February 19, 2009 – St Mirren Park, Paisley
I suppose I witnessed a wee bit of history tonight after watching St Mirren win for the first time ever in their brand new ground, which is sited a short walk from their ‘traditional’ Love Street home.
Love Street was Saints home ground for 114 years, I think, although I was never a fan.
Granted, I missed out its better days, only making it there after it was well into its patchwork conversion to all seater.
On my last couple of visits, during the 1999-2000 season in which Saints won the First Division, visiting fans were stuck into the unfeasible steep West Stand, a concrete and steel monolith in comparison to the rest of the ground.
Given the small numbers I was part of, you tended to feel rather adrift in the sea of empty red, white and black seats, never a good thing for creating that fuzzy matchday feeling even when your team is winning.
I remember the last game because the surprise 2-0 win gave Livingston a wee lifeline in the race for promotion and it was the occasion of Lee Richardson’s debut and one and only decent performance for the club.
I digress, but the point I am trying to make is that I didn’t ever feel very ‘amorous’ when it came to Love Street.
Approaching Paisley for tonight’s game I didn’t have high hopes for St Mirren Park. From the TV coverage I’d seen of the opening game against Kilmarnock it really just appeared to be another bog standard, Meccano new build.
That negative vibe was balanced by the fact that the game itself had every chance of being decent, with the carrot of a lucrative and possibly winnable home game against Celtic available to both sides.
It was a Sky game too, so there was always the hope that the respective sets of players would lift their game a bit.
I am not sure how it would have looked in the armchair environment, but I enjoyed the game.
Although nominally a neutral, I bought a ticket for the home end, getting a good seat just behind the goals in the South Stand, and put a foot in the St Mirren camp for the evening.
In fairness to them, I thought they were the better side over the piece and just about deserved to win through thanks to a well worked 85th minute goal from Billy Mehmet, the only one of the game.
Motherwell had spells, but they didn’t offer an awful lot in attack, which may or may not have had something to do with the recent loss of their best striker Chris Porter.
Both sides tried to play passing football, which was only right on a pitch which looked more like a bowling green, and although it game wasn’t without it’s fair share of errors, it served up enough action to keep me interested through to Mehmet’s dramatic winner and the full time whistle which followed shortly afterwards.
Indeed, I wouldn’t have been too unhappy if it had gone into extra time – something I had predicted might happen from the word go.
My appraisal of St Mirren Park, or Greenhill Road as it may commonly become known, is, like the match, relatively positive.
To an extent it is every inch the typical new build that I expected. Three of the stands are the rather spartan low spec type you can see in various stadia up and down the country while the fourth – the imaginatively titled Main Stand – benefits from the obligatory corporate hospitality areas.
In reminded me most of New Broomfield, at least on the three ‘basic’ stands, although Airdrie’s home benefits from a much bigger and higher spec fourth stand.
Inside the South Stand where I was, there were toilet and (expensive) catering facilties contained within the concourse underneath and not a lot else.
The positives for me were the generous legroom, something you don’t always get at new stadia, but primarily the atmosphere which I thought was better than most.
St Mirren Park is definitely helped by the fact that it has seats on all four sides and that every seat has a very close proximity to the pitch.
For those reasons alone it knocks spots off the Falkirk Stadium and New Douglas Park to name two.
The crowd tonight was given officially as 4555 with nearly 1200 travelling from Motherwell. If that is the correct figure (I guessed nearer 5500), then it was still enough to create a reasonable buzz.
Already, the more vocal Saints fans seem to have congregrated in the stand opposite the main one and they gave their side decent vocal backing from time to time. For North Bank now read West Stand, albeit on a smaller scale.
That the game was a tense, meaningful cup tie played under lights might have helped the atmosphere along too, but the St Mirren support seem to be embracing their new surroundings.
Whether the buzz I experienced continues into the deathly dull arse end of the SPL season is another thing entirely, but the fact that the Saints fans appear to be making an concerted effort to make the place their own was good to see.
Scoring – 1-0 Mehmet (85)
Attendance – 4555
Admission – £15
Programme – £3
Ground – 7/10. Shiny and new but with a decent atmosphere
Game – 7/10. Competitively contested cup tie
Overall experience – 7/10. Well worth the journey.
Match Report Links
Paisley Daily Express
Motherwell FC Official Website