View from the Main (West) Stand
|Location||Tulloch, Perth, Scotland|
|Owner||St. Johnstone F.C.|
|Field size||115 x 75 yards|
|Construction cost||£4.9 million|
|Main contractors||Miller Construction|
|St. Johnstone F.C. (1989–present)|
St. Johnstone F.C. had played at Muirton Park since 1924, but it had fallen into disrepair by the 1980s. St. Johnstone was then a Second Division club and did not have the funds to repair it. In December 1986 the club received the news that Asda wanted to purchase Muirton Park and the adjoining ice rink to build a supermarket on the site. In return, the club would be relocated, at no cost to them, to a brand-new stadium at the western edge of the city. A local farmer, Bruce McDiarmid, donated 16 acres of land on which the stadium now stands. The going rate for the land at that time would have been approximately £400,000 but Bruce McDiarmid saw a donation of his "berry and barley fields" as a gift to the people of Perth. At the insistence of St. Johnstone he accepted a 20 per cent shareholding and the title of honorary president of the football club. The Taylor Report noted that there had been a happy "confluence of factors" that allowed St. Johnstone to make this development.
The stadium was designed by Percy Johnson-Marshall and built by Miller Construction. The stadium was a prototype and based on legislative advice that was soon to become out of date, but a good facility was built for a reasonable cost. Work started on the Tulloch farmland donated by Bruce McDiarmid in December 1988 and was finished in time for the start of the 1989–90 season. Although McDiarmid Park was opened after the Hillsborough disaster, all of the planning and most of the construction work had been done beforehand. Lord Justice Taylor visited the ground as part of his inquiry into the disaster.
The first match at McDiarmid Park was played on 19 August 1989, a 2–1 victory for Saints in a First Division match against Clydebank. This league fixture on the opening day of the season was deliberately kept low-key as a glamour challenge match had been arranged for the official opening. On 17 October 1989, St. Johnstone lined up against English club Manchester United, who brought a full strength side to Scotland. The Manchester United team, managed by former St. Johnstone player Alex Ferguson, included Jim Leighton, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Brian McClair, Mark Hughes and Lee Sharpe. McClair scored the only goal of the game, in front of a near capacity (9,780) crowd. The legendary Sir Matt Busby and Bobby Charlton were also in attendance. With just 30 minutes played of the match, the stadium was temporarily plunged into darkness caused by a fault at an electricity substation. Although the stadium's emergency generators were able to provide lighting in the stands, it was 23 minutes before play was resumed.
St. Johnstone enjoyed great success when the stadium first opened. The club won promotion to the Premier Division in their first season at McDiarmid. In the first season back in the top flight, the average attendance at McDiarmid was 6,000, approximately three times what it had been at Muirton. These high attendances led the club to create space for another 600 seats, raising the capacity to over 10,700. A record home attendance of 10,721 was set by a home game against Rangers on 26 February 1991. McDiarmid Park also hosted matches of the Scotland under-21 team and the Scotland women's national team. By the mid-1990s, however, attendances had drifted down to below 4,000, although this was still nearly double what they had been at Muirton.
In 2011, plans to demolish the 2,000 capacity North Stand were publicised. This would have allowed a commuter link road from the neighbouring A9 road to be built. St. Johnstone chairman Geoff Brown justified the proposal on the grounds that comparable clubs, such as Inverness and St. Mirren, have since built grounds with smaller capacities. The proposals were rejected by Perth and Kinross Council.
Structure and facilities
McDiarmid Park, the first purpose-built all-seater stadium in the United Kingdom, consists of four covered, single-tier stands. Facilities include parking for 1,000 cars and 100 coaches, a synthetic playing surface adjacent to the ground (which is used as the team's training ground), and conference facilities within the Main (West) Stand. The stands are all of a similar height, with the Main Stand, on the western side of the ground, being slightly taller. The Main Stand also has greater leg room between rows of seats and includes an area with padded seats reserved for season-ticket holders, club officials and their guests. In the north-east corner of the ground there is an electronic scoreboard. The floodlights at McDiarmid are the same ones used at Muirton Park. The club also tried to retain the square goalposts used at Muirton, but the timber frames could not be re-erected.
The South Stand is named the Ormond Stand, after Willie Ormond, a successful manager of St. Johnstone who left the club in 1973 to manage Scotland. The Ormond Stand also houses the club's souvenir shop, which is only open on match days before and after the match. It was formerly nominated as a "family stand", for home fans and fans of the visiting club to sit together. The club has a number of options for housing visiting fans. Visiting supports of a few hundred or less are housed in a segregated section at the north end of the main stand, with the two end stands closed. Clubs who regularly bring a larger support are also allocated the North Stand. If a very large visiting support is expected the club has a further option to also open the Ormond Stand for away fans.
Being a prototype stadium, McDiarmid Park has some faults that critics of seated stadia picked upon. Spectators in the front rows of the stands are not necessarily sheltered, while the stadium has been criticised for lacking atmosphere. St. Johnstone also attracted criticism for charging visiting supporters more than home supporters, a practice that became commonplace.
Professional rugby union side Caledonia Reds played some of their home games at McDiarmid Park before they were merged with the Glasgow Warriors in 1998. The merged Warriors initially played some of their 1999 games in Perth, but eventually switched all home games to Glasgow.
On 13 November 2004 the Scotland national rugby union team played Japan there in a historic first test match north of the River Forth. The result was a 100–8 scoreline in favour of Scotland, the first time the Scottish rugby team had scored a century. Chris Paterson scored 40 points (three tries, 11 conversions and one penalty).
The stadium has hosted several of Scotland's "A" team: a victory over Italy in 1999, a draw over Argentina in 1999, a win against Samoa in 2000, and a loss to Italy in 2003. On 21 November 2006, Scotland "A" faced Australia in Perth, their first appearance on home soil in three years. On 23 February 2007, Scotland "A" hosted Italy at McDiarmid Park.
For many years the stadium hosted the Scottish convention of Jehovah's Witnesses, which brought thousands of worshippers to the local area every summer. In July 2009, a mass baptism was held, which included the use of a 33-foot-diameter (10 m) pool. Over 8,000 people attended the three-day event. The 2012 convention was their last year at the stadium as the religious organisation opted to use The SSE Hydro arena at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow for their national convention.
- "St. Johnstone Football Club". Scottish Professional Football League. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- Inglis 1996, p. 473
- Official match programme: St. Johnstone v. Manchester United, 17 October 1989
- Inglis 1996, p. 472
- Official match programme: St. Johnstone v. Partick Thistle, 28 October 1989
- Bannerman 1991, p. 72
- Wright, Angus (8 October 2011). "St Johnstone ready to demolish a stand at McDiarmid". The Scotsman (Johnston Press). Retrieved 8 October 2011.
- Richardson, Alan (25 January 2013). "St Johnstone owner claims club is under threat". The Courier (DC Thomson). Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- Rugby returns to McDiarmid Park
- "Mass Baptism held in McDiarmid Park pool". The Courier (DC Thomson). 20 July 2009.
- "Elton John to play McDiarmid Park". BBC News. BBC.
- "Elton John & His Band". St Johnstone FC. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
- Bannerman, Gordon (1991). Saints Alive! St Johnstone Football Club Five Years on a High. Sportsprint Publishing, Edinburgh. ISBN 0-85976-346-3.
- Inglis, Simon (1996). Football Grounds of Britain. Collins Willow. ISBN 0-00-218426-5.
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