In club statement released earlier this week, St Mirren chairman Gordon Scott stated that Saints had ‘reluctantly’ given Sunderland permission to speak with Jack Ross, which mirrors the mood of St Mirren fans alike - and with good reason.
In the 2016/17 season, St Mirren opened their Scottish Championship campaign languishing at the foot of the table following a dismal opening run of six games without a victory under the leadership former-Sunderland player Alex Rae.
A real fear grew amongst the club that Saints were going to be suffering relegation to the third tier of Scottish football for the first time in their history. There had to be radical change of hands if the club were to pull itself from the brink.
Jack Ross was a former full-back at the club, and had already won adoration from the fans during his playing time. When he was given the go-ahead towards the end of 2016 he quickly put his stamp on the side, replacing ten players with ten new faces in a massive overhaul in his first January transfer window. Some players signed in that period were 2017/18 Scottish Championship POTY nominee Cammy Smith, and current captain Stephen McGinn, who played a key role in turning their fortunes around.
After triumphantly pulling Saints away from the brink of relegation that season, he then led the them to a previously unimaginable glory in 2017/18, where the club can now look forward to playing top flight football following a three year absence.
A fresh attacking brand of football has become synonymous with the recent successes, with Saints ending the season as the highest scorers in the league.
His ability to get the best out of attacking players has been crucial in that - none more so than St Mirren youth academy graduate and Scottish Championship POTY Lewis Morgan, who has earned a move to Scottish Premiership Champions Celtic, while earning his first ever call up to the Scotland national team for their upcoming friendlies against Peru and Mexico - an somewhat unexpected call up for a 21-year-old winger playing in the second tier in Scotland.
His work has not gone unnoticed by PFA Scotland, who awarded Jack Ross with the Manager of the Year award, beating Brendan Rodgers who completed a historic domestic ‘double treble’ with Celtic.
His ability to greatly strengthen the bond between the club and the fans has been just as remarkable. When Saints were relegated to the Scottish Championship three years ago, they had recorded their lowest average home attendance since moving to their new stadium in 2009 - a dismal 3,549 in the 2015/16 season.
In an interview for Nutmeg Magazine, Ross said:
I think there was a real disconnect between the supporters and the team, so we had to rebuild that.
When you have got a positive environment within the stadium, and you have the real backing of the supporters in it, it galvanises your players more. Football is all about atmosphere and that feeling you get.
When I was a kid watching games, that feeling when you walk up the steps for the first time was brilliant. Kids and fans should still experience that.
Since Ross moved to the club, attendances have been on the rise where the Saints recorded an average home attendance of 4,448; their fourth highest in the nine years since the opening of the Paisley 2021 Stadium. Jack Ross and his staff had personally donated towards one of St Mirren’s fan groups, the North Bank, to purchase new materials to produce new banners on display before games.
On giving the donation he said:
We have done that as staff and recently gave them a cash donation. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was simply to pay for materials because they produce banners and so on.
It was an opportunity for me to hand over the donation personally and thank them because they have made such a huge difference to the atmosphere of the stadium.
The disconnect between the team and the fans has parallels to Sunderland following their back to back relegations from the Premier League and the Championship respectively. Fan protests have been well documented, and attendances have been falling sharply over the past few seasons.
I can say safely that Ross will provide the club with entertaining football, and is almost certain to be given full backing from new owner Stewart Donald, where it is expected that the club will eclipse the budgets of rival League One sides.
His appointment is a risk, given his age, tied in with just a few experiences in management. But his emphasis in rallying the supporters to get behind the side and become united is something that Sunderland will most certainly welcome at this difficult period in their history.
Much like the Saints chairman yesterday, this has been written as a reluctant handover from a distraught St Mirren fan.