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Roddy Grant, the patron saint of local heroes at St Johnstone

RODDY Grant could perhaps be said to be St Johnstone's ghost of Christmas past, present and future.

Part of my remit is to go round the schools and build links with the club
Part of my remit is to go round the schools and build links with the club

Not only did the combative striker's exploits in two lengthy spells as a player place him among the first tranche of inductees into the Perth club's hall of fame, the 47-year-old is also proving every bit as valuable at the club in the here and now in an all-pervasive director of football development role.

In addition to supporting manager Tommy Wright and his players wherever possible, that job description also includes the considerable task of inspiring the next generation, something Grant certainly did this week when he toured local schools speaking of his ongoing issue with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a problem which went undiagnosed throughout his playing days.

Grant was born in Gloucester and was based in Livingston for much of his career, but in every other sense he is the perfect local hero template for St Johnstone. While back-to-back European finishes and consistent habitation in the top six of the top flight are a huge credit to the football department at McDiarmid Park - particularly at a club who don't always carry a huge support and have had recent turnover in the manager's office and the boardroom - nothing stands still in football.

The next step in the club's development under chairman Steve Brown is a renewed focus on bringing through homegrown youngsters. It ties in with the return of respected youth coach Alistair Stevenson from Hibernian, and the recruitment of local lads made good such as David Wotherspoon, from Bridge of Earn.

"With Stevie May making it through, people can actually see there is a path from the academy to the Under-20s, to the first team," Grant said. "Another part of my remit is going round the schools and trying to build links with the club which will benefit the academy.

"We are starting to get a lot more homegrown players, whereas before all our players came from places like Glasgow. There is nothing better than seeing a young lad, who has been hand picked at an early age, taken through all the age groups, then getting a game for the first team. It brings everybody together. Hopefully it will bear fruit.

"Things are getting harder every year with the financial implications but we are on the right lines. Next step for us is reaching a major cup final. We have a big game coming up against Aberdeen [the League Cup semi final in February] and with a big crowd there hopefully we can win it."

May, rather than Grant, is, of course the poster boy, for the younger generation of St Johnstone supporters. Former striker Grant is an admirer of the 21-year-old, even if the two men don't share all the same attributes. "Stevie is far, far quicker than I was!" Grant said. "He has definitely matured in the last few years. He is working very hard at his game and has improved his link-up play a lot, which is vital in the modern game.

"He has a good manager in Tommy, who keeps him right. He is a confidence player though, and like any other striker he will have purple patches. There will be barren spells, but he is not the type of lad who will let it affect him."

Director of football development is one of those elastic job descriptions and recently it stretched to entertaining Sir Alex Ferguson at McDiarmid Park, on the 50th anniversary of a hat-trick he scored for St Johnstone against Rangers. "I was fortunate enough to have lunch in the boardroom with Sir Alex and the directors," Grant said. "We had a long chat about the club, the game and how he is enjoying his retirement."

Grant never played for Scotland, but St Johnstone provided him with the next best thing: he graced Europe as a player, and there were plenty of other stand-out performances besides.

"When I was at school I was branded a troublemaker, but it was just because of my concentration levels - I couldn't sit still," Grant said. "I enjoyed being a professional footballer. I remember certain games more than others: we beat Aberdeen 5-0 when they were flying high in the Premier League under Alex Smith. There was the Airdrie game which won us promotion and another one was beating Dundee 7-2 in a New Year's Day Tayside derby."

All solid memories - and without a trace of humbug.

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