How Portsmouth never told Liverpool legend Ian St John of removal as Blues boss - instead finding out from local press

Pompey never told Ian St John of his removal as manager.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 5:00 pm
Liverpool great Ian St John spent two-and-a-half years as Pompey boss before his extraordinary exit. Picture: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Instead the Liverpool legend was informed by the local press of John Deacon’s shock decision to axe him in May 1977.

And, according to Pat Symes, the highly-respected former M&Y News Agency reporter, a stunned St John broke down in tears upon learning of his Blues fate.

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As a manager, he arrived at Fratton Park from Motherwell in September 1974, representing something of a coup by owner Deacon.

However, following two-and-a-half years at the helm, he was suspended two days after a 2-0 defeat at Mansfield, before replaced by Jimmy Dickinson.

And Symes, who still lives in Southsea, relays the story behind St John’s extraordinary exit.

He told The News: ‘All the local media had been sent a notification that Ian St John had been suspended by Pompey

Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves formed a popular television double act on Saint & Greavsie. Picture: Setanta/PA Wire

‘There was no press conference organised, we just drifted down to Fratton Park to get some reaction. It was mob handed, The News’ Mike Neasom, cameras from Southern Television, Radio Victory, they were all there.

‘There was a passageway at Fratton Park and St John appeared at the top of these wooden stairs leading to his office and, looking down at us, asked “What are you lot doing here?”.

‘Bob Widdows, who was the Radio Victory’s news editor and knew nothing about football, replied “What does suspended mean, Ian?”.

‘When St John asked what we were talking about, we said “We’ve been told you’ve been suspended”.

Former Pompey manager Ian St John, right, speaks to the team before they start extra time in their League Cup match against Leicester City in 1976.

‘At that point, he said “Well, that’s news to me”. He didn’t know he was going to be removed, nobody had told him – and then he started to cry.

‘It was this farcical situation where there were at least six men, vying for position, and above us was St John saying “What are you talking about?”.

‘Instead of firing him, Deacon had suspended him. It was strange seeing this Glaswegian hard man reduced to tears.

‘You had to feel sorry for St John, he had no idea what he was letting himself in for when he arrived at Fratton Park.

‘Deacon conned him. St John was managing Motherwell and Deacon sent his Rolls-Royce to collect him.

‘He became manager and was promised a lot of money – but it never materialised and he had to rely on improving the youth system.’

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During his 136 matches in charge, St John oversaw relegation to Division Three.

He also represented the first Pompey manager that Symes encountered during more than four decades on the local sports beat.

The 70-year-old added: ‘As a young freelancer, St John took pity on me, although often used to take the mickey!

‘Once I said “I’m desperate for a story”. So he replied: “I’ll give you one. I’m thinking of playing our reserve goalkeeper, Phil Figgins, as a centre-forward because we have so many injuries”.

‘I think that was partly a riposte to Deacon, because he wouldn’t let him have any money to buy players.

‘In those days, the Daily Mirror had a slip edition, whereby lots of fairly ordinary stories got in just to fill up a page – and I had a page lead out of this story.

‘St John knew what he was doing. It was full of quotes, so no-one could dispute it, apart from poor old Mike Neasom.

‘Mike rang me up the next morning, apoplectic, you could virtually smell the cigar smoke coming up the phone,

‘He said: “It’s not true, though, it’s not true”. I think we all knew it wasn’t true, but St John had obviously considered it and liked to be in the national papers.

‘St John was a very sociable, pleasant, smart guy. Not your average football manager, and he proved that when he went into television and he had to think on his feet.

‘But Pompey ruined his managerial prospects. Deacon had conned him.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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