Love Street (or St. Mirren Park, to give it its Sunday name) was home of the Paisley Buddies and the scene of one of Celtic’s most fondly remembered league triumphs.
St. Mirren moved to the ground in 1885. It originally had a slaughterhouse next door (rumour has it that’s where Kirk Broadfoot learned his football skills) and the club earned £5 a year in grazing rights. Oddly, it once had a cottage inside the ground, where Scotland goalkeeper John Patrick lived.
During the course of the next few years the level of the terracing was raised up by the time-honoured method of the day – inviting the public to dump rubbish, although a board meeting in 1921 passed a resolution that only ‘clean rubbish’ was to be used… and press statements from the fledgling Rangers Trust. Railway sleepers (costing 6d each) were laid in between to create the terracing.
Anyone who ever saw it will be astounded of forehead to learn that the stand took ten years to complete – which suggests it must have been built by one guy – and it was opened in 1921 when the ground was relaunched as ‘Greater Love Street’, the grand idea presumably being to annexe Cappielow before marching on Kinning Park.
It had a reported capacity of 70,000, but this was never put to the test. The official record attendance was 47,438 for a League Cup tie against Celtic on 20th August 1949.
To raise cash, the Buddies’ board installed greyhound racing equipment round the track and a dog called ‘St. Mirren’ won the first ever race. The idea was a failure, as was an attempt to promote speedway in the 70s and the slightly more bizarre cunning plan to sell off bits of the turf in 1933, advertising ‘good potting turf’ at four shillings a cart.
The enclosure was covered in 1957 following the relative boom times for Scottish football, floodlights were erected in 1959, and that was pretty much it as far as ground improvements went until the government got heavy about safety in the 70s and clubs started having to provide inconveniences for the supporters, such as safe places to stand, exits that weren’t dimly lit death traps and sanitary toilets.
Until a few years before its closure the ground slightly defied the modern trend by retaining some of its original Hampden-like shape, even though parts of the stadium, particularly the area next to the main stand, were unable to be used for safety reasons. Apparently the dilapidated corner to the right of the main stand was called ‘Cairter’s Corner’ as it used to be the favourite spot for Paisley carters who would make a lot of noise until the final whistle when they would hitch Kirk Broadfoot up to the wagon and head for the town centre.
Prior to the construction of the new stand at the away end the visiting fans could take a trip down memory lane as they stood on the black ash packed up against old railway sleepers, flat caps, rickety rattles and jaw warmer fags optional. I can remember as late as 1988 standing in that end watching a miserable 1-1 draw in the pouring rain staring at the water washing away bits of the terrace.
The new stadium is one of those featureless Playmobil box kits that could be anywhere; Clyde, Airdrie, Hamilton… take your pick.
Love Street was never a place Celtic ever really feared going to. The last time we lost there prior to the arrival of Tony Mowbray was in the autumn of 1989 when we had the strange spectacle of Tommy Burns being red carded after he’d been substituted. But it was a ground where we would occasionally struggle.
In the early 80s Love Street was a ground that regularly saw the Celts run up huge scorelines against the home team; 5, 6 or 7 goals were not uncommon, even though this was a St Mirren team that regularly took part in European competition. The thing was that they almost always attacked, thereby leaving gaps at the back; Nicholas, McCluskey and company weren’t going to pass up that opportunity.
Even into the 90s and 00s there were days to note at Love Street; in 1992 Tom Boyd scored his first goal for the hoops (he would manage one more in the next 10 years), while in December 2000 Didier Agathe scored one of his first for the hoops there.
But obviously the day that will linger longest in the mind is the one in May 1986 when we arrived at the old shithole more in hope than expectation on the last day of the league season. Celtic had to win by more than 3 goals (no problem) while Hearts had to go to Dens Park and lose (they hadn’t lost a game in the league or cup since November).
It was the first day of the Graeme Souness era at Ibrox.
The ground was about three quarters full, mostly with Celtic fans, but in their part of the shed were a decent number of Buds fans.
It wasn’t to be their day though. By the time the whistle blew for the end of the first 45 we were 4 goals ahead. St Mirren – including a very young Paul Lambert – had been dismantled by a team that, with a bit of investment, would have dominated Scottish football for years: Roy Aitken, Paul McStay, Tommy Burns, Brian McClair and Le Merde were at the core of it.
Can you imagine what kind of dynasty could have been built around that side with some finance and imagination?
The second half of the match was played almost in a hushed silence as the crowd listened to their radios for news from Dens.
Bonner made a spectacular stop early on before McClair added the fifth via his knee.
Meanwhile, up north Hearts were still 0-0. Their manager had asked a guy to keep him posted of the Celtic score, but when we started scoring so freely he decided he couldn’t pass on the bad news. As the teams left the pitch at half time the Hearts players headed for the tunnel thinking that Celtic were also 0-0. Then a photographer shouted over to Henry Smith the Hearts keeper, “Hey big man, four nothing to Celtic”.
“Bollocks,” came the erudite reply from the Hearts stopper,
And that was how that score reached the Hearts dressing room. They were now the team under pressure.
With 15 minutes to go and Love Street stadium as quiet as a funeral parlour came the moment that for many Celts will for ever define that stadium.
The ball was punted hopefully through the middle but reached only the St Mirren goalie, Jim Stewart, former hun keeper who had replaced Campbell Money at short notice and who had not been feeling too good himself before the game, spewing his guts up in the lavvy shortly before the kick-off.
He got another chance to test his gagging reflex as he gathered the ball from that long hopeful punt. With no Celtic player near him the place erupted.
At Dens Park a corner for Dundee had been floated in, nodded down and Albert Kidd with a swipe of his right boot had caused pandemonium not only in his own stadium, but in one more than 100 miles away.
A couple of minutes later the same player ran clear to score again and seal the deal.
Slightly closer to Love Street, news reached Kinning Park that Kidd had scored. Thinking that it must have been Walter Kidd (although how any sane person who had seen him play could possibly leap to that conclusion is a mystery for James Randi) the denizens of the Death Star started celebrating what they believed would be a title victory for Rangers Lite.
Their Hindenburg hit the deck a few moments later when the slightly less hard of hearing among them caught the correct identity of the goalscorer who was later to have a Celtic Supporters Club named after him.
On the final whistle at Love Street the crowd poured on to the pitch to celebrate the most unlikely of league wins.
For that reason alone it was slightly sad to see St Mirren leave their old stadium. Anyone wishing to reminisce about that game now will probably have to stand in the frozen foods aisle of the supermarket that replaced St Mirren Park, Love Street.