Paul Sturrock was part of what was without doubt the best side in the best period of United history so far. He was signed by then manager Jim McLean from Bankfoot Juniors as a seventeen-year-old in 1973. He made his first team debut against Juil Petrosani in the Cup Winners Cup on 18th September 1974 and went on to spend the next fifteen years at Tannadice as a player, before taking up a coaching post in June 1989. He then moved to Perth in August 1993 to become the boss of St Johnstone, but five years later he could not resist the lure of his beloved United and returned to Tannadice as Manager. Two traumatic years later he left football altogether but again he was tempted back to take charge at Plymouth in October 2000.
Luggy, as he is affectionately known, began his United career just as Jim McLean was beginning to put together his new team. Having inherited most of his players when he took over from Jerry Kerr, Jim McLean was determined to build a side that he felt would be capable of doing more than just surviving mid-table in the First Division each year. He wanted silverware as evidence of success and he set about creating a side capable of taking on the best. He already had several good senior professionals and to augment this he would add a group of talented youngsters, the first of whom he had already brought through the youth development programme he had put in place. In that first batch along with Paul Sturrock came John Holt, David Narey, Andy Gray and Graeme Payne. The last two of this group had already tasted a Cup final when they played against Celtic in 1974.
The first season in senior football for Paul Sturrock saw his manager stick largely with experienced players to successfully gain a coveted Premier League spot in the new set-up planned for the following season. Apart from his debut in the European tie against Juil Petrosani Paul made nine League appearances and came on from the substitutes’ bench for three more and in the process he scored six goals. His first United goal was one of two he scored in a 2-2 draw with Rangers at Tannadice on 5th April 1975. United finished fourth in the League that year, eleven points behind champions Rangers but the groundwork for future success had been laid. Seven of the 1974-75 squad would be part of the side to the gain the first Cup success for United four seasons later.
The following season, 1975-76 was the first year of the newly formed Premier League with the top ten sides meeting each other home and away twice. United managed to survive but only on goal difference. During such a hard season, the Manager again relied heavily on his seasoned campaigners but Luggy began to find himself more and more as part of the first team set-up. He made 18 League appearances, eight as sub, and scored three times. He was also played as a substitute in two of the three Scottish Cup ties and was on from the start in five out of six League Cup games and scored once. He also started in three of the four UEFA Cup games netting one in that competition, too.
1976-77 not only saw United consolidate their Premier League position but throughout the campaign Paul Sturrock was an ever-present, playing in all 36 League games and incredibly, scoring 15 times. Adding that total to one each in the Scottish Cup and League Cup he was top scorer at the Club that year. He played in United’s only Scottish Cup tie, a 4-1 defeat at Paisley. He also appeared four times plus once as sub out of the six League Cup ties. In a short-lived Anglo Scottish Cup campaign he was brought on as sub in one leg of the tie against Aberdeen. This season was also significant in international terms for Paul as he made his Under-21 debut against Czechoslovakia in a 0-0 draw on 12th October 1976 in the first ever Scotland Under-21 side. Four months later on 9th February 1977 he netted his first international goal in an Under-21 game in which Scotland beat Wales 3-2.
Paul’s status was by then assured and he was by now an automatic first team choice for Jim McLean. In 1977-78 Paul continued his good form making 32 League starts, one as a substitute, but he netted only three in the campaign. In the Scottish Cup he scored one and played in all four games including the 2-0 semi-final defeat by Rangers. He also played in seven out of the eight League Cup games doubling his domestic goal tally with another three goals. His only other goal that season was scored in the UEFA Cup but United went out in the first round and he played only once in the competition.
As 1978-79 began, the Manager was ready to make a concerted bid for silverware. A strong challenge in the League only faltered in the last four games when defeats at the hands of Rangers and Celtic put paid to lingering thoughts of championship glory. Even then it was not far off and many of the 1983 League winning squad were already at United. Paul again played consistently well with 31 League appearances and two more from the bench, and he scored six times. He played in the only Scottish Cup game in which St Mirren again put paid to United’s hopes. Whilst in the League Cup, Paul netted once in his two showings but it was an early exit in the competition to Celtic over two legs. In Europe United faired no better. Paul played in both matches against Standard Leige but the first round was as far as the Tannadice side were to progress.
At the beginning of the following season there was little to indicate
the historic event that would take place half way through. By now Jim
McLean had added the striking ability of Willie Pettigrew to his already
talented side and would shortly acquire the midfield talents of Eamonn
Bannon. United’s League challenge of the previous year was not
to be repeated but Paul kept up his appearance record with another 31
starts and two from the bench. He added two more in an all too short
Scottish Cup campaign albeit the second round 5-1 victory over Dundee
was memorable. European glory was short-lived too with a second round
exit and Paul played in two of the four games, scoring once. But of
real significance was Paul’s contribution of playing in all nine
League Cup ties including once as a sub. His six goals including the
third in the final replay against Aberdeen went a long way to securing
the trophy, United’s first piece of national silverware.
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