Full text from the article - sorry about the big gaps. I was going to paste this without comment - that was bfore the crap strip arrived and this afternoon's debacle.
FOOTBALL | GRAHAM SPIERS
St Mirren chairman: We recognise our position. But we can still thrive if we continue to get it right
John Needham made his dad proud by becoming the new chairman, writes Graham Spiers
John Needham remembers being five years old and crying at the window of his Paisley home as his father departed, as he did most Saturdays, to go off and watch St Mirren. It wouldn’t be long, though, before Needham was deemed big enough and old enough to join his dad on his trips to watch the Buddies, a routine the new St Mirren chairman has pursued virtually every week over the 55 years since.
These are fascinating footballing times in Paisley. St Mirren are now in the majority-shareholding clutches of their supporters, and Needham, who had risen to the top of RBS in an impressive 40-year career, was the overwhelming choice by the fans to become, first, a club director, and now chairman.
His father, Ian, now in his late 70s and still going to games, can hardly believe that the little boy who used to weep at the window is now St Mirren’s top man. “He could scarcely believe it when I became a director and I think he’s now beside himself with pride that I’m chairman,” Needham says. “As for me, the euphoria of taking on this role quickly wore off. I now very much feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. In my business career I learned how to maximise opportunities and get the best out of people, so I hope I can offer St Mirren something good.”
To this day you get shysters and con artists getting their claws on football clubs for their own gain . . . Needham most certainly is not one of them. A polite and diligent figure, his rise through the ranks of RBS to become an executive director of a company employing 150,000 people rarely got in the way of his other great passion: going to watch his football team. Needham was marked out for the role of St Mirren chairman in this new era, not just for his impressive career CV, but also because of his sheer authenticity as a supporter.
“When my parents finally allowed me to start going to watch St Mirren I saw a few games back in 1966 but season 1967-68 was really my first full campaign watching the team, and that was the year we ran away with the old Second Division title — we scored something like 100 goals and conceded only 23,” he says. “For a kid like me it was fantastic — you were watching your team winning week after week. Back then I was beguiled into thinking this was how life was with St Mirren, but the years since taught me otherwise.
“I watched St Mirren win the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980 — the only Scottish club to lift the trophy — when we beat Bristol City home and away in the final. In that competition I saw George Best play for Fulham at Love Street.
“I also travelled with friends to St Mirren’s first ever European away tie in 1980, when we played Elfsborg in Sweden and won 2-1. It was one of those typical Scottish football fans’ trips abroad: we laughed all the way from the minute we left to when we got back. I remember playing football with fellow Saints fans on the front at Felixstowe before boarding the ferry. It has been a brilliant — and testing — journey being a St Mirren fan.”
Needham has very fond memories of watching Jimmy Bone lift the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980
Needham comes into his chairman’s role bearing big ambitions. While he recognises the size of St Mirren in the wider scheme of Scottish football, it has not stopped him from viewing the potential of his club as “enormous”.
“There are a lot of areas here where I see an opportunity for improvement,” he says. “St Mirren has made great progress over the last ten to 15 years, from being almost bankrupt at one stage, to a position now where we are much more stable.
“St Mirren’s supporter base has been increasing steadily. We need to maintain that and keep it going, but everyone knows it is a challenge. We need to hold our position among the St Johnstones and Motherwells of this world in the top flight. But football, as you know, is a very fickle business. Kilmarnock have proved recently that you can be in a very strong position only to then find yourself being relegated.
“There is a lot of progress and growth we can still make as a club. Renfrewshire is a fairly big catchment areas for us and I believe we should be getting more bums on seats.
“I know it was a different age but I can’t help looking back to when Alex Ferguson was the St Mirren manager. When he had a really good team back then St Mirren could get crowds of close to 10,000 for home games. So I believe there is still headroom for us to increase our core support.
“The fans we have are very loyal and, in fact, we’ve just surpassed our best-ever season ticket sales, with over 3,200 being bought. That is tremendous but I think there is scope to increase that further.”
Ever since the St Mirren Independent Supporters Association (SMISA) started campaigning to get fan-ownership, Needham was a willing and regular financial contributor. But not everyone, he recognises, can blithely stump up, so different tiers of fan-contribution have been set, with supporters paying £25, £15 or £5 a month to the cause.
“We’ve had a fantastic season on the park under Jim Goodwin — probably our best since the 1980s,” he says. “So now we have taken a position as a board to invest a bit more in the playing squad to try and drive more onfield success. Hopefully, that will then get a response from the local people.
“The number of fans signing up to help the club through SMISA — over 1,300 of them I think — shows how well embedded this club is in the community, the passion that there is for the club, and how much potential we have.
“The other thing is that, now that SMISA have purchased their shares, their money will now go straight into the club. From the money raised, a tranche will go into the club for the team, another tranche to our youth academy — that will be about £50,000 per year — and the rest to our smaller causes and charities. But all this is ‘new money’ which is going into the club. It’s quite significant, because that extra money would be quite hard to come by.
McGinn, right, is one of a number of well-known players who gained valuable experience with St Mirren
BILL MURRAY/SCOTTISH NEWS AND SPORT
“I see real headroom for growth at this club: both at bums-on-seats level and in terms of success on the park.”
In Goodwin, who is Covid-struck and will miss today’s trip to Glasgow to face Celtic, Needham believes St Mirren have yet another gem of a manager, whose way of building and developing his team fits precisely with the club’s ethos. St Mirren have recently improved their coveted manager’s remuneration, as well as tightening his contract so that, if Goodwin does eventually leave, the club will be suitably recompensed.
“Jim is hugely impressive,” Needham says. “He’s made the transition very quickly from a player to a manager, and since coming to St Mirren he has done a very good job.
“He is very good in how he recruits and attracts players. He also has an eye for how a team can be put together, and how you establish a kind of pattern of play. Under Jim, we now look like a team which knows what it’s doing. Jim has attracted a higher quality of player to the club than we’ve had for many years.
“He also conducts himself incredibly well publicly with the press and the fans, and is very highly regarded. We needed to increase his reward for how well he did last year, and we did so. That was a recognition of how quickly he had developed our club. We want him to stay for as long as possible.”
St Mirren have a recent, highly impressive tradition of rearing their own: such players as Kenny McLean, John McGinn, Lewis Morgan, Kyle Magennis, Stevie Mallan and others have all been nurtured at the club before leaving for bigger stages. It is a model Needham wants to see continuing.
“We recognise our position in the hierarchy of things: we will always be a club which will hopefully produce excellent young talent and move it on. That applies to St Mirren managers as well. But we can still thrive if we are judicious in the way we go about things.
“We’ve done that with players — John McGinn being a great example — and now Jamie McGrath is one they are all looking at. He is attracting a lot of interest at the moment. We can live with that fact. We can still thrive as a club if we continue to get it right.”