Ian St John
Birthdate: 7 June 1938
Birthplace: Motherwell, Scotland
Other clubs: Motherwell Bridge Works, North Motherwell, Douglas Water Thistle (1956-57), Motherwell (1956-61), Hellenic (1971), Coventry City (1971-72), Tranmere Rovers (1972-73)
Bought from: Motherwell
Signed for LFC: £37,500, 02.05.1961
International debut: 06.05.1959 vs. West Germany
International caps: 21/9 (14/8 at LFC) - 10.04.1965
Liverpool debut: 19.08.1961
Last appearance: 23.01.1971
Debut goal: 30.08.1961
Last goal: 23.01.1971
Contract expiry: February 1971
Win ratio: 53.41% W: 227 D: 101 L: 97
Games/goals ratio: 3.6
Total games/goals opposite LFC: 1 / 0
LFC league games/goals: 336 / 95
Total LFC games/goals: 425 / 118
Ian St John would prove to be one of the most significant signings ever made by Liverpool Football Club. His contribution to the success that followed later in the decade was colossal. Despite his relative lack of height, St John was a strong and tricky forward whose timing enabled him to outjump much taller defenders and either create chances for others or finish them off himself. Liverpool had been trying desperately to get out of the Second Division for seven seasons, during which they had finished eleventh, third four times and fourth twice. Shankly had been appointed from Huddersfield two years previously and felt he needed a strong centre-half and a centre-forward. He had not forgot the two Scotsmen he had watched while he was at Huddersfield, but the club couldn't afford them. "One Sunday morning in 1961 the Sunday Post had the headline "St John wants to go"," Shankly said. "I was on the phone straight away and we were in Motherwell on the Monday night. Charlie Mitten came on the scene from Newcastle and tried to sign him, but we arranged the fee of £37,500 on the Monday night and signed St John the next day. I said to Mr. Sawyer [Eric Sawyer, Liverpool's financial director], 'He's not just a good centre-forward, he's the only centre-forward in the game.'" St John made an immediate impact by scoring a hat-trick on his Liverpool debut in a 4-3 defeat over Everton in the Liverpool Senior Cup final at Goodison Park. Ron Yeats followed his fellow countryman south of the border in July.
St John and Yeats would prove to be inspirational signings that helped an extremely settled side cruise to the second division title by eight points from Leyton Orient. "The Saint" only missed two League games, scoring 18 League goals and developing a lethal understanding with Roger Hunt. Liverpool comfortably coped with first division football, finishing eighth in their first year back in the top league and were unlucky to lose to Leicester City in the FA Cup semi-final, for whom Gordon Banks performed heroics. A year later Shankly's foresight and tactical shrewdness came to fruition. Liverpool won the First Division Championship for the first time for 27 years and St John contributed 21 League goals, the highest League total he achieved during any single season as a Liverpool player. A year later came his and the club's greatest moment. Shankly had promised Sawyer, that with St John and Yeats in the team Liverpool would win the FA Cup for the first time in the club's history. After over 70 years of trying it came true when St John's diving header towards the end of extra-time at Wembley flew past Leeds United's goalkeeper Gary Sprake and earned the Scotsman immortality on the red half of Merseyside for that one athletic moment.
St John would collect a second League championship medal in 1966 and hardly missed a game for the next three seasons. By then St John had dropped further back using his tactical nous in the middle of the park. As the 60's closed, Shankly had the difficult task of leaving out some of the players who had served him so well for most of the decade. Now 31-years-old, St John became one of the 'casualties'. St John got upset with Shankly when he was dropped for a game against Newcastle on 11 October 1969 when his Liverpool career was drawing to a close. "Shanks had a little flaw in his make-up that he couldn't face up to the hard decision that a player was coming to the end of his career," St John told LFChistory.net. "This was the first time on my life as a professional that I'd never played in the team. So it's hard to take. I walked into the dressing room and my boots are under a 12. I said to Shanks: 'We were up there Friday night, Saturday morning. You could have pulled me over.' I was sub for the first time and Bob said: 'Get warmed up. You better get on here.' We were losing the game. I said: 'No, I'm not getting warmed up. If he comes and tells me to warm to warm up I'll warm up,' because Shankly was up in the stand. He never came down and we lost. Shanks never said anything. We just had stony silence after we had that row. Only after a short time we started talking again because we'd had as good as a relationship you can get with your manager. When Shankly packed it in and was retired I used to see him quite a bit. We got back on track again. I was one of the pallbearers when he died."
Ian St John was hardly no saint and put his considerable boxing skills a few times to the test on the playing field. "I was sent off six times, but two of those were for mistaken identity. The referees were blind in those days as well," St John once said tongue-in-cheek. St John told LFChistory.net "I loved the boxing and it stood me in good stead because I wasn't frightened in the games no matter how big they were, the centre-halves. I wasn't frightened of anybody." St John was sent off three times in the League while at Liverpool. "I had a quick temper which was a bad thing. The fact I wasn't frightened of anybody was a good thing."
Wearing the shirt of Hellenic in South Africa in the summer of 1971 proved to be a joyous experience for the Scot who had been stuck in Liverpool's reserve team in the 1970/71 season. "Shanks put me on the bench against Swansea in the first round of the cup in January. We were struggling at Anfield and he brought me on and I scored a goal. That week Shanks said to me: 'How would you like going to South-Africa?' I thought that is as far away from Liverpool he can get me. I was still quite a favourite with the crowd. He was bringing kids through. I had a great year at Hellenic and loved it. Champions of South Africa and everything. When I got back to this country I went to Coventry." St John quickly returned to Merseyside to play briefly for third division Tranmere Rovers in the 1972/73 season under his former skipper Ron Yeats. St John took over as manager of his hometown club, Motherwell, in 1973 which he left four years later for a brief but fairly unhappy spell as a manager at Portsmouth. "Shanks could sell you everything. He got me a job that was the worst job in football, St John said. "He convinced me to go to Portsmouth when I was at Motherwell. I had just missed out on Leeds when Don Revie had left to go to the Emirates. I was getting the job supposedly. Jock Stein had set it up. I had a meeting and everything and then Brian Clough got it right out of the blue. In the 44 days he was there making a pig's ear of Leeds Shanks said: 'Ok, son, aye. Go to Portsmouth.' The chairman spoke to me. I would have money to spend on players, a new ground they were still waiting for. I thought, 'Maybe at Pompey I've got a chance there.' Not a penny. Nothing. I had the worst group of players you have ever seen in your life."
St John's knowledge and passion for football enabled him to break into the world of television and for several years he was a popular figure on ITV in tandem with his former international adversary Jimmy Greaves. In recent times St John's alarming honesty when commenting on Liverpool's fortunes has on several occasions angered the Liverpool faithful, but he takes it in his stride.
Shankly gave his honest opinion on St John in an interview with Brian Reade in 1975. "My first great buy. Clever, canny, bags of skill, made things happen. Liked a scrap too. Jesus, did he like a scrap. I sometimes wanted to tie his fists behind his back. Great player though. Gave you everything on the pitch. Mind you, a lazy bugger at training. He hated it. Always trying to pull one on us. But what a player."