FOR over a decade now, regulars at Firhill have been intimately familiar with a strange shrieking sound. For nine months a year, every Saturday afternoon between 3 and 4:45, it begins. It starts with a desperate cry. An anguished howl arrives shortly afterwards. Then another. Then another.

This season, as the Jags have played games in eerily quiet stadia, the phenomenon has been even more pronounced. Barely a minute elapses where the silence isn’t punctuated with a frantic voice demanding the ball, or condoning or condemning the recent action of a team-mate.

That voice belongs to Stuart Bannigan, the Jags midfielder who was voted by fans as the club's McCrea Mortgages Player of the Year award winner. There has always been something slightly unique about the way he chases after the ball and demands it; an air of desperation that his very existence rests on retrieving it. The way the 28-year-old sees it, though, that’s just the way it should be.

“I’ve had a few people say that to me! You’d rather that than someone hiding from the ball and not wanting it,” Bannigan reasoned. “You probably just notice it more with no crowds being in.

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“I’m just shouting for the ball and trying to encourage my team-mates – although I’m usually having a go at them! I try to get on the ball and help them out as much as I can. I can even hear it as well – I’ll be watching back the highlights and hear my voice. People are always slagging me for it but it’s part and parcel of my game.”

It has certainly become a regular fixture of games this season. After spending the best part of two years out of the game as he recovered from a potentially career-ending injury, Bannigan started all 18 pre-split fixtures before a knock meant he missed three of Thistle’s final four matches.

This summer should have been marked with a testimonial for the long-serving midfielder but those plans have been pushed back by a year due to the current restrictions on supporters in stadia. That gives Bannigan something to look forward to but while he will be the centre of attention that day, he reckons there is another player who will benefit from one last game at Firhill and a chance to finally have a proper send-off in front of the Firhill faithful: Chris Erskine, the playmaker who arrived on loan in March for a fourth stint at the club before suffering a serious injury minutes into his second appearance that ruled him out of the remainder of the campaign.

“It would have been around this time but it’s been kicked back given everything that’s happened,” Bannigan explained. “It wouldn’t really have been worth it to do it just now so it’s been pushed back to the last year of my contract. It’s something to look forward to and I’ll enjoy it when the time comes but I’m firmly focused on the season ahead and we’ll worry about that bridge when we need to cross it.

“I felt really sorry for Chris because he was so buzzing to come back and be involved. He was looking brilliant in training and things like that. It was just a freak accident – these things can happen. He did his hamstring and he was out for the season.

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“He was gutted to end on that note because he wanted to come back and leave on his terms. With us winning the league, it would have been amazing for him to be a part of it but it wasn’t to be.

“I’m sure if it does happen that way [that he comes back for the testimonial], he’ll come back and get a proper send-off from the fans because he 100 per cent deserves it.”

One man whose future remains up in the air is 18-year-old midfielder James Lyon, who made his senior debut for the Jags last season and signed his first professional contract with the club last month.

Ian McCall has been effusive in his praise for the precocious youngster and has recently admitted that he is considering shipping the teenager out on loan to gain more first-team football. However, the Thistle boss thinks that Lyon could be ready for his side's crack at the Championship, should he maintain his current rate of development.

Bannigan agrees with his manager’s assessment that Lyon has a big future in the game – adding that while he found his own loan spell at a similar age highly beneficial, his young team-mate could force himself into the first-team picture at Firhill.

He said: “James played with the first team last season and didn’t look out of place at all, he really didn’t. He’s a cracking talent and he just needs to be managed right and we’ll see what the next move is.

“I wouldn’t count him out of being involved next season. If he wants to get the amount of games that he wants then a loan would be great for him. It was perfect for me – I wasn’t going to play at Thistle and I had the chance to go to Ayr United.

“They were challenging for the league at the time and I ended up playing 25 games from Ayr between November and the end of the season. That was amazing for me; playing in a team that got promoted. So I think it would be good for him but it needs to be the right club for him. But if he comes back and has a good pre-season – you never know, he could be playing in the first team. He’s some talent but he just has to keep working away and keep his feet on the ground.”

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Bannigan continued: “He’s a different sort of player to me and Doc. James can dribble with the ball really well and get out of tricky situations.

“He just has a nice look about him when he plays. It’s hard to describe – he’s just one of those players that looks great when he’s playing, very comfortable. Me and Doc will talk him through games.

“I played with him when he came on for his debut last season – he played the last 15 minutes – and it was effortless for him. He takes the ball really well and he was excellent that day. I think he’ll be looking to come in for pre-season and try to put and a marker down and you never know, but a loan move certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing for him.”

One man who may prove to be a significant stumbling block in Lyon’s path to the first team, going by Bannigan’s assessment of his playing style, is new addition Kyle Turner. The playmaker signed a two-year contract at Thistle after leaving Dunfermline and having crossed swords with his new team-mate a few times over the years, Bannigan has experienced first-hand what Turner will bring to Thistle.

With Scott Tiffoney and Kevin Holt also recruited over the last week or so and with a host of key players signing extensions, McCall has been working hard to get his business finalised as early as possible this summer – something Bannigan believes can only be a good thing.

“I played against Kyle when he was at Dunfermline a few times and he’s a good player,” Bannigan said. “He can dribble forward pretty well and he was one of Airdrie’s main men towards the end of last season [when he was brought in on loan]. For him to come in and provide competition in the middle of the park – I’m sure he’ll drive the other boys on to do well.

“You don’t want to be going into the first game of the season needing to sign four or five boys because they’ll take time to get into it, so the manager has done well to get his business done early and get boys tied up for a wee bit longer.

“Bringing in Holt, Turner and getting Tiff done early is good business for us but I think he’s still looking to bring in three or four more. The earlier the better of course but it’s sometimes not as easy as that. I’m sure he’ll be looking for other people but we’re happy with the business we’ve done so far.”

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As for Bannigan, the man himself has no designs on leaving Firhill anytime soon. Barring a loan spell at Ayr United at the very start of his career, the midfielder has only ever adorned the red-and-yellow of the Maryhill Jags. The 28-year-old, who recently signed a two-year contract extension, certainly hopes it stays that way.

“As long as the club wants me and the manager is happy with the way I’m playing, I’ll be at Thistle for the foreseeable,” he said. “But that’s all down to my performances – I’m not stupid enough to think I’m invincible or that I’m going to be playing all the time.

“I need to come in next season and do the business and perform well or I’ll be out the door. As long as the club want me and I feel I’m doing well and performing, Thistle are my club and I’ll be here.”

McCrea Mortgages Player of the Year winner Stuart Bannigan was wearing the new Partick Thistle away strip, available at Greaves Sports from 10am Friday.