To leave one legacy represents a life well-lived. To have impacted two different institutions as Ian St John did is testimony to the great man’s talent and warmth.
In his first career incarnation, St John, who died on Tuesday aged 82, will always be synonymous with helping to establish Liverpool as one of the great clubs in world football.
He signed for Bill Shankly in 1961 with Anfield hosting Second Division football. St John helped them win promotion immediately and become league champions at the height of Beatlemania in 1964. The following year, his flying header against Leeds at Wembley saw Liverpool claim the FA Cup for the first time in their history.
Ian St John, the former Liverpool and Scotland striker, has passed away at the age of 82
Little did anyone guess an equally successful second half would follow retirement in 1973. Most footballers in that era bought a sports shop or ran a pub but St John turned to television with unprecedented success.
Saturday morning show Saint and Greavesie ran from 1985 and 1992 and opened the door for generations of players to build new careers in broadcasting.
While Greavesie (Jimmy Greaves) produced laughter with his dry and irreverent humour, St John was the glue that made the show work.
He was not only an excellent straight man for Greaves but a highly polished and skilled presenter, a safe pair of hands who could giggle at his sidekick one moment and transfer to the next item as a consummate professional the next.
St John (far left) celebrates with team-mates after 2-1 win in the 1965 FA Cup final at Wembley
The Scotsman grabbed the winning goal during the contest with a header in extra time
St John received the ultimate compliment by receiving his own Spitting Image catchphrase – ‘You’re killing me Greavesie’ – and helped launched a thousand TV careers like Gary Lineker.
He began in Scotland where he supported hometown club Motherwell from the terraces and ended up playing for them alongside working the steelworks.
The quick wit was evident early on. Asked about completing his hat-trick in less than three minutes against Hibs, he quipped: ‘I was shattered running back to the halfway line to kick off again.’
Motherwell built a new stand when he was sold to Liverpool in 1961 for the princely sum at the time of £37,500. It was a gamble for Liverpool as well to pay a club record fee for a relatively little-known forward. They needn’t have worried as St John scored 118 goals and created many more over the next 10 years as Bill Shankly built what would become a dynasty.
St John’s style on the pitch mirrored his personality; energetic, competitive, fun.
St John and ‘Greavesie’ pose with their Spitting Images – St John even had a catchphrase
St John was a club record transfer for Liverpool when he joined from Motherwell back in 1961
Shankly’s first great team included Ron Yeats and England internationals Roger Hunt and Ian Callaghan. St John’s character lifted the dressing-room and Shankly provided plenty of material for his story telling.
One of his favourites was how Shankly built up a youngster’s physique by plying him with fillet steaks. When the player knocked on the manager’s door six months later to explain he had to get married because his girlfriend was pregnant, Shankly gathered everyone together and announced in front of the player: ‘We’ve created a monster.’
St John would always follow his punchlines with a warm chuckle that endeared him to the listener. It was later mimicked by millions as he and Greavesie became national treasures.
He won everything at Liverpool barring a European trophy with the club beaten in the 1966 Cup winners’ Cup Final. His fellow Scot Yeats called him an ‘inspirational centre-forward’ and his legacy was assured by the time he left the club in 1971 with Shankly building a new team.
It eventually turned out the small screen rather than the manager’s desk would provide the soundtrack to retirement but he did first have a dabble in the hot seat with Motherwell and Portsmouth, whose players included a young Chris Kamara.
St John was a member of the first great Liverpool side built by the legendary Bill Shankly (left)
On the small screen, St John (right) and Jimmy Greaves opened doors for former professionals
He stopped managing in 1977 but media executives were beginning to take note of the personable and conversational way he spoke about the game whilst always staying composed and polished.
It was a gamble for ITV to replace their long-running World of Sport show with two figures still better known to the wider public for kicking a football than talking about it. But Saint and Greavesie proved a smash hit.
The two protagonists shared great chemistry and became one of television’s great double acts. St John, dressed in smart suits or sweaters, kept an watchful eye on the autocue while Greaves ran verbal riot. The pair clearly enjoyed each other’s company and that rubbed off on the viewer.
They traded opinions and jokes about the most famous figures in the game and St John hosted and was a pundit on FA Cup Final and World Cup shows with audiences of millions.
St John poses for a photo with Kevin Keegan (left) and Bobby Charlton (centre) back in 2009
When his partner missed a show through illness, St John found himself talking to a Greavesie puppet in the next seat instead, with impressionist Peter Brackley doing the voice. It became one of their most iconic shows. More surreally, they once got New York properly developer Donald Trump to conduct the Rumbelows Cup draw.
St John continued to be a regular voice on the Merseyside radio scene after leaving national television. Though he was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, such was his effervescence was still a shock to hear he’d passed away.
His partner Greaves, whose own health had been of great concern in the past year, said: ‘He was a lot of fun to be with and a great footballer. I will never forget his laughter for all the years we worked together.’
From Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson lifting trophies for Liverpool to Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer exchanging banter on Match of the Day, the impact of Ian St John has been monumental and long-lasting.
St John spent ten years at Liverpool between 1961 and 1971, scoring 118 goals for the Reds