Born: June 7, 1938;

Died: March 1, 2021.

IAN St John, who has died at the age of 82, was an outstanding footballer whose time in the game encompassed service with Motherwell, Liverpool, Coventry City and Tranmere Rovers and a successful international career with Scotland, for whom he scored nine goals in 21 appearances. In later years he became a well-known television presenter.

Born in June 1938 in Motherwell, Ian was one of six children to Alex and Helen, but he suffered an early tragedy at the age of just six when his steelworker father died aged 36, leaving Helen to raise her children on a widow’s pension supplemented by work as a cleaner.

The young Ian was soon contributing to the family income, delivering bread and milk on a Co-operative horse-drawn cart. By the time he left school at 15 to work as an engineering apprentice at the Colville steelworks, he had shown early promise in both football and boxing but was persuaded by his mother to concentrate on his football career. As a youth he played for both the Motherwell Bridge Works team and North Motherwell Athletic

He attracted the attention of his boyhood heroes, Motherwell, having as a 13-year-old attended the 1952 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden to see ‘Well defeat Dundee 4-0 to annexe the trophy for the first time. He signed provisional forms with the Fir Park club in August 1956, and was farmed out to Douglas Water Thistle before turning professional one year later.

Under manager Bobby Ancell, Motherwell had a young, talented side. In 1958 their run to the last four of the Scottish Cup saw St John score in four consecutive rounds, before they succumbed to the eventual winners, Clyde, 2-3.

In August 1959, he achieved the remarkable feat of netting a hat-trick in little more than two-and-a-half minutes against Hibernian. Four clashes with Rangers that season resulted in four victories for Motherwell, with St John scoring in three of those encounters.

Motherwell’s third-place, and two fifth-place, finishes in Division One in consecutive seasons was certainly an indication of consistency for this fine side but silverware continued to elude them. In March 1961 they overwhelmed the eventual League Champions, Rangers, 5-2 at Ibrox in a Scottish Cup replay before 90,000 spectators to establish themselves as clear favourites for the trophy – but they exited in the next round with a 0-1 home defeat to Airdrieonians.

Standing just 5’8” tall, St John was certainly not the tallest centre-forward, but he more than made up for his lack of height with a keen positional sense, movement, pace, energy and an intelligence that created space for team-mates.

His form had been such that he had attracted interest from elsewhere, and so it was that on May 2, 1961 he signed for Liverpool for a club record £37,500 transfer fee. It was a signing that the Anfield board of directors questioned, only to be persuaded by the club’s inimitable manager, a certain Bill Shankly. For their part, Motherwell built a new Main Stand with the proceeds.

By the time of his departure from Fir Park, St John had netted an impressive 105 goals in 144 competitive appearances and for good measure had received international recognition, with his Scotland debut coming on May 6, 1959 at the age of just 20, in a 3-2 win over West Germany at Hampden. One year later he would score his first goal in the Dark Blue, against Poland.

He soon settled to life on Merseyside. His debut in the Liverpool Senior Cup against Everton saw him net three although ending up on the wrong end of a 3-4 score-line.

At the time Liverpool were a Second Division side and in later years Shankly would credit the signing of St John and fellow Scot, Ron Yeats, from Dundee United, as being key to the club’s 1960s success. Season 1961-62 saw Liverpool promoted as Champions with St John netting 18 goals, a tally matched one year later in the top division as Shankly’s team established themselves amongst the elite, reaching the FA Cup Semi-Finals.

One year later Liverpool were crowned League Champions with the Scot – by now inevitably nicknamed ‘The Saint’ – scoring 21 goals as he formed a productive partnership up front with Roger Hunt. He further endeared himself to Liverpudlians with the winning goal in the 1965 FA Cup Final with a trademark diving header to secure a 2-1 extra-time win over Leeds United.

The Anfield club also reached the European Cup Semi-Finals that season, with The Saint scoring five goals in eight appearances.

Liverpool were champions again the following year with Ian making 41 appearances as he remained a key member of Shankly’s side for the next five years.

At international level he would make 21 appearances for Scotland, seven of which came whilst he was with Motherwell. His nine goals included three in World Cup qualifiers against Czechoslovakia, who would reach the 1962 final in Chile. Wembley 1965 would prove to be his final game for Scotland, scoring the second goal in a 2-2 draw.

St John left Liverpool on 25 August 1971, having scored 118 goals in 424 competitive appearances. A brief spell in South Africa was followed by spells with both Coventry City and Tranmere Rovers before he retired in 1973.

Periods in management followed, firstly as assistant at Coventry, as manager of Motherwell at the start of season 1973-74, followed by a three-year spell at Portsmouth. He then moved onto Sheffield Wednesday as coach and assistant manager.

After leaving Hillsborough in 1979, he turned to football punditry before becoming a most successful TV presenter alongside the former England international footballer, Jimmy Greaves, in the hugely popular Saint & Greavsie, which ran from 1985 until 1992.

He also set up several football academies for the coaching of younger players. In 2008 he was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame.

Ian St. John died in Arrowe Park Hospital, Merseyside, following a brave struggle with cancer. He is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Betsy, son Ian and daughter Elaine.

Robert McElroy