THE most important lesson in life is to always travel in hope rather than expectation. That way the almost inevitable disappointment that follows isn’t quite as crushing. A cheery thought for these troubled times.

It is a motto that applies to all walks of life but perhaps works best for fans of smaller football clubs (or, as it’s known in Scotland, everyone but Celtic).

It is a peculiar phenomenon to willingly spend thousands of pounds on a pursuit knowing there is a decent chance it will only bring you misery and pain on a Saturday evening. A form of self-masochism really. And yet that doesn’t stop people doing it season after season. Perhaps they’re just into that kind of thing.

Years of exposure to mediocrity leads to the development of a worse-case-scenario mindset. So when, for example, Rangers had two men sent off in the 2010 League Cup Final with the game still scoreless, the immediate thought of almost every single St Mirren fan at Hampden was not that this would surely now virtually guarantee their team a first major trophy in 23 years. Oh no.

Instead it was, “how do we f**k this up from here?” And they were right to be fatalistic as Kenny Miller headed in the only goal of the final with just six minutes remaining. It was one of many moments in decades of watching football when there was zero satisfaction to be derived from being proved correct.

In the taxi back to Paisley that day, the driver, rather foolishly, tried to add some levity to the proceedings. “Was that your equivalent of 9-11, lads?” he offered, thinking this was a good time to be trying out new material. It took all the energies of the other four of us to stop my mate’s dad from climbing into the front seat to deliver his answer directly to the driver’s face. Too soon, mate, too soon.

But it isn’t always all doom and gloom. For there is a positive flipside to being internally wired to expect your football team to disappoint you at every turn. And it is the element of surprise.

On the precious few occasions when it somehow goes wonderfully right rather than horribly wrong then it creates among a stunned fanbase a wonderful concoction of shock and delirium. Three years on from that Hampden horror show, St Mirren found a way to beat Celtic in the semi-final and then Hearts in the final to lift the trophy that had previously eluded their grasp.

In an instant, all those other heartaches and disappointments were forgotten about. And that is the real reason supporters of the so-called diddy clubs continue to trudge loyally to games year after year for ever-diminishing returns.

They do so in the hope that one day the stars will align and it will eventually turn out okay. And that is usually enough to cling on to season after season.  

Trophy-winning heroes emerge so rarely at these clubs that they are cherished forever. That St Mirren League Cup-winning team of 2013 will never be forgotten in the town, just like their predecessors who lifted the Scottish Cup in 1926, 1959 and 1987. No matter what else they did in their careers, or who else they played for, delivering success against the odds guarantees them immortality.

It was not difficult, then, to detect a whiff of wistfulness as St Johnstone announced yesterday morning that manager Tommy Wright was to leave the club.

The SPFL’s third-longest serving boss is moving on after seven mostly successful seasons in Perth that delivered regular European football and top-six finishes often against the odds.

The sense of mourning among Saints fans, however, as they bade farewell to “the best manager in our history” centred on one achievement in particular.

Chances are that few of them headed to Celtic Park for the 2014 Scottish Cup Final against Dundee United feeling hugely confident. It was St Johnstone’s first ever final in that competition and only their third overall. And they had lost the previous two in the League Cup.

On that day, though, it would prove to be the Wright man at the right time as the Northern Irishman delivered the club’s first major trophy in its 130-year history.

And while their will be debates on the merits of Wright’s tenure and who might succeed him, it is that success six years ago that most Saints fans will remember whenever they look back on their former manager’s legacy.

To them, Wright will always be the man who finally ended more than a century of disappointment and under-achievement and vindicated their decision to keep trotting out to McDiarmid Park every second weekend, for better but often for worse.

Winning the cup not only lifted the spirits of the long-suffering St Johnstone fans but gave hope to football supporters all around the country. For if they could do it, then why not us?

And so a year later it was Inverness Caley Thistle’s turn. And then Hibernian finally ended their cup hoodoo, in the same year that Ross County also won their first ever trophy in the League Cup. All days that fans of these clubs will never forget.

Supporting a struggling team is always easier if you do so with limited expectations. But it’s usually okay to dream a little bit, too.