It was perhaps fitting that under the gaze of the statue of that celebrated Paisley poet, Robert Tannahill, the droothy denizens of the parish were striding through the nearby doors of the Town Hall yesterday to enjoy some gargles and appreciative chin-stroking at the 30th Paisley Beer Festival. “Nae drink can raise a canty crack, like Allan’s ale,” scribbled Tannahill back in the day after an inspiring leaf through an early edition of the Campaign for Real Ale’s recruitment parchment. Well, not quite.
Those following the fortunes of the town’s football club over the last few months have probably been reaching for any form of alcoholic sanctuary just to keep them on an even keel during a season of torturous tumult. Forget hearty ales and sturdy brews, though. They may be popping the corks of the champagne bottles if St Mirren finally safeguard their place in the Scottish Championship. From down and out to alive and kicking, the rejuvenated Saints, under the managerial nous of Jack Ross, now have their destiny in their own hands after embarking on the kind of salvage operation not seen since they raised the Mary Rose.
For Tony Fitzpatrick, the St Mirren chief executive, the grand Victorian edifice of the Paisley Town Hall still takes him back to 1987 when he peered from the balcony towards the jubilant masses who had gathered outside to celebrate the club’s Scottish Cup win over Dundee United.
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“It was sensational that night, you couldn't see anywhere and it was just bodies up trees, and up lamp posts,” he reflected. Funnily enough, it sounds like the scene after a tasting session too far in that aforementioned Beer Festival.
The symmetry with '87 and all that has been quite stark here in 2017. St Mirren reached another cup final - the Irn Bru sponsored one - against Dundee United but lost this time. On Saturday they face the tangerine team from the City of Discovery once more in a league game that could go a long way to securing St Mirren’s spot in the second-tier.
In footballing parlance, St Mirren have three cup finals left to keep themselves up and the importance of these fixtures – they also play Raith Rovers and newly crowned champions Hibernian in the run-in – is certainly not lost on Fitzpatrick.
“I'm not exaggerating, but if we escape this then it will be beyond what we achieved with the Scottish Cup because if you go down to that other league, that is oblivion to us as a club,” said the 61-year-old. “No disrespect to the teams that are already down there but to St Mirren, we just don't want to even think about that. There are still three hard games to go but you would like to think we could do it because you see the momentum and you see the way the team is playing.
“If we escape this, then it is one the best things in our history as a club. It would be a miracle. If we are being totally honest, there were times when we were all in despair. I'm a very positive person but I looked at the situation and I thought we were down. But then Jack did his magic. The next three weeks are massive for the club.”
St Mirren’s rousing renaissance – they have won six of their last 10 games in the league – has been a real eye opener. The style of football has been pretty eye-catching too. “From the 1987 team to the team we have just now, I must admit I really enjoy watching this team,” said Fitzpatrick. “I really enjoyed playing in the '87 team but the team we have just now makes me really enjoy my football. I'm enjoying going to the games.
“Usually when you are in a relegations scrap, it is just sitting behind the ball and making it difficult for teams in order to try and steal a goal but for us this season it has been totally different. We have been really exciting to watch. Every team that we have played has been impressed by us. Neil Lennon said it before the Celtic game when we beat Hibs. He said we were the best team before Brendan Rodgers did.”
This cultured approach on the pitch could perhaps be used to help promote Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture in 2021? Fitzpatrick, with his deep roots in the town, certainly believes the feel-good factor, in a wider sense, is returning to this neck of the woods.
“I think there is a real positive nature about the club now and I think everyone is starting to feel that and that generates from the manager,” he said. “The supporters have bought into that and they can see the club is really trying to move forward.
“I go back to the time of Fergie (Sir Alex Ferguson) and that's the feeling I get about this team around the town. That is down to the team but I also think the Paisley 2021 City of Culture bid has helped make the place feel a good place to be just now.”
If St Mirren can complete their great escape, then that Paisley Beer Festival could go on for months.