“I loved him to death. He would do anything for you. He was strong, for a 5′ 8″ player he was great in the air and scored a lot of goals with his head. He was an inspirational centre-forward.” Ron Yeats on Ian St John.
Bill Shankly had begun his Anfield revolution in earnest, with his work ethic and determination being carved during his upbringing in the famed, remote Scottish village of Glenbuck, some 25 miles south of Glasgow. Bill knew what he wanted and what it would take to get it. The demolition of the squad he inherited was well underway, and the signing of new players was beginning to take shape. The Summer of 1960 saw the signings of Kevin Lewis, Alf Arrowsmith, and Gordon Milne. The new Liverpool era framework was becoming stronger, but one player had eluded Liverpool’s advances, Ian St John.
A native of Motherwell, the large town at the centre of Scotland’s steel industry and affectionately referred to as ‘Steelopolis,’ St John was making a name for himself at his hometown club. A strong centre-forward who liked to let defenders know he was there; his bustling style and endless enthusiasm would be the perfect fit for Shankly’s new forward line. Then, at midday on 1st May 1961, Motherwell was ready to let their man go, and Shankly left no room for error. Bill and Liverpool Chairman Tom Williams were on the road to Scotland. That night they saw Motherwell defeat Hamilton Academicals, with St John netting two goals. No sooner had the game ended and negotiations were underway.
By the 2nd May, The Saint was on his way to Liverpool with his wife to look at the Anfield club’s housing. A fee of £35,000, around twice that of the highest figure ever paid by Liverpool, had been agreed, Shanks had got his man. Fellow Scot, the tall, strong Ron Yeats, joined a matter of weeks later, now Liverpool was in a position to begin their rise, and ‘…The team from bloody Mars…’ was starting to rise.
Ian’s impact on the Liverpool style of play would see him become a Kop favourite. Skillful, strong, and he knew where the net was (he scored 118 goals for Liverpool), he was everything the Anfield faithful wanted to see. It didn’t take long for Liverpool to pull themselves out of the mire and the 1961/62 season saw them crowned 2nd division champions. St John struck 18 times as The Reds powered their way to the top division in England. Life in the top flight didn’t faze the Liverpool players, and by the 1963/64 season, they were Champions for the first time since 1947.
The Liverpool fans always coveted the league title, but the F.A. Cup was the one piece of silverware that they, and the club, so desperately wanted. The F.A. Cup was a big deal in English football, and winning it provided kudos for players and fans alike. 1965 saw Liverpool reach their third final. Wembley was crammed to the rafters as The Reds faced Leeds United. Neither side could find the net and the game went to extra time for the first time since 1947. Roger Hunt opened the scoring before Billy Bremner equalised for Leeds. Then, in the dying minutes of extra time, Ian Callaghan crossed into the Leeds area, and Ian St John headed home one of the most beautiful goals in the club’s history. The 1960s were the beginning of modern Liverpool and the club’s domination, both at home and in Europe. The 1965/66 season saw Liverpool crowned champions yet again. The remainder of the 1960s saw St John an almost ever-present, with his role now further behind the forward line.
One thing Shankly and his bootroom would never be accused of was complacency and sentiment. If a player were beginning to be less effective and showing signs of their better days behind them, then a replacement would be waiting in the wings. 1971 saw St John leave Anfield for Hellenic in South Africa for several months before eventually released by Liverpool to join Coventry City. Then in 1972, St John signed for Tranmere Rovers before finally hanging up his boots in 1973. He remained in the game, managing Motherwell and Portsmouth. But for millions, his later years will be remembered for his partnership with England legend Jimmy Greaves on the much-loved Saint and Greavsie’, airing on T.V. from 1985 to 1992. Always popular on Merseyside, Ian also had a popular radio show alongside Everton legend Ian Snodin in the ‘Saint and Snods Show.’ The death of Ian St John earlier this week has saddened the footballing world. The thoughts of Red’s fans everywhere are with his family and many friends.