Ian St John: Liverpool’s legendary Scottish striker and football television icon

Nostalgia writer JAMES NOBLE on the life and career of Ian St John, who continued to be a familiar face and voice in British living rooms long after his time in a Liverpool shirt.

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The late, great, Ian St John signed for Bill Shankly’s Second Division Liverpool side from Motherwell for a fee of £37,500 in May 1961. He would go on to make 425 appearances and score 118 goals for the club in his 10 years at Anfield, as the Reds grew back into a genuine force.

Even before his official debut – in a 0-2 win at Bristol Rovers on August 19, 1961, as the Merseysiders got their triumphant Second Division campaign underway – St John had displayed the impact he could have. 

He had struck a hat-trick in a 4-3 defeat to Everton in the Liverpool Senior Cup final at Goodison Park and the boost that Shankly’s side would enjoy in 1961/62 and beyond was similarly telling.

They would be Second Division champions by the end of his first campaign on Merseyside. They would be First Division champions in both 1964 and 1966 and, in 1965, they would claim the club’s long-sought-after first FA Cup – which was won courtesy of what is widely considered to be St John’s most iconic moment.

Along with fellow Scottish summer acquisition – imposing centre-back Ron Yeats – St John officially got his competitive Reds career underway in that victory in Bristol, before he struck his first goal for the club in a 1-4 success at Sunderland 11 days later.


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He would go on to find the net 22 times in all competitions that season as promotion was secured – and the impact of the diminutive yet dominant forward, along with Scottish counterpart Yeats, said a lot.

Shankly had admired both long before he brought them to L4 and the additional cutting edge that St John provided up top – next to Roger Hunt – combined with the enhanced solidity offered by Yeats at the back, proved key pieces in the manager’s Liverpool jigsaw.

An eighth-placed First Division finish in 1962/63 – and 20 more goals in the league and cup for St John – laid a healthy foundation for the title-winning campaign the following year.

That ‘63/64 season would also prove to be the forward’s most productive on paper, as he struck a crucial 22 goals overall – 21 of which came in the league.

He may have scored half as many times overall in the following season, but 1964/65 would still produce what many feel was St John’s best moment in Red as that first FA Cup was claimed on May 1.

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Goals from Hunt and Leeds United’s Billy Bremner in the first half of extra time at Wembley looked to be taking the cup final towards a replay, until St John got in on the act in the 111th minute.

Ian Callaghan got to the byline down the right, stood up an inviting cross, and the striker acrobatically launched himself away from goal in order to send a thumping, swivelling, diving header into the net.

It proved decisive and it was a goal typical of St John’s lively presence in the opposition box.

That five of his goals that season came in the club’s first continental campaign – as the Reds reached the European Cup semi-finals – was a further impressive feature.

Another league title followed in 1965/66, along with 12 more goals for St John.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – given his technical attributes and tactical nous – the Scot dropped into a deeper role in his latter years at Anfield as Liverpool entered a transitional phase in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

His impact continued to be significant, nonetheless, and there were 31 more goals in all competitions across his final five seasons on Merseyside.

He featured for South African side Hellenic in 1971 prior to his release by Liverpool and he then had stints at Coventry City and Tranmere Rovers before he hung up his boots in 1973.

Managerial spells at hometown club Motherwell and then Portsmouth followed, but St John would soon find another forte.

Between October 1985 and June 1992, Saint and Greavsie on ITV – which was generally broadcast on Saturday lunchtimes – became a much-loved part of the sporting weekend and is now widely seen as a significant part of TV football culture.

It featured St John alongside former England striker Jimmy Greaves. The show included features on clubs in both England and Scotland, while there was also discussion about the weekend’s games and current issues.

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The lighthearted yet authoritative tone that St John and Greaves were able to strike – both in their chats and pieces to camera – often felt seamless but was reflective of their natural gifts as broadcasters and as people.

It was a partnership that had originally come to prominence within the On the Ball section of World of Sport. Their popularity is evident when considering that Saint and Greavsie was commissioned so swiftly after World of Sport came to an end in September 1985.

When St John sadly passed away on March 1, 2021, aged 82, the outpouring of affection towards him – both for his contributions on the pitch and in the studio – spoke volumes.

Ian St John was a man who was able to bring so much joy to so many through his footballing ability and actions, and his words.

Each of those traits were evident in a superb video released by the club in May 2019, which saw St John return to Melwood where he met the likes of James Milner, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk and Jürgen Klopp.

His is a legacy that can be seen both at Anfield and in elements of modern-day football broadcasting – which feels quite an achievement.


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