Friday Jan. 29 Th. 09 to St. Mirren Park for a celebration dinner to mark the opening of the new stadium accompanied by staunch St. Mirren supporter Anthony Kelly, my nephew. A tour of the stadium is first on the agenda and we get to see the inner sanctum of dressing rooms and treatment areas etc. this is highlighted by being allowed on to the edge of the pitch and into the dug out which causes an outburst of photo flashes; there is a couple of Anthony and me, one of which I will print later, the facilities are superb and everything smells of new paint.
This was a most genial gathering; political opponents mingled and chatted amicably, I found myself being greeted as some kind of minor celebrity for my part in securing planning permission for St. Mirren’s proposals, this was done in opposition to the council officers recommendations which was to deny the club permission to sell the old ground Love St. to Tesco for a super market. I recall the planning meeting being packed to the rafters with worried Saints fans and they burst into loud prolonged cheering when I spoke and moved in favour of granting the necessary permission; this did not go down well with some people; some of whom were my Labour colleagues but I survived and to my great amazement I received letters and emails from every part of Britain, from serving soldiers, from Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia, from Saints fans all over the world in fact, it was a moving experience.
The entertainment facilities are excellent and the dinner was lovely, the chairman Stuart Gilmour and his team beamed with pleasure all night and rightly so; I kept thinking of a movie called “Field of Dreams” which starred Kevin Costner as a farmer who levels a large part of his farm to build a baseball field because he hears a voice saying “if you build it they will come” and they, the great giants of Baseball past do come, and play; I fancy that some past St. Mirren greats might be nodding in approval, a mystical whimsical load of complete hokum but a brilliant movie.
Here we were in St. Mirren’s “Field of Dreams” despite those who opposed it, claimed it would never happen, tried to block it, we stood with glass in hand looking out over the pitch where St. Mirren will play Kilmarnock 2 days later. Much of the talk was of ‘Love Street’ of course and there were some moist eyes as supporters at last came to terms with the fact that they would no longer walk along Love St. to the match, a journey some had been doing for decades. The new stadium is in fact only yards from the original stadium at Ferguslie Park Ave. Where they played before moving to Love St. so in one sense they have also come home; their nearest neighbour is the house at 103 Greenhill Rd. and the next is at No. 105 Greenhill Rd. my house, so I will keep an eye on them. I have posted before about being a kid in sunny Glenburn and meeting at Braehead bus stop to go and see St. Mirren with what seemed like every small boy in the scheme, I pondered on that tonight as I took it all in.
My nephew Anthony had a great night he wandered around taking in all the brilliant reproduced pictures of past teams and past triumphs and got his picture taken with the manager Gus McPherson and the chairman Mr. Gilmour whom I want to thank for making it possible for him to be there. The icing on the cake was the after dinner speakers first was George McNeil ex footballer and professional sprinter, George had the place in stitches telling stories about his life and career a tremendous ‘tour de force’; he had himself laughing as well it was hilarious. Brilliant speaker as he is George would be glad that he did not have to follow the last speaker, Mr James Wardrop - Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire, a big title for a big man, well over six feet and built like a centre half 1940s/50’s variety. I have heard James speak many times as he attends lots of council functions and tonight he was on the ball, ‘pardon the pun’ he was as always; very observant, forensic might be a better description and utterly hilarious.
A speech by James is like no other; he regularly has to pause to let the audience compose itself and he does this wearing the expression of someone who doesn’t quite understand the hilarity, I’m convinced that he models this on a mixture of Chic Murray and the late Humphrey Littleton a class act and a Renfrewshire treasure, he is; to steal from Kipling, a man who “can walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch” he was just the right man for the job; not least because he traces his family connection with St. Mirren back decades.
St. Mirren are a Scottish institution and they have just been regenerated; their fans living today will never forget Love St. and they will recall games and incidents that happened there for ever, their own children will learn the stories but tonight, the process of the baton being passed on was very poignant, tonight the Saints served notice that they will go marching on as well as marching in, I’m proud to have helped the club in my own small way and I wish them all the very best except of course when they play my team, that is when my nephew Anthony and I agree to differ but tonight the whole Kelly family agreed, belonged to him.