I’ve been a supporter of St Johnstone Football Club all of my life. My first memory of attending a match was at Muirton Park, Perth in 1965. They lost to Celtic. My Dad told me that I was bad luck and wasn’t getting back but he kept on taking me.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride ever since but I’ve loved every minute of it. So when I was appointed Poet in Residence for The Saints in March 2016 I was chuffed, thrilled and terrified in equal measure. To be the first person in such a post for a professional football club in Scotland is a tremendous honour and much credit must go to St Johnstone for their positive approach to the idea. The Rollercoaster however, just got a bit steeper with a few new twists and turns added to make it more exciting.
Part of the role will be to use Poetry to find new links with the community in which The Saints live and play and also to strengthen existing ties. I have a few ideas already bubbling away but would welcome any thoughts you may have. I can be contacted on e-mail via email@example.com
Here are a few poems that I have penned about The Saints –
THE NON-SEASON BLUES
Early June, and at odds with the day.
There’s a JCB digging at the Ormond end
scraping the red ash back, exposing sores:
the missed chances, the soft goals aching
and the Celtic defence where it was buried
by themselves, before they headed home.
It’s beyond post-season.
It’s not pre-season.
It’s non-season yet it’s busy, industry
swarms around the ground, puddles
into laughter and a single voice calling
the play – the demand to stay off the grass.
Sparkies cherry pick the lights, bouncing
but not in Unity, and adverts come and go.
I breathe in the sweet air off the grass
and watch the shadows of gulls replay
random moves of a season still echoing
in the ranks of seats, blue, red – waiting.
I can hear the grass breathing,
roots of memory gently disturbed:
shoots of anticipation and ambition swell
under the sun’s lazy impress on the pitch.
A shadow curves out for a throw
opposite the eighteen yard line, unmarked.
No goals. No nets but the spots
where Cummins tapped in
where Scobs rescued, lifted us
where Spoony found the line
where Macca found his curve
where Ando and Joe stood firm – still there.
Each one seeded with a loyal purpose
in the soil, the shine of grass, and ourselves
so we can return to the dream, quenched
with fresh hope, and unplanned mysteries.
A whistling burst of Oystercatcher blows
full-time. I pick up the shadow. I’m ready.
(My tribute to Tommy Wright on being awarded the Premiership Manager of the Year)
You’ve found your place here, in between, at the edge.
Palpable reverence. The players, the crowds busy
re-arranging your plans set before, confident
on the calm surface of your judgement, exposed
every time, scrutinised, dis-assembled in the efforts
of the quick and constant, the random, clean chaos
played out on turf before you – analysed, agreed
sometimes disagreed in the boxed seats behind you.
If fate called your name, you found your place
in this white bordered zone, this no man’s land.
Something was set right in the unraveled plans
of he who went before, and the spotlight turned.
I’ve stood in your place, at the edge, in between
kicked every ball in an empty dream. Full of belief
I’ve inhaled the same air but there for sure, parched
an unbending truth exposed me. I was an imposter.
I nodded to the four corners, squared off and holy
smiled softly and returned up the tunnel grateful
away from the Gaffer’s Land – your place set true
in the hearts of minds of us, your fellow travellers.
THROUGH CITY VEINS
I am there now.
I see the town,
St Leonard’s across the Inch,
prison walls threaten behind me.
They don’t hold me back. I am born.
I’m free to think, to play the game.
I can feel the grass. I can hear seagulls
circling, mocking us.
We, this odd bunch of men in shorts.
Students of football.
The cricket bats in a bag, in a shed
for another day, for another team.
For now, I am St. Johnstone.
I am born to reach over the Inch,
to run through city veins,
to bubble up through the mouths of grafters.
I was uncertain of everything – rules, tactics,
the opposition’s efforts matching mine – unsettling
the stumbling steps of my new found stride
but my mind was sure of this –
defeat would not kill me.
It would feed me. I was born St.Johnstone.
A living thing, growing beyond your quickening lives.
My blood would spill, to run through foreign fields –
for King and Country they said. I left myself there
but returned in broken parts to be born again.
I am St Johnstone – I would breath again
because you would breath with me.
I am there now. I can see the Stand, the Ice Rink,
the barriers, the Ormond boys.
The signal letters – DRYBURGHS – rippling across the corrugation.
Defiant. Bold. Brainwashing, across city roofs,
through the smoke of industry, calling to the loyal,
the curious, the rich men, poor men, big men, wee men,
fair maids, old maids and the etceteras
who pumped their blood into me and we ran together.
We stood up together and became more than our yesterdays.
I am St. Johnstone. I live beyond your narrow days.
Then he found me in the slump. Not dead but tired,
bruised, where the juice had been sucked
from my bones. He lifted me up, nurtured me,
took me to green fields, built me a home.
I am there now. In the four Stands, the Suites,
the weave of tartan. I am the grass, the cotton,
the blue, the white, the zipped up effort of youth.
Its brittle edge and fiery stew of energy
where my tomorrows will be born.
The seagulls circle but no longer mock.
I bristle with possibilities. I am St. Johnstone.
I am St Johnstone until I die
but why should I care of death
when I am re-born every day?
I am the smudge
on the polished curve of the Scottish Cup.
I was born again
in the outstretched hands of my Captain
and the banners tied to an open top bus.
I’ve spun the roulette wheel in Monaco,
walked to the edge of the Arctic Circle,
dipped my toe in glacial waters, by alpine shores.
I reach the far side of this earth, secure in hearts.
Every day, I am St. Johnstone.
I am there now. In the shop window
and the bar shelf to the right of the optics.
I am in the queue – at the checkout, at the bus stop,
on the tree lined road to the next departure
from the Crematorium. I’m all the Lotto Numbers.
I’m the spare peg in the Dressing Room.
I’m every blade of grass.
I’m the first goal, the last point, the air in the nets,
the corner flag flutter of every game,
the reach of every word in every column inch. I am there now.
I am the echo of studs in the tunnel, and the last floodlight fading.
I am St Johnstone. I’m in the checked in holiday baggage.
I’m on Sugar Loaf, Table Top, and every postcard sent home.
I’m on the walk down from Letham, the bus up from Muirton.
I’m in the sparkle of early arrivals, the slump of early leavers.
I’m the burst of East Stand opinions, the lift of song
the bounce of bare chested Unity. I am all those beating hearts.
I’m players not yet Legend, dreams not imagined, adventures not planned.
I’m manifest destiny.
I will breath tomorrow if you will breath with me – forever
I am St. Johnstone.
wear the same scarf
and the same jersey
expose your heart
on the same sleeve
again, rituals matter
they matter – bottom six
top six, last man standing
beating the drop
reaching the top
acknowledge the effort
use the same turnstile
and the same queue
for a pie, you’ll eat
crust first, then the lid
again, rituals matter
they matter – in Europe
maybe not, stop the rot
bottom six, top six
last man standing
in the glare of live TV
fear the future
grasp the chance
practice your scream
if the last man stumbles
support him – rituals matter
FISHING FOR A POINT
Heading for Kilmarnock on Saturday 9th April, the smart money on needing a point to make the Top Six. We lost 3-0 but events elsewhere went our way. Top Six was ours. The poem before –
a single point, the nail-biter
the beat-the-split dangler
just out of reach – teasing but
like hunting a spring salmon
make the wrong move /
it’s gone – slipped into current
– shit-hooked in plain sight
by likewise desperate travellers
in multi-skiffs and home-late dinghies
and you spin about, clinging
on to what you have, upturned
until the massage of the current
caresses your ego – but stumble
and before you realise, it pulls
you under the split of tides
pummels your nerves, tests
the very notion of survival
and when the May blossom
gathers on the settled skim
you may have surrendered
to the weary heart turmoil
rolling your exhausted carcass
on to the shifting, lower sands
where you left on your journey
upstream those summers past
or if the prisms, grant your wish
of good fortune, stand firm
and straighten into one beam
they’ll hook you by the label
on the last shirt bought
on the last trip to yon sunny place
and you’ll float in easy circles
not drowning, settling into exhausted
beat-the-drop, contented sleep
until the next run, itches, nibbles
at your soul, and guddle-tempts you
to cast into the fast water again
And then I penned this one the way home from the game –
I went to Kilmarnock today.
I wore my scarf, the tartan one
frayed, loyal and a veteran,
the one you go to on such days
and I wore the blue jacket,
the one I wore to The Final.
I went to buy a Killie Pie
and found three slithers
of blue and white confetti,
the stuff they blast from cannons
when your team lifts a cup
and the steward said “you’ll need
more than confetti today”.
He was a good guy,
so I smiled and ate my pie.
I didn’t need the luck,
it was some day, trust me
I’ll never forget it.
I never do but when he saw me
after the game, he asked
“what are you doing next weekend?”
I smiled, rubbed the slithers
of blue and white safely
in my Final jacket, and
tucked my scarf inside.
I am doing the Top Six
I told him.
OPEN THE CURTAINS
(This poem was written for the Fanzone, and first appeared in The Scotsman newspaper on 30th March, 2016.)
open the curtains, inhale the birdsong
it’s Game Day, Saturday’s have always been fitba’ days
we’ve had a break, an international break
but here it comes again,
bubbling up at the back of your eyes
folded into the plastic sleeve,
next to your season ticket
tucked behind the clock ,
puzzled by your lack of attention
hidden behind the list for the Big Shop,
which will need to wait until Sunday
because Saturday’s are fitba days
but wait, there’s live games on Sunday telly
and Monday Night Football, then
Champions League on Tuesday, Wednesday,
UEFA Thursday the last 16’s on and on
and oh, aye the Friday night game
but there’s always Click and Collect
because Saturday’s are fitba days
and anyway the Take Away does home delivery
or maybe something out the freezer
until after the Euros, before pre-season because
you know what I think about Saturdays
AFTER THE NINETY BEFORE
I’ll tell you what / we needed or maybe not
on Saturday last / before Tuesday past
the Saturday before / the Wednesday score
on the Monday night / try as I might
I’m not going back / there’s a definite lack
we were heroes / a bunch of zeroes
we were rocking / we were shocking
we were cruising / gave them a bruising
we’ve not a clue / we’ve got fatigue
we’re Champions League / we’re Division Two
was that a 442? / more an 811
a stroke of genius / give’s a break, we won
why does he not play him? / I wouldn’t give him boots
it’s looking grim / I can see green shoots
we need experience / we need youth
we need clean sheets / we need tricks not treats
we should commit more / three up front, we need to score
defend what we’ve got / develop what we’ve got
my pie was cold / my pie was gold
we’re getting sucked in / we’re getting stuck in
I can see daylight / I can see a black hole
we’ve turned a corner / we’ll improve when it’s warmer
we need a clear out / keep what we’ve got
build from the top / that’s the shout
add another layer / a million pound player
start again / consolidate, ease the pain
we need a plastic pitch / re-turf the grass pitch
a new start / to stick with tradition
a kick start / to squad rotation
a winning mentality / a break from reality
starting on Saturday / ready for Tuesday
on Monday night / for Saturday’s early kick off
we’ve got momentum / we’re doomed
I’m up for it. It’ll be fun / I’m painting the bairns room
I think we’re done / I’ll see you there then?
I can’t wait. It’ll be great /Europe here we come!
(On Saturday, 19th March 2016 in the game against Hearts at Tynecastle, Steven Anderson made his 362nd appearance for The Saints overtaking alan Main’s long standing record. This is my tribute to his achievement.)
Nowhere near the end of the road.
Nowhere near the end of the book.
Chapter 362. What have we learned
from his story? The journey he took
reaching this summit, a trig point
with a brass plaque, a polished top
engraved with arrows pointing out
to peaks he’s climbed, not to stop
admire the view, take in the air
to rest, climb down, but to move on up
and onwards, through the clouds
writing more history, another Cup
to lift? To light the faces of happy fans
tears of the loyal, a chorus of respect
‘Who put the ball in United’s net?’
Using the word Legend, we genuflect
to the jersey, his jersey, number six
our jersey of blue, embracing us.
It binds the chapters of his past
into our stories. He’ll hate the fuss.
A steel rod of quiet determination. Ando.
A dying tradition of One Club loyalty.
In ripples of praise, he’ll smile softly
hiding a core of granite, the gravity
of his achievement, for another day
basking in the sun, the drought of cheers
not yet thought of, for blank pages await
before Ando can sup the age of beers.
Nowhere near the end of the road.
Nowhere near the end of the story.
Chapter 362 in the Book of Ando,
the quiet man of humblest glory.
TO BE DREAMING
(A poem written in the lead up to the League Cup semi-final against Hibs at Tynecastle in February 2016. We lost.)
to be dreaming at an age when
you should know better
like a teenager on a first date
surely, one more kiss
isn’t too much to hope for;
tickets like gold dust
and another sorry tale
for another day after this one
sitting in my pyjamas
with a mug of tea watching
my regular re-run of 17th May
even the adverts, remembering
the old grey hairs, and the new ones
sprouting on old heads, wiser than mine
bringing doom and gloom to the party
only for them to leave early
and me left trying to remember
what did I wear on that day in May
and writing poetry, unravelling
the memory to get to the details
but who would care, more than me
if I didn’t wear the same socks
and wonder why the fuss of it
if I wore socks at all, in January
in Edinburgh, at Tynecastle
to watch The Saints, so I can
dream of sitting in pyjamas
with a mug of tea watching
a new run of a new dream;
surely one more kiss
isn’t too much to hope for
but I’ll wear the same socks
just for old time’s sake
THE APOSTLE’S TALE
(Written in tribute to Willie Coburn, a true St Johnstone legend who passed away in December 2015)
the steel tube, the barrier
chest height, big people behind me
buzzing in the restless wait
the pitch close enough to smell
the damp air of expectation
close enough to cling on to
the Saints in Europe
SV Hamburg, SV Muirton
we would see legends that night
we’d be in the presence of legends
did we know then?
they’d shape our memories
into the fold of scarves
into faded programmes
into dog eared stories
into the ears of our children
not of Hamburg legends but of
Donaldson, Lambie, Coburn …
the first words of an apostle’s tale
you know the rest …
the test to membership
of being a Saintee forever, and now more so
to pause at the end of the words
Donaldson, Lambie and Coburn …
we don’t choose legends
they choose us
we do not own the future
it chooses us
we own the past, we shaped and
just sometimes, we realise the pitch
is further away than we remember, the team
is a wee bit lop sided, down to ten
and a legend has passed, down the left
he will live longer than the final whistle
longer than the passions of our quickened days
but for now, he defends the corner
of our past, shaped with a broad smile and a loyal heart
Donaldson, Lambie, Coburn …
a legend forever
THE CRUST OF MEMORY
(Written for Armed Services Day, November 2015)
Memory, molten like gravy
Can burn through concrete:
Old soldiers and bairns
Ages bonded, in a crust
Holding safe the taste
Of goals and heartbreaks
The uniform embrace of
blues and whites, khakis
And the respect of history
Circling stands, together
Settling in to seats, proud
They cheer together behind
The eleven uniforms, with pies
Programmes and processions
Through generations, tuned
Into remembrance, a symbol
A quiet red flower, a doorway
Into the past, a soft light on
The present, on the chests
And in the hearts of Saints
Beyond the final whistle
Emptying into darkness
Never to end there, brave
Legends with arms linked
When we all go marching on
Dull, ageless cranks and oily turns. A cold steel
push, anti-clockwise in anticipation, expectation
every time but different then , off Florence Place
off Dunkeld Road, in cold skies, and bright days.
The bustling blues in ear shot of Muirton aces.
Bustling Asda’s now. Terraces of sell by dates
pitch views hindered by pristine aisles, walls
of soups, cereals and bargains to be netted.
There, the turnstile my dad showed me, the gate to
being grown up, following him, to follow the Saints.
In through a gap. A cupboard door. A secret passage
blistered blue, a Tardis stripped bare to a briar of steel.
A soft putty face waiting, trapped in full moon cheer.
The murmur of passwords, an exchange of promises.
Me, squeezed close into legs, the big lift into a contraption.
A time machine whirring into action, releasing me,
into a new world, the land of my future dreams,
heartaches, and glories sunk into a bottomless heart.
To be trailed for years, through cupboard doors, images
on a loop, seasons lost in the sunlit absence of him
handing down the password so when the crank
and turns of a McDiarmid Tardis pulls my son with me
into the briar tangle, the turnstile lifts our respect
towards the rows, of my Dad, sitting with your memories
and in front, Willie Coburn with Drew Rutherford
up in the corner, amongst a throng of ageless Saints
on a wooden bench, white squared and numbered.
The perfect view brought from the old ground, loyalty
stitched in to the respectful wave of unfurled scarves.
Their souls steadfast in the crank of the turnstile
WE ALL DREAM …
(Written in August 2014 on the flight home after a glorious trip to Lucerne, Switzerland – Saints in Europe)
Because we did
– Yes, we did.
We won a Cup
– the Scottish Cup.
So here we were
By Lake Lucerne,
On the shore
– Saints On Tour.
We’d drawn the Swiss.
Some said dodgy,
None said easy,
Some said a piece of
– chocolate, Swiss of course.
Off to the land of Clocks
Cow Bells and Lederhosen.
Tents bought, beds booked,
All the routes were chosen.
Over high peaks and deeper waters
We’re used to that
– the Muirton Aces
The Saints were coming
– lock up your daughters.
So May’s out, and July’s in,
No, seriously, May’s out
– Anderson too!
Bring your boots – it could be you!
In dribs and drabs, Tuesday,
in fives and tens.
On they came, hundreds proud
In kilts and shorts, blues and whites
Cool in shades, with smiling faces,
– some smashing sights.
Bars were sortied, deep pockets needed.
Next month’s rent,
The Bairn’s Christmas,
Cancel the Big Shop
– all gone, but cheerfully spent.
Tactics talked, predictions wagered
Choirs practiced, anthems rehearsed,
Some lager rough, others sweet and versed
Then the Day – Saints on Tour
Lazy starts and morning strolls,
Litres of coffee, and bacon rolls.
Chapel Bridge, Pickwick Pub,
To pray with flags unfurled.
Nerves aside, just right now
The Saints on Tour – Top of the World.
The Anfield Bar rocked with hymns,
Sweet Caroline went Marching In
from the Anfield Bar
– You’ll Never Walk Alone
And we didn’t
– the Polis put us on a bus.
A bendy bus that bounced
And bounced and snaked
And bounced some more.
From the shore
– of Lake Lucerne to the Game,
Boiling hot, Steak Bake hot,
30 degrees and more the same.
Bannerman and Spence,
Pencils sharpened, Chords all gargled
– on they warbled.
– with his Mardi Gras Brolly.
If we win the game
he’d be on the Bolly.
In blazing sun, setting slow,
We sang, we cheered
Through the first half glare we peered.
The Swiss harried, they hit the bar yet
And tipped and caught
Their random efforts couldn’t find the net
The sun went down for a half time pie.
The Lavvy Truth reviewed and agreed,
Stay in the Tie – Stay in the Tie
A floating cross, Macca rose
Back o’ the Centre’s head,
Macca shuffled in a Saintly pose
To strike the net
We’d scored. We lead.
– one nil to the Saintees.
One Bloody Nil!
Storm Clouds burst.
Heavy showers of Booze Free Lager.
Bull Pen rattled, barriers clattered
An away goal – of course it mattered.
They huffed and puffed – they scored.
Stay in the Tie – Stay in the Tie.
We’ll take the draw and we did.
Cup-tie Mackay, a high-viz bib,
Lap of Honour to the Bull Pit fence.
A jersey gift – Turkey bound.
Happy, and tired but buzzing,
We left the ground, thirsty
with Lager fever for a fiver Lager.
Match Reports to write,
Memories to mould, songs to choose,
A long night for the Roadhouse Blues.
Friday Sunrise, Saturday Red Eyes,
Ones and twos, stragglers drifted
With bags packed and hearts full
Of pride – Saints on Tour.
At Nine Hundred and Seventy Five.
We’re still alive.
We all dream
Of a team
– of Dave Mackay’s
And we did – because we did
by glacial waters
Under alpine skies.
OUR DAY IN MAY
(On the 17th May 2014, St Johnstone beat Dundee United 2- 0 at Celtic Park, Glasgow to lift the Scottish Cup, their first ever major trophy. This poem is my memory of this glorious day)
You could see them coming.
All the lads and lassies.
Brigades of Blue, squads of White.
Happy ranks and smiling masses.
C’mon the Saints!
C’mon the Sinners!
Not the favourites, or supposed winners.
By battle bus, budget plane and decked out car.
From here, from there, from near, from far.
Grins of joy, and freshened woad.
Streams of Saintees hit the road.
Broxden circled, the die hard grouse.
Standing famous, strutting proud.
Puffed out chest and decked in blue.
We roared out loud,
Trains of camels, and flowing robes
joined the journey with trails of sand,
with cakes, and pies from a distant land
bands of orange, stripes of black, such a prism,
from the land of Jam and Journalism.
In ones or twos, fifties and hundreds,
Hats and scarves! – the rallying call.
Opinions divided, the team that turns up
and settles down – winner takes all.
Tactics talked, nerves honed,
pints of medicine swallowed,
and last minute bets safely phoned.
Passed Wee Jinky, round Big Jock,
A brief pause, a respectful nod.
History writ across their faces.
The Lisbon Lions, thoughts
of then, and of our Muirton Aces.
Pizza and Pies, under beer battered skies.
The warm-up won, the teams appeared.
There they were, the Saints, our Saints, there
in a Scottish Cup Final – faces teared.
Cuptie led, Wright heckled
Ando towered, as did Easton
into space for Mikey to feast on.
Dunne stifled, Midgie carried,
Spoony jinked and May harried.
Macca showed touch, Macca showed vision.
Saves forced and corners won.
Then there was The Corner.
The ball pinged, the box danced.
Ando arrived, Ando towered,
the keeper flapped, the header glanced
Ando left – legend forever.
Half-time stunned, surely not?
We couldn’t win? Could we? Aye, why not?
Saints ran, and Saints pressed
Rode their luck and did their best.
Mannus leapt, Mannus sprung,
the ball sped, the bar shook
Mannus trapped the ball
with his bum – it’s all it took.
We’re getting close, nerves are fraught,
Prayers are made, and charms are sought.
May pops up, and prods it through
A deflected ball – Macca – it’s two!
And there it was, we could believe.
The rolling tears, the barren years,
the hugs and kisses,
the highs and lows, the nearest misses.
Blue and white streamers
A glint of silver, cheering dreamers
The Gaffer hugged the Scottish Cup
It’ll take a while to give it up.
We drifted away to take it in.
To write our tales and savour the win.
And start it here with,
Us from then,
Us from now.
C’mon the Saints!”