitch causing dark areas in the corners. To resolved the problem the club added two 40ft pylons (smaller than the stand roof) with three banks of lights. However, pilots flying into the airport complained about the distraction of the lights and a blackout order was imposed while the lights were added to aviation charts. The lights were eventually first used for a 1959 Scottish Cup match against Peebles Rovers, a game Saints won 10-0 on their way to glory.
The airport was moved in the mid-1960s but new lights weren’t erected until 1979.
That 1959 Scottish Cup finally brought glory back to Love Street. After the thrashing of Peebles, the Buddies saw off Motherwell and Dunfermline before thrashing Celtic 4-0 in the semi-final. In the final they saw off Aberdeen 3-1 with goals from Tommy Bryceland, Ally Miller and future US international Gerry Baker. Davie McCrae could finally enjoy his whiskey!
The 1960s weren’t a particularly inspiring decade for the Buddies. A Scottish Cup Final appearance in 1962, where they overcame Celtic in the semis before falling to Rangers and the single-season appearance 1962-63 of striped shorts vie for most exciting occurrence.
In 1974 the club obtained a new manager. After a trio of former players, Wilson Humphries, Tommy Bryceland and Willie Cunningham, had failed, Saints brought in Alex Ferguson. He stayed at the club for three-and-a-half-years and certainly left them in a far healthier state than they had been in when he took the helm.
Ferguson set up a youth system which would provide a number of top players including Billy Stark, Tony Fitzpatrick and Peter Weir and lifted the team back to the upper reaches of the top flight having taken over with Saints wallowing in mid-table in Division Two.
Ferguson’s departure was controversial to say the least and to this day Saints hold the ‘honour’ of being the only club to have fired him. Ferguson sued the club fo wrongful dismissal, a case he would lose, and was to move onto Aberdeen and, of course, Manchester United.
The end of the 1970s finally saw some development work at the stadium and this coincided with the club’s best run on the pitch of the modern era. Developments included the terracing at the Love Street end being demolished and rebuilt but, as often seems to have been the case, grander plans were discussed and eventually shelved.
In 1979-80, third place in the Premier Division was enhanced with victory over Bristol City in the Anglo-Scottish Cup – making Saints the only team from North of the border to win the trophy.
Competing With the Best
Throughout the 1980s Saints went toe to toe with the best. Regular high-finishes in the Premier League, four European campaigns and a Scottish Cup final win over Dundee United were the highlights for a team led by Paul Lambert, Ian Ferguson and Frank McGarvey and but, as ever, failure to hold on to their best players meant constantly needing to find new stars to replace those departing.
In 1991 seats were installed on the North Bank terrace and four years later the Caledonia Stand was built with money raised from the sell-off of some land for development.
Plans for another stand at the North Street end were halted on financial grounds and the team spent most of the decade in the second tier before promotion back to the top flight in 2000. The promotion itself produced problems as work had to be carried out to meet Premier League regulations.
Talks over a move to a new stadium started in 2003 and it was eventually sold to retail giants Tesco in 2007, the club then built St Mirren Park (now known as Paisley 2021 Stadium) a mile from Love Street and moved to their new home in 2009.
St Mirren;s last game at Love Street was in January 2009 against Motherwell. Fans watched from the same stand built 88 years before and then bid goodbye to their home of 115 years.