February 14, 2009 – McDiarmid Park
The first completely new football stadium built in Scotland in generations, McDiarmid Park opened its doors almost twenty years ago, with its first game played in August 1989.
I recall visiting it on a freezing cold day not long afterwards and marvelling at the facilities on offer, which were a class apart from what travelling fans normally experienced in the Scottish First Division.
This was an era when an uncovered wall still masqueraded as the gents at Broomfield and women had to hold on until the bus reached Harthill Services on the road home!
The last couple of decades have seen stadia change beyond recognition, even at the second level of Scottish football, and McDiarmid Park is no longer an exception to the rule.
For example, only Ross County’s excellent Victoria Park offers the opportunity to stand in this season’s First Division.
Most sides are geared up for the SPL, should they manage to secure the one promotion place on offer.
It’s no surprise that in an era of sea-change, the comparatively new McDiarmid Park has hardly changed at all, but it is amazing how little the place has aged.
Aside from a new scoreboard and a large hike in the admission price, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between McDiarmid Park 1989 and the place I visited today.
For a building which has been subject to twenty years of crap Scottish weather it’s in remarkable good nick, perhaps a testiment to the quality of its construction.
It is certainly wearing better than Almondvale, the ground at which I have attended most regularly over the years.
Opened in stages between 1995 and 2000, the West Lothian ground is already starting to look a little tatty, with badly faded seats at the north end, discoloured outer cladding and some rusty looking steelwork.
Perhaps it’s just a case of better regular maintenance being carried out?
Anyway, way back on my first visit, and for several afterwards, the visiting support was accommodated behind the goals but the norm nowadays tends to be that away fans are allocated a wing of the main stand.
Saints fans are restricted to the remainder of the main stand and the one opposite, meaning that aside from big games, like the Tayside derby against Dundee, both ends are left empty.
That doesn’t help the atmosphere, which considering today’s game was 1st v 3rd was pretty flat throughout.
A freezing cold, quarter-full all-seater rarely generates much of a buzz, but even allowing for that neither set of supporters seemed ‘up for it’.
Whether that translated to the players, who knows, but the game itself wasn’t exactly a classic either.
Livi started brightly and had first half shots off both the crossbar and post, but lack any sort of creative spark thereafter.
League leaders St Johnstone were surprisingly poor and barely strung two passes together before a half time interval in which their manager Derek McInnes would surely have taken the paint off the home dressing walls with some choice words.
They weren’t helped by the loss of their main striker Andy Jackson with an Achilles injury which saw an ambulance pay an unusual visit to trackside at half time.
Sometimes the mark of champions is to win ugly and Saints claimed the points thanks to the only goal from sub Collin Samuel less than two minutes after he came on.
For the avoidable of any doubt, this wasn’t a good advert for the Irn Bru First Division, although perhaps the pitch had a part to play.
McDiarmid Park is often used by the Scottish Rugby Union for age group and ‘A’ internationals and the surface bore the evidence of the latest event, with bare patches galore and rugby pitch markings still discernable.
By virtue their win, St Johnstone are now seven points clear at the top of the First Division and are well on course to return to the SPL for the first time since 2002.
Whether the SPL will put up with a member club regularly renting out their pitch to the egg-chasers remains to be seen but there’s no doubt that most other aspects of McDiarmid Park will fit in well in the top division.
It will be interesting to compare and contrast it with New St Mirren Park, Scottish football’s newest venue, which I am due to visit for the first time on Thursday night.
Scoring – 1-0 Samuel (70)
Attendance – 2752
Admission – £17
Programme – £2.50
Ground – 6/10. Original Scottish new build wearing well after 20 years
Game – 3/10. Poor advert for the First Division
Overall experience – 5/10. Instantly forgettable.