Something really, really, bad.
And now somebody has gone and written a book about it.
Undeniably aimed towards supporters of Celtic - for they were the ultimate benefactors of the two games featured in the book - this is actually a very interesting read for ALL fans of Scottish football ... even us Jambos.
‘I sniffed it and knew there was a big shit in it.
The book’s author, Stephen McGowan, has very kindly allowed us to feature a chapter of that book here. It is - for fairly obvious reasons - called “Heartbreakers”. The chapter we are featuring is titled “St Liedown” and, if you find nothing else interesting in it, contains a tale of a Royal Mail delivered shite ... so that’s got to count for something, right?
The book is only available on Kindle and can be found by clicking HERE (or on the picture). It costs only £2.49.
CHAPTER 17: ST LIEDOWN
SCOTTISH football is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy. An environment where managers, players and supporters routinely suspect the worst of their fellow man.
Sandy Clark puts what happened on May 3 1986 down to more than fate. More than a cursed series of events conspiring against Heart of Midlothian.
In five years at Tynecastle Clark made 139 appearances, scoring 28 goals. He was reserve team coach before a spell as manager in the early 1990s. A rugged, no nonsense individual – on and off the pitch – he held nothing back in his autobiography ‘From the Heart’ (Black & White).
The same, he suggested, could not be said of St Mirren.
‘It’s my belief, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way, that the collective team effort from the St Mirren team could have been a lot better that day.
‘I have spoken to one of St Mirren’s players from that day.
‘I know he gave it his all, but he confirmed to me there were some of his teammates who had not exactly been good professionals that day.
‘They were happy to see Celtic win the league.
‘I’m not saying anyone went out to throw the game, but when the news filtered through Dundee were winning I think there was less and less resistance in certain areas of the pitch.’
It’s hardly an uncommon view amongst those of a Hearts perspective.
‘A lot of Hearts fans still employ the nickname ‘St Liedown’ to describe St Mirren,’ says John Robertson.
‘That’s the way it is.
‘Speak to Scott Wilson, who does our presentations in the suites and is the matchday DJ at Tynecastle and he never refers to them as anything but ‘St Liedown’.
‘You hear stories. Tales that the manager of the day changed things around because there were players in the team he didn’t think could give enough. Or wouldn’t give enough.
‘Sometimes when you add one and one you make two.
‘St Mirren had not lost all season by more than a goal and suddenly they are four goals down at half-time. At home.’
When it comes to conspiracies Celtic and their supporters are usually credited with a doctorate in the subject.
Yet Hearts suspicions have been rampant in the last 30 years. Most of them centred on St Mirren’s former Celtic striker Frank McGarvey.
‘I think that game at Love Street was the game that gave birth to the Scottish football conspiracy theory,’ claims Hugh Keevins. ‘Some 17 years before Chris Sutton said it of Dunfermline at Ibrox.
‘Every time I have met big Jim Stewart in goal for St Mirren that day, we joke that big Jim would rather have given up a year’s wages than watch Celtic win the league. Celtic, that day, were fantastic.’
Frank McGarvey has returned to joinery in the years since his football career ended. When he works in Edinburgh he still fields accusations, insinuations, suspicions that he simply didn’t try as hard as he might have that day.
He was accused of various indiscretions. Of sipping champagne with the Celtic players in the away dressing room after the game. Of attending a Parkhead celebration party later that night.
McGarvey retains a strong sense of injustice over all of this. Never slow to utter a contentious opinion he feels he – rather than Hearts – is the victim of injustice. If the Edinburgh club are looking for the real wrongdoers that day, he insists, a mirror will suffice.
‘Sandy Clark was on radio a few years ago and I always remember him asking ‘where was Frank McGarvey that day?’
‘Well I would ask Sandy, ‘where was *he* that day?’
‘He can say he should have had that penalty. But other than that he was nowhere to be seen.
‘Where was he when Hearts needed a goal and Albert Kidd needed tackling?
‘If you are good enough you will go and win that game.’
The suspicions over McGarvey and St Mirren didn’t take long to surface. Within days one Hearts supporter took it upon himself to deliver an unpleasant retribution.
‘I went back into Love Street on the Tuesday after the game to collect a package,’ McGarvey recalls.
‘I sniffed it and knew there was a big shit in it.
‘I didn’t like the chairman Louis Kane much anyway, so I gave it to him to open claiming I had no idea what was in it.
‘He opened it and says, ‘aw for christ’s….. He was appalled. He couldn’t believe it.
‘He phoned the Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer about it. Mercer apologised.
‘Listen I didn’t waste a minute worrying about that. It was funny.
‘But I have been wronged over this.
‘The Hearts supporters should get together and send me a letter saying, ‘Frank, we’re sorry for even thinking of blaming you for that game. We bottled it, we apologise and we want to give you two tickets for a Hearts Celtic game at Tynecastle to make amends.’
‘I like Hearts. I like what Ann Budge is doing there and I think the club has a lot to offer Scottish football.
‘But the Hearts supporters and ex-players won’t let go what happened that day. It still bugs them.
‘I’m told Hearts supporters even made up a wee song about me. What’s that all about?
‘I feel sure that if Celtic or Rangers had needed a point at Dens Park that day they would have got it.
‘The simple fact is, Hearts don’t win titles.
‘Their history shows that.
‘There was something missing that day. And it’s obvious what it was. Bottle.’
Tony Fitzpatrick was another boyhood Celtic fan who played for St Mirren. Mercifully, he was spared the indignity of a perfumed package.
‘I never got anything like that,’ he laughs. ‘I must have been the one who looked like he was trying….’
It falls, more often than not, to Fitzpatrick to rebut the Hearts allegations. A former captain and manager Fitzpatrick is now the club’s Chief Executive. He has always been religious and retained his faith even after the tragic death of his young son in 1983. Seeing the good in human nature is no easy task in Scottish football. But he tries.
‘I would like to think Sandy doesn’t really believe what he said,’ says Fitzpatrick.
‘I think Sandy would admit we had good professionals in our dressing room.
‘What happened was not down to St Mirren. It was down to Hearts themselves.
‘If Hearts had won or drawn they would have won the league.
‘That day we gave absolutely everything.
‘We actually had two great chances before Celtic scored.’
Both, ironically, were created up by one Frank McGarvey esq.
‘Peter Mackie was playing up front beside me and I put him through on goal early in the game,’ recalls the former Parkhead striker.
‘If I wasn’t trying why would I do that?
‘I’ll tell you this. If we had scored early we would have won that game. Celtic would have gone to pieces.’
Tony Fitzpatrick shares that view. For all Celtic’s talk of calm and confidence and focus St Mirren detected a natural trepidation in the away team.
‘I felt Celtic were very nervous at the beginning of that game.
‘And we had a one on one chance, right through on goal, which went just wide from Peter Mackie.
‘But once they got the first goal they were hard to live with.
‘Look at the team they had.
‘Mo Johnston, Brian McClair, Paul McStay. They could do that to any team.’
St Mirren’s preparations for the game were less than ideal. They lost first choice goalkeeper Campbell Money just over an hour before kick-off.
‘Campbell was the goalkeeper at 1.45pm,’ McGarvey attests.
‘He said to Alex Miller – a Rangers supporter like most of the St Mirren team – he was ill.
‘Jim Stewart was his deputy and he was upstairs eating a pie when he got the call to go in goals.
‘So we went out on the park for a warm-up, got back in and we were sitting in the dressing room with 25 minutes till kick-off when we heard someone being sick in the toilet.
‘It was Jim Stewart.’
Tony Fitzpatrick might have been speaking in a very literal sense about the dressing room floor when he says: ‘The situation was a bit of a mess.
‘Campbell Money went out for the warm-up and Jim went upstairs to the stand.
‘The thing was, Jim was not supposed to be involved.
‘Then, all of a sudden at the back of two, Campbell was ruled out.
‘Jim was asked to play with very little mental or physical preparation.
‘But, listen, no one can blame Jim for what happened.
‘He had no chance with any of the goals.
‘Campbell *and* Jim could have been keeping goal that day and Celtic’s finishing was such they would have scored a few goals.
‘I played that day. I gave my everything.
‘So did Hearts. And they couldn’t win either.’
Alex MacDonald has never bought the ‘liedown’ theories. Tony Fitzpatrick is one of the reasons.
‘I know Sandy said in his book St Mirren didn’t try that day.
‘But I meet people like Tony Fitzpatrick who are honest men and I just can’t see it.
‘At the end of the day you wouldn’t like to think that of people. And you know what? If they did then that’s their problem because they have let themselves down if anything like that has gone on.’
Lie down accusations were not unique to 1986. They surfaced again in 2003 when Celtic lost the title in the final minutes.
On the final day of the season Martin O’Neill’s team reached the UEFA Cup Final in Seville Chris Sutton accused Dunfermline Athletic – managed by Jimmy Calderwood, Jimmy Nicoll and, ironically, Sandy Clark – of being less than committed when they lost 6-1 to Rangers at Ibrox. Rangers won the title on goal difference.
Match fixing is hardly unheard of in world football. Yet, suggestions professional footballers deliberately sacrificed their integrity and honesty to throw football matches in 1986 or 2003 takes Scottish football into murky, uncharted depths.
‘To become a footballer at the professional level you have to have an inbuilt desire to win,’ Fitzpatrick argues. ‘It’s deep in your psyche.
‘That’s what separates the pros from others sometimes.
‘You are there to win games and be competitive and go up against guys you think you can be better than.
‘You try to do your utmost.
‘I know personally, and I know many players who felt the same way, I went out there wanting people to think I was a good playe
‘I wanted respect.
‘It didn’t matter what the reason was for that. Some players were insecure, some wanted a move or whatever.
‘If you are not giving it people work you out.
‘And I can’t believe any player would do it.
‘I find that really hard to imagine.
‘You have a bad game, but you still give everything.’
The Hearts accusations of 86 lack logic in one key aspect.
And it’s one acknowledged and referenced by John Robertson, the club’s former striker.
‘Listen, St Mirren could have played their youth team.
‘It didn’t matter what St Mirren did.
‘It was all down to Hearts. We had 13 players that day who only needed a point to win the league; simple as that.
‘St Mirren players could come out now and say, ‘it’s a fair cop, we *did* lie down.’
‘And you know what? It wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference.
‘If it was neck and neck fine.
‘But it was down to us. We get the point required and events in Paisley are redundant.
‘Don’t forget that Dundee were attempting to qualify for Europe that day.
‘They had to win and Rangers had to lose to Motherwell at Ibrox.
‘And there was a rumour round the Dundee fans from some bogus radio message Motherwell had gone a goal up at Ibrox.
‘The opposite was the case, but Dundee seemed to get a boost from the false information and lifted it.’
Some years later Hearts needed a goalkeeping coach when former Rangers keeper Peter McCloy left the club. Henry Smith, the 1986 keeper, wanted a more technical and less fitness based replacement. The man identified for the role was Jim Stewart.
‘I didn’t go into what happened at Love Street with him,’ says Smith.
‘How could I start asking him about the five goals he let in?
‘Could he have done better? I *know* he could have done better.
‘But I didn’t say anything, because what would that change?
‘He says they came in and knew Celtic were up for it.
‘It wasn’t meant to be.
‘Jim was my coach. He made me the keeper I became in 1992 and I had to be the bigger man. He coached me superbly.’
The Hearts suspicions show a disregard for what Celtic achieved in the final weeks of the season which irks former Parkhead players.
‘The folklore of the thing became a bit distorted,’ Davie Provan insists.
‘There was talk of St Mirren lying down. Talk of St Mirren players being in our dressing room drinking champagne.
‘Crap. Absolute crap.
‘Our boys, for quite a while after that, resented the idea St Mirren rolled over.
‘Celtic steamrollered them that day, steamrollered them.’
Derek Whyte echoes that view in emphatic fashion.
‘If anyone analyses that game in terms of possession, goalscoring opportunities, chance creation and so on the facts are these.
‘We could have played anybody that day and the mood we were in and the football we played would have beaten anybody.
‘And I mean anybody.
‘I don’t care what anyone says about St Mirren. They didn’t lie down – we stood up.
‘I have never known any player – regardless of what team they support to not try their hardest.
‘They might have bad games, but they still try their best.
‘We were simply on a different level that day.
‘Look at the players we had. The quality we had was amazing and we would have beaten anybody on our day.’
McGarvey believes he has become the Hearts fall-guy. A scapegoat to mask some catastrophic failings during a frigid performance at Dens Park.
‘Listen, Hearts have spent 30 years looking for someone to blame.
‘I feel sorry for them. They had the league in the palm of their hands and they were looking for a fall-guy. In steps me….’
The disappointment for Hearts was grave and deep. Whether private misgivings or suspicions lurked beneath the surface of the late Sandy Jardine has never been revealed. Yet Celtic’s vice-captain Roy Aitken remembers the Tynecastle assistant manager being gracious and dignified in defeat.
‘We went to the football writers dinner the next night and Sandy Jardine lifted the player of the year trophy.
‘Sandy himself stood up for his speech, gentleman that he was, and congratulated Celtic for winning eight games in a row.
‘He was not looking at one game. He saw that we had actually won eight in a row.
‘To suggest St Mirren did not give their all is sour grapes for me.
‘Put that to anyone in that St Mirren team and they will tell you something different. It simply didn’t happen that way.’
Peter Grant, who returned to Celtic as assistant manager to Tony Mowbray for a time, agrees.
‘Listen, there will have been Rangers supporters in the Dundee dressing room. There might have been one or two Celtic supporters in the St Mirren team.
‘But these guys had bonus money to earn remember.
‘In those days that made up your wage.
‘The structure was such that, at some of these clubs, the bonus money to beat Celtic was higher than their weekly salary.
‘Players from other teams would tell us that.
‘Wallace Mercer introduced a unique bonus system at Hearts and because they won all those games their players probably ended up earning more for finishing second than we did for winning the league.
‘We hardly got a penny. If we won a league it was expected. If we didn’t we got nothing.
‘Footballers at St Mirren and Dundee are looking for contracts, bonuses, moves to other clubs.
‘There is nothing better from that point of view than beating Celtic or Rangers.
‘The fact is I will be a Celtic supporter all my days.
‘But when I coach another team or play for them against Celtic do I want to beat them? Of course I do.
‘Because if I do it might make something happen for me. It gets more attention than other victories.
‘I still get guys I used to play against picking out games from the 80s and 90s with perfect detail.
‘I’ll compliment them on their memory and they’ll explain they remember it so well because it was the one and only time they ever beat Celtic.
‘That was their biggest game for most of them. So it’s unfair for anybody to suggest St Mirren didn’t give it everything against us.
‘Hearts had their fate in their own hands. Hearts lost the league because they couldn’t handle the pressure.’
By the Wednesday after Love Street, when the celebrations began to wane, Celtic’s captain Danny McGrain began to think of the impact the shattering defeat had on Hearts.
His immediate sympathies were with the beaten team in Paisley.
‘It’s a terrible thing to say,’ said McGrain in an conversation with Roddy Forsyth. ‘But Hearts had their chance.
‘I wouldn’t say I didn’t feel sorry for them.
‘But I know they wouldn’t have felt sorry for us.
‘So sorry is not the right word. Sorry implies sympathy and I’m sure Hearts wouldn’t want my sympathy at all.
‘I appreciated the season they had. They were going for the double and won neither and that must have been really heartbreaking for the players.
‘But after the game I actually felt sorry for St Mirren.
‘People decried them and said, ‘they never tried a leg.
‘But you always find players you play against who support your team actually try harder.
‘They have a point to prove. They want to show they are good enough for your team.
‘So if anything they try harder.
‘But we could have played Inter Milan that day and still won 5-0.
‘Before the game Davie was Mr Placid, Mr Calm himself.
‘The players said, not to each other or out loud, ‘we’re going for it.’
‘I didn’t stand up as captain and say, ‘right let’s f’ing beat this lot because we might win the Championship.
‘We all thought, ‘we’ll go out and we’ll hammer St Mirren.’
‘We just played them off the park.
‘We played some terrific football and we had Brian McClair and Mo Johnston who were terrific that day.
‘That day Maurice was so wound up for the game. As was Brian McClair, normally Mr Calmness as well.
‘If you ever said to Brian, ‘come on Brian,’ you’d get an ‘aye okay…’
Celtic had to wait for their victory lap of honour. As the final whistle sounded young supporters took to the pitch to throng players in sweat soaked lime green shirts making a race for the changing rooms.
Most crammed around the tunnel area in dense numbers demanding the team return to the pitch.
Over the Love Street Tannoy the away fans were warned the team would not be back unless they left the pitch.
‘Off, off, off’ chanted supporters on the old concrete terraces at Love Street.
By the time Celtic re-emerged most of the St Mirren home support had gone. Their season over the home players were in no mood to loiter either. Not even Frank McGarvey.
‘Listen, it’s horrible when you are sitting in your own home dressing room listening to the celebrations of opponents,’ protests Tony Fitzpatrick.
‘Most of us had never experienced that and you so want that to be you.
‘The old Love Street allowed you to hear everything. The window went right on to the road outside and you could hear the fans right outside.
‘Take it from me. It was a horrible experience to be a St Mirren fan or player that day.’