LIKE many of his young peers around the Motherwell area in the late Fifties and early Sixties, Willie Pettigrew has a lot to thank Ian St John for. In Pettigrew’s case though, his gratitude extends beyond the fond memories of witnessing his extraordinary goalscoring prowess from the Fir Park terraces.

St John, who has died at the age of 82, had a talent too prodigious for Motherwell to contain. In 1961, after 105 goals in just 144 appearances in claret and amber, Liverpool paid a then record fee of £37,500 to lure him to Anfield, financing the construction of the Main Stand at Fir Park in the process, which still stands to this day.

The rest, is history. St John, alongside Ron Yeats who had been brought to Merseyside from Dundee United, sparked a revival in Liverpool’s fortunes that Bill Shankly credited as the ‘turning point’ in the club’s history.

St John’s status as a Liverpool great was exemplified by the outpouring of grief that greeted news of his death yesterday, and the fulsome tributes paid to him on Merseyside and all over the football world a testament to both his abilities as a player, and his character as a man.

His passing was just as keenly felt back where it all began for him in Lanarkshire, where he is revered for his impact on the Steelmen of his hometown as both a player and a manager.

It was during his short spell in charge of Motherwell in the early Seventies that a once wide-eyed youngster would get a chance to work under his idol, and Pettigrew spoke fondly of St John as he recalled those early days of his career, when one legend of the club set another on his way to the Fir Park Hall of Fame.

“I was a kid of seven or eight when I watched him before he went to Liverpool, along with a few others who have now sadly passed away like Willie Hunter, Pat Quinn, Andy Weir, people like that,” Pettigrew said.

“I always remember when he was manager of Motherwell, you knew when he was in the room. He had that presence, that aura about him. You knew he was there.

“He had a belief in what I could do and gave me my debut. He had given me games in the League Cup against Celtic and I scored a couple of goals.

“He deserves all the plaudits he gets. He was a good manager, a good coach. He tried to transform Motherwell, get us playing the ball on the deck.

“He was one of the first people to ever give me any individual coaching. He’d take you aside and work on finishing, heading, and all the rest of it. It was an unusual thing at the time.

“I actually worked with him for three or four years later on as well, because he used to run soccer schools up here too.

“He was the one who signed Bobby Graham from Coventry, and we had a great partnership, so I’ve got to thank him for that too.

“Motherwell were fortunate to have had him as a player, and they were fortunate to have him as a manager.

“It might have been a short period of time, but he definitely raised their expectations that they could do better.”

For all the belief that St John gave Pettigrew as a young forward though, there was one occasion where he gave him an almighty fright too.

“A friend of mine, Willie Leishman, who stayed two doors up from me, we were both part-time at the club,” he said. “One day, Ian St John offered him full-time terms, and Willie came back down the road and told me.

“I went back up the next day and chapped Ian’s door. I said ‘You’ve given Willie Leishman a full-time contract, why no me?’ He said ‘Are you wanting a full-time contract?’ I said ‘Aye, course I do.’

“He told me to come back in the morning and we would sort it out. I went back down the road, turned on the telly, and the newsflash was that Ian St John had been appointed manager of Portsmouth.

“I went back up the next day and he was there, and he pulled my contract out the drawer. Thank god. I signed it and the next day he was off.”

That day back in 1974 may have marked the end of St John’s official involvement with his hometown team, but no matter the glittering success he went on to enjoy with Liverpool – twice winning the old First Division and lifting the FA Cup – he never forgot where he came from.

“He’s a legend at Liverpool,” said Pettigrew. “I went down in 2015, myself, my wife, a guy called Jimmy McCluskey and his wife.

“I went down to see his son, who was getting us tickets for the Liverpool game, and Ian phoned up and invited us to come up to the radio station where he was broadcasting.

“He took us up to the studios and we had a good chat. I wouldn’t call him a friend, I would call him what he was; a great player who had a lot of time for people. He wouldn’t walk past anybody.

“He was a Motherwell lad and he worked in the Bridgeworks. He was 82 and left Motherwell in 1961, but a lot of people still remember him for his leaping abilities and the amount of goals he scored with his head.

“The number of caps he got with Scotland was impressive too. It was only 21, but 21 in that time was really good, because there was only ever the home internationals and the World Cup.

“Nowadays there are internationals every couple of months, but 21 when Ian played is more like a hundred by today’s standards.

“You look at the Saint and Greavsie Show later on in his life as well, it was the must-watch programme on a Saturday.

“He was a great player, a really good manager, and just a good person.

“He was one of my heroes.”