Meet Neil Hayton – St Mirren Fan and North Section Contributor

Neil Hayton
Neil Hayton

I met Neil at the University of the West of Scotland while we studied on the same Digital Marketing course and I am happy to welcome him as a contributor to The North Section. Neil has previous experience writing for the Scotsman so look out for his column! 

Neil Hayton
Neil Hayton

I met Neil at the University of the West of Scotland while we studied on the same Digital Marketing course and I am happy to welcome him as a contributor to The North Section. Neil has previous experience writing for the Scotsman so look out for his column! 

Hi Neil. First of all, thank you for your time. Give yourself an introduction and tell us some of your earliest football memories.

Thanks for having me. I’ve supported St. Mirren since the age of 4, which happened to be the 1999/2000 season when we won the Scottish First Division under manager Tom Hendrie. Not remembering much about that season, the memory which sticks out the most would be a game in which we won 8-0 against Clydebank at Love Street.
I still occasionally watch an online rip of the VHS made of that season, and what a game it was. St. Mirren legend Barry Lavety scored a hat trick, whilst our record appearance holder Hugh Murray (my favourite ever Saint, who I watched till his 2012 retirement) scored an absolute worldie when doing 3 keepy-ups on a run into the box before slotting home. I suppose this game sticks out as I haven’t seen us score 8 goals since then, albeit we did come close this season in the Scottish Cup, with a 7-1 win over junior side Lothian Thistle Hutcheson Vale.

What is your best moment as a football fan?

There’s a few that stick out for me! At international level, I was in Hampden when Gary Caldwell scored the winner against France, who were the best team in the world at the time. At club level for St. Mirren, a game in 2007 in which we were 2-0 down at half time to Motherwell at Fir Park on the second last day of the season is a prominent memory. Our relegation rivals Dunfermline were winning 1-0 at Inverness at the break, until a complete turn of form in the second half saw us scoring 3 goals, Inverness scoring two, and the Saints somehow managing to stay up. Although another game at Falkirk, winning 2-0 in the same ‘do-or-die’ relegation situation is also a fond memory, I’d need to say my happiest moment would be our 2013 League Cup win.

St Mirren lift the 2013 League Cup

Everything about that cup run was special, in the quarter finals a penalty shoot-out victory against Aberdeen at Pittodrie led to us getting Celtic at Hampden; 6 minutes into that game, the debutante Isma Goncalves scored 6 minutes into his St. Mirren career, and being well on his way to becoming a legend, a status which he cemented by scoring in the final as well. Winning 3-2 both in the semi against Celtic, and the final against Hearts, we were inspired by local hero Steven Thompson who – like Goncalves – netted in both games. The final, held on St. Patrick’s day is justifiably the most obvious choice for my best moment as a St. Mirren fan, and the only time I – and anyone else under the age of 31 – have ever seen the club win major silverware. One of only two times I’ve cried at a football game, and with a look at the below question I suppose I’m about to talk about the other one.

… and biggest disappointment?

Ah… so with the 2013 League Cup final being my happiest moment as a ‘Buddie’, I only need to look to the final of the same tournament in 2010 for what was absolutely most devastating game I’ve ever attended. Similar to Danny Lennon’s 2013 side, Gus MacPherson’s St. Mirren had qualified for the League Cup final after a great run of form. Billy Mehmet scored the goal in the semi-final against Hearts, and we were set to play Rangers in the final at Hampden.

0-0 at half time, both teams had some great chances. Following this, some hard tackles from Rangers players Kevin Thomson and a Liverpool-bound Danny Wilson led to two red cards. Its the hope that kills you; even with the two man advantage St. Mirren didn’t score any, and although I’ve never brought myself to watch back that game, from memory we gave the ball away in the Rangers half, Steven Naismith bombed down the wing and crossed it in for Kenny Miller to head the ball in with around 5 minutes to go. 1-0 Rangers full time, a famous victory for them under Walter Smith. I personally can’t think of any match in recent times in Scottish football when such a sickening blow has been dealt to a team. I’d rather have lost 3-0 to eleven men than 1-0 to nine, that’s for sure.

Do you have a “second team” ?

I pride myself in my ‘wee team’ being Real Madrid. Have always been a fan of Los Blancos, the catalyst for this probably watching the 2002 Champions League final and Zidane scoring that goal. The ‘wee team’ label isn’t even ironic this season… St. Mirren are top of our league whilst Real Madrid are fourth in La Liga; Champions League football and having Ronaldo doesn’t make you that great, right?

Do you watch any other leagues apart from Scottish leagues?

I actively follow English and Spanish football, having been to a few games down south (including the last ever Saturday afternoon game at Upton Park). Also a big fan of Champions League football. However, these are most definitely secondary interests. I love the Scottish game, what we lack in quality, we make up for in passion, grit and ‘Patter’ as Twitter account @OldFirmFacts1 reminds us in his weekly ‘A Week In Scottish Football Patter’ thread.

I love the Scottish game, what we lack in quality, we make up for in passion, grit and ‘Patter’

Scottish football is going through an interesting time. To give readers a small taster of what’s to come, what’s your opinion on the ongoing situation with Hampden? Should we stay, or should we start a new era at Murrayfield?

It’s an interesting one, I try to get to as many Rugby Internationals as I can at Murrayfield. It really is a stunning stadium, and in facilities and atmosphere totally leaves Hampden in the dirt. However, part of this is the ability to enjoy a few beers whilst soaking up the atmosphere, with – especially at the Six Nations – always a bit of banter with the away teams fans. Murrayfield is always seen as a day out because of this. I’m sceptical whether a Murrayfield with segregated home and away fans and no alcohol license would provide the same enjoyment for fans.

I would vote for the regeneration of Hampden. The home of Scottish Football. The below tweet shows the redevelopment of Stuttgart’s stadium, which I reckon is the model we should be copying in designing and building a ground fit for modern football.

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