Tony Fitzpatrick opens up on St Mirren career, leading Fergie’s Furies and long-term dream for the club

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Standing at the top of the Love Street terraces with the footballing world at his feet, 12-year-old Tony Fitzpatrick listened to his heart and decided his future lay in Paisley.

And more than half a century later, as he prepares to leave the club he holds dear and has proudly led for the last six years as chief executive, he doesn’t regret a single moment of his time with his beloved Buddies.

There are very few characters in football that go on to become synonymous with a single club.

That’s mainly because in an industry so focused on short-term success, it’s almost impossible to keep supporters and club boards satisfied all the time.

But brief spells at Bristol City as a player and Clydebank as caretaker manager aside, almost every minute of Fitzpatrick’s football journey has been spent with St Mirren.

And the supporters and club have never once questioned his loyalty and determination to make Saints the very best version it can be.

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As he prepares to close the work chapter of an eventful life full of incredible highs and some heart-breaking lows, the 65-year-old firmly believes that everything happens for a reason.

And Fitzpatrick is adamant he was destined to play for, captain and guide the Saints as he prepares to finally step down from leading the club from the front as he has done for so many of the last 50 years.

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Speaking exclusively to Renfrewshire Live Sport, Fitzpatrick said: “I started coming through from Glasgow and training at Love Street when I was 12.

“I remember having trials with Celtic at that time. There was plenty of interest being shown by English clubs as well.

“But I can always remember standing at the top of the terrace at Love Street, looking out at the stadium and just feeling like it was the right place for me to be.

“I can’t really explain it. It’s like the feeling people describe when you walk into a house and know it’s the right one for you.

“Every day I walk into this stadium and I feel like I’m where I should be and I have never taken that for granted. I felt that then and I still feel that now.

“I’ve been associated with St Mirren since I was a kid and what an incredible journey it’s been.”

An incredible journey is definitely the right phrase to describe Fitzpatrick’s dramatic and memorable career with the Buddies.

After signing with the Saints, he quickly found himself handed the armband when he was still just 17 by legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson as the club battled their way up the Scottish divisions.

‘Fergie’s Furies’ gave skipper Fitzpatrick his first tastes of success, a time that he recalls fondly as the whole of Paisley seemed to rally around the exciting, swash-buckling side.

Fitzpatrick said: “Looking back on my career, the Sir Alex Fergie times were incredible because I was still just a young boy.

“We had some brilliant older players like Jimmy Bone and Jackie Copeland who helped guide us, but the team was built around a lot of youngsters like myself, Frank McGarvey, Lex Richardson and Billy Stark.

“We almost went down to the third tier before working our way up the divisions.

“Winning the First Division was a huge achievement and to win any silverware for the first time was truly special.

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“The Fergie era was my best time at the Saints because it felt like the whole of Paisley and Renfrewshire was behind us.

“The attendances we were getting just for league games were phenomenal.

“That has always been a big thing for me, getting the fans involved. It really taught me the power of having a strong support behind you.”

Fitzpatrick would go on to famously help the Buddies lift the Scottish Cup in 1987, as well as becoming the only person to manage the club on two separate occasions.

Having returned as chief executive in January 2016, he feels one of his biggest achievements is seeing the club successfully switch to majority-fan ownership last year, having successfully teamed up with Paisley charity Kibble.

He explained: “Kibble and St Mirren are the perfect marriage for the club.

“Jim Gillespie has been incredible so far and the support and resources they are giving us will help take us on to another level.

“Lots of people from abroad have shown interest in getting involved that have no connection to the club at all.

“To partner up with a charity from Paisley, who have a long-term goal of improving the town and people’s lives, is one of my proudest achievements.

“We managed to get fan ownership with SMISA and Kibble helped make that happen a lot sooner than planned.

“To see the club being run so well now, even through the difficulties posed by the pandemic, is a joy for me to see.

“We managed to keep almost everybody at the club throughout, which was very important to us as a family club.”

Fitzpatrick will sign off from his chief executive role in March with a stand at the SMISA Stadium, the aptly named Tony Fitzpatrick Family Stand, a street – Fitzpatrick Way – and even a Renfrewshire Council gritter, Tony Gritzpatrick, named after him.

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But he insists the best legacy he wants to leave behind at the club is that they continue to improve and grow both on and off the pitch.

Having tasted them as a player, he’d also love to see European nights light up Paisley once again from his future role as ambassador for the Saints.

Fitzpatrick added: “I’m extremely proud of the direction the club is going in. It’s undeniably on an upward trajectory.

“We’ve seen the academy recently reach the top tier, thanks in a big part to Allan McManus. That’s an incredible achievement compared to where it was five years ago.

“We’ve set up the St Mirren Trust and Gayle Brannigan has worked very hard to build that. What they’re doing is phenomenal, helping so many people in Paisley.

“The staff at the club honestly go above and beyond. I’ll come in at 7pm and so many people are still there, working incredibly hard.

“Five or six years ago we almost went down to League One. Jack Ross played a big part in avoiding that and getting us back into the top flight.

“For me, St Mirren should be a fixture in that top six and we were just two goals away from that last season.

“We have turned the corner this season and fingers crossed we can make that happen this time around.

“I remember the European nights at Love Street. They were unbeatable and I would just love to see that happen again.”

After such an incredibly meaningful Saints career on the pitch, in the dugout and in the boardroom, one thing is certain.

In Tony Fitzpatrick, St Mirren fans couldn’t wish for a better ambassador for their club.



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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