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Played for both: Sunderland & St Johnstone - Ally McCoist; why did he never hit it off at Roker?

Sunderland travel to St Johnstone today for the third and final game in this summer’s pre-season mini tour - a certain Ally McCoist is today’s player who turned out for both clubs.


More like who else! Alistair Murdoch McCoist - one of the most prolific centre forwards of 80’s and 90’s British football.

Born in North Lanarkshire, McCoist joined the Lads from St. Johnstone after a couple of impressive seasons north of the border for a then-record transfer fee of £400,000.

In a career which spanned nearly 600 senior appearances and almost 300 career goals, the striker returned to Scotland with Rangers after two years at Sunderland before ending his career at Kilmarnock.

R Fleck and A Mccoist celebrate with the Skol Cup after the finals
McCoist would go on to become a legend at Rangers, scoring 251 goals.

McCoist was a force at Ibrox but he was somewhat underwhelming during his couple of seasons at Roker Park. He also played for Scotland 61 times, scoring 19 goals.

McCoist Factfile from 1982

At St. Johnstone...

Raised in East Kilbride, the winner of nine SPL titles began his professional career at today’s opponents St. Johnstone.

McCoist moved to Perthshire from Fir Park Boys club in 1978 and was famously rejected by Sir Alex Ferguson at St. Mirren due to concerns about his physical stature.

Ally McCoist as a teenager at St Johnstone

With the league dominated by Rangers and Celtic north of the border, St. Johnstone’s constant battle to compete meant McCoist didn’t get a great deal of time on the pitch in his early days, the Saints opting for experience over youth in their line-ups.

This would change however come the 1980-81 season. McCoist’s impressive outings for the Scottish national team’s under-19 squad provided food for thought for the St. Johnstone management and the teenage forward repaid that faith at McDiarmid Park with some clinical finishing going on to smash home an average of 1.77 goals per game.

McCoist’s form on Perthside would quickly attract interest from south of the border, as Middlesbrough, Wolves and ourselves chased his signature.

At Sunderland...

Billed as one of the hottest prospects in British football, the Bellshill-born striker was watched by a host of clubs following his goal scoring exploits at McDiarmid Park. Keenest interest came from Sunderland and Scottish giants Rangers.

Although he would later come to be a hero at the latter, it was actually Alan Durban’s Sunderland who snared McCoist; paying a club record fee of £400,000.

‘Coisty’ would become the poster boy for the Durban-revolution at the new look Rokerites of the early 1980’s in a squad undergoing a major revamp.

Footy sticker featuring a young McCoist in a Sunderland shirt

McCoist scored his first Sunderland goal in a 3-2 defeat at Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, but sadly his first season was a huge disappointment for both the club and player.

Despite the large outlay, like many youngsters, McCoist struggled to deal with the massive price tag and only managed to score one more goal in his debut season albeit a fantastic strike against Southampton, as Sunderland struggled to retain top flight status in 1981/82.

The Sunderland squad of 1981-82, how many can you name? And what a strip!

Ally flitted in and out of the first team and the Lads were unable to push themselves out of an ever intensifying relegation battle. In the end, Durban and Sunderland’s skin was saved with a final day win over Manchester City at Roker Park. With McCoist on the bench, a first half Mick Buckley goal meant we beat the drop, finishing two points and one place ahead of Leeds United.

Something of a classic photo of McCoist firing on goal at Roker Park

As the following season approached, the young Scot appeared to signal his intent by hitting three goals in as many matches during a pre-season tour of his native Scotland. McCoist’s league form would also took a turn for the better, as he reached his previous season’s goal tally within months of the start of the 1982/83 season.

However the striker - now aged 20 - would see his form take a nosedive following a wretched 8-0 loss to Watford. The defeat became the catalyst for a plummet down the league as we once again failed to stave off the threat of relegation, languishing between 18th place and 20th right up until early April.

Thankfully for Sunderland, another end of season upturn in fortunes would mean we’d escape the relegation trap door once more, McCoist ending the season on six goals, as he formed a decent partnership up front alongside Colin West for the remaining three games.

The Sunderland squad of 1982-83 - McCoist middle-row right

Ultimately though, the move south had been a disappointing one. McCoist had been bought to fire Sunderland into the higher echelons of the top tier and had failed to reach double figures in either of his first two seasons at Roker Park.

His reputation was still intact north of the border however, and it became increasingly likely McCoist would move back to Scotland to breath life into his flagging career as the Alan Durban era continued to limp along.

At the end of the 82-83 season a £185,000 move to Rangers was rubber stamped and the man who had brought him to Sunderland, manager Durban would comment that the signing of the teenager had simply been a case of “right player, wrong time”.

After Sunderland...

The rest, as they say, is history. McCoist went on to score 251 goals during a fifteen year career at Ibrox. During his time at the Glasgow club, he won nine league titles, nine league cups and one Scottish cup; not to forget a European Golden Boot, the Scottish Footballer of the Year award and a nomination for the Ballon d’Or. A bargain for £185,000 on a player Sunderland lost a couple of hundred grand on.

R Fleck and A Mccoist celebrate with the Skol Cup after the finals
Celebrating Skol Cup success at Rangers

McCoist did keep an affinity with the club though, meeting first wife Allison - a former Miss Sunderland - whilst also remaining a season ticket holder at the club up until 2014.

Ally has made as big an impression in his post-playing career as he did on the pitch. A media personality during the late nineties and the Noughties, McCoist spent more than a decade as a captain on Question of Sport along with stints as a pundit at World Cups and European Championships.

McCoist with fellow QoS captain John Parrot and host David Coleman

A high-profile affair with Patsy Kensit in 2004 had little impact on his public cheeky-scamp image and McCoist benefited from his jovial, impudent persona.

It was however his management spells at Ibrox which ultimately caught up with him and tarnished his reputation. A three-year spell as boss of Rangers was overshadowed by a side stumbling from one shambles to another amid a backdrop of unprecedented off-field turmoil.

He was recently linked with the managerial vacancy at Sunderland in what would have seen his career come full-circle but Ally McCoist has certainly packed more in than most since his days as a teenager at Roker Park.

Also played for both

James McFadden, Euan McClean and John Colquhoun.

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