Is that you in front of me?

Coming back for even more of exactly the same.”

It’s odd, the grip that football can hold on you. St. Mirren open their 2019/2020 campaign tomorrow afternoon; taking on Dunfermline Athletic in a League Cup encounter so early in the calendar that flute bands up and down the country are still nursing blisters from their marching boots. Despite the almost pre-season feel to the commencement of the fixture list in the group-stage age, the return feels long-awaited and butterflies are firmly rooted in stomach.

The drama of Season 2018/2019 is now partially fading into memory, almost pale in the light of Oran Kearney’s “Ross & Rachel” summer romance with old flame Coleraine (he got off the plane). This was a season which took a toll on the nerves of most Buddies, ageing the mind and body considerably more than the mere twelve months that have passed since the sun first rose on a Stubbs’ Saints lineup. This fan and self-confessed part-timer made the solo trip through to Rugby Park, nursing nerves and cautious optimism about what lay ahead. I drove home in much the same spirit, buoyed by a battling result, the introduction of some new faces and Sportsound promises of “marquee signings” to come.

Fast forward eight days, a draw with Spartans and six-nil pummelling at the hands of Jack Ross’ Netflix XI later, and those butterflies were gone. In their place, growing dread that the club’s offer of a three year deal to a BT pundit & Vardy Academy coach might have been a tad hasty.

July 2019 carries similar excitement and nervous anticipation in equal parts. The blind optimism felt by many when Stubbs was appointed now replaced by trust in an old stalwart and on-pitch leader to repeat his heroics from the dugout.

The Saints squad will arrive in Ferguslie tomorrow, barely eighteen in number, with only a midweek training exercise at Ochilview by means of domestic preparation. As one of the hardy souls to brave the midgies and Stenny pre-game shooting practise in the terracing, I belong to a small band of lucky individuals. Only us plucky few are capable of some day telling our grandkids that we saw Ludwig Francilette’s mazy run from the halfway line deep behind enemy lines, or bore witness to Iban Cossou – a centre half more capable of knocking a tictac off a crossbar from 80 yards than winning a header. This enthusiasm for St. Mirren’s six global trialists was clearly shared by the Stenhousemuir web team, emotionally describing this end-to-end tussle for the ages as “The result of this pre-season friendly was 1-1.”. Beautiful in its simplicity, and entirely accurate.

Season 2019/2020 will not be decided tomorrow. Scouting, contract negotiations, trial-organising and hopeful phone calls will continue for weeks to come. On the face of it, the St. Mirren setup seems to be much more of a known quantity with the benefit of twelve months’ turmoil. Goodwin instantly carries the air of a manager who seems happy to be where he is, and appreciative of the opportunity to share this with an engaged fanbase. Whilst two additions to the squad feels light on the eve of matchday one, Tony Andreu brings significant experience at this level and a flair for the unexpected which is often missing. Balancing additions of this experience against the necessary gamble on young players seeking their first consistent tilt at top flight football is a tough exercise, and ignorance of this proved to be the undoing of Stubbs last term. Having hired Gus MacPherson to be the public face for behind-the-scenes stability and lower-risk recruitment, there exists a little more confidence in the club to get thing’s right (in time for the league season at least, after the now-traditional managerial saga took up the first month of the summer).

Following St. Mirren over the course of a season offers no consistent security. Since being promoted into the top flight in 2006, no one season in either 1st or 2nd tier has offered the boredom that some clubs could sell in bulk. I gather my generation of Saints fan is not unique. Not one week feels the same as the last; no battling home performance builds unshakeable confidence in a win on the road; rarely does a starting lineup survive more than 1 printing. However, this unpredictability has become pattern and ensures that the butterflies return each July – promising much and throwing caution to the wind.

Same again, please.


An opinion piece by Mark Jardine. Follow Mark on Twitter @ptfblog and @IrvineHymns