Category: Blog

Discovering Keith MacRae

A hugely enjoyable element of putting this publication together has been discovering more about players that I wasn’t fortunate enough to witness at Fir Park, quite often we’d find a contact along the way that brought us closer to the player in question. However, Keith MacRae proved to be a somewhat trickier prospect.

When I first discussed Keith’s inclusion in the’ 25 Greatest Post-War Motherwell Players’ with Graham Barnstaple, he admitted he was a Motherwell legend who had gone ‘off the radar’. Indeed, it was Graham’s memories of the goalkeeper who moved from Fir Park to Manchester City for £100,000 in 1973 that assisted me massively in putting this feature together.

Graham compiled a piece on Keith for the ‘Well fanzine ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forward’ in which he described him as ‘his top goalkeeper in his time watching Motherwell’. Graham’s knowledge on all things MFC is fairly unparalleled, it would have been poor form of me to seek further confirmation of MacRae’s abilities between the sticks and let’s face it, a large number of people voted them into their top players of all time, but I did a little check anyway – just to be sure of course…

Within minutes of seeking an opinion on Facebook, John Howie was in touch to back up Graham’s viewpoint – “Keith MacRae was the best goalkeeper I have ever seen, even the great Gordon Banks said that after we played Stoke in the Texaco Cup back in the Sixties‬.”

Gordon Kelman couldn’t disagree hailing him “the best keeper we’ve ever had – he was the Cat.”

Billy Moore went one step further: “Keith is Motherwell’s greatest keeper in my 63 years of supporting the club, he was an excellent outfield player too. As a goalkeeper, his handling and agility was second to none and I expected him to be Scotland’s goalkeeper for many years.”

Any doubts I had over Keith’s abilities between the sticks firmly dispersed, it was time to consider his career and, in particular, his time with Motherwell.

Keith was a local lad hailing from Lanark who split his football duties while training as a journalist with the Scottish Daily Express. He signed for the ‘Well in the late 1960s as understudy to Peter McCloy. While he waited for his opportunity to play for the first team in goal, he took the opportunity to make his debut as an outside-left and also played right-back in a League Cup fixture. He would get on the scoresheet in a League Cup tie in 1963 against Montrose and later on in the season added a goal in league action – a 4-0 victory over Alloa as the Steelmen romped to the league title.

When McCloy moved to Rangers, Fir Park boss Bobby Howitt had no hesitation in giving the number one jersey to MacRae and it was a role he made his own. Within a short space of time he was selected for the Scotland Under-23 squad (no it’s not a typo, that’s what it was then!) and then even the full squad.

The flame-haired stopper was proving to be a firm favourite with the ‘Well supporters and their manager Ian St John, his excellent performances earning him the club Player of the Year award in 1970.

MacRae was quickly becoming one of Graham’s Motherwell idols, and he recalls travelling to Wembley for a fixture between England and Scotland and the excitement of seeing one oh his Claret and Amber heroes potentially turn out for Scotland.

“I remember going to Wembley for the Scotland vs England game in 1971, which was my first International game, and Keith was a sub,” he recalled.

“When the subs made their way round the edge of the field to the dug-out I was so thrilled to see him and was probably the only person in the crowd shouting his name. Then during the game desperately hoping that Bobby Clark of Aberdeen would get injured to let my hero on to the pitch. Unfortunately, he didn’t and sadly Keith never made it into the full team at any time in his career.”

Perhaps the most memorable games in MacRae’s time at Fir Park would be the Texaco Cup fixtures against Spurs in 1971. MacRae would play a pivotal role in ensuring the Steelmen defeated the side laden with internationalists over two-legs. In the second-leg he showed everything that he was good at, confidently clutching crosses and easily saving shots as they rained in.

Archive footage shows one save in particular from Alan Gilzean which looked as though it would loop over him and into the net, but he got up to tip the ball over and ensure that Motherwell went on to win the game 3-1.

Making a big impression in high-profile fixtures meant it was little surprise that MacRae began to attract the attention from down south -familiar territory for Motherwell supporters and Graham recalls vividly the moment he learned that his hero would be departing Fir Park.

“I became a bit panicky one Saturday when I was waiting for the bus home after playing football for the school in the morning,” he explained.

“As I waited I saw a face I recognised, it dawned on me it was Tony Book who was the manager at Maine Road at the time. Sadly the £100,000 transfer fee they offered was too good to turn down and my goalie hero moved south.”

At City, Keith was a regular until he broke his wrist one week allowing Joe Corrigan back into the City side. Corrigan never looked back, including playing for England, and MacRae disappeared from football to make a return to the world of journalism. Incredibly, MacRae would have a spell where he would fail to take part in a league game for City for almost five years, when injury to Corrigan gave him a run of three games in the side before losing his place once again.

During this time, when he was permanent second choice keeper, Keith had taken a part-time job as a journalist for the Manchester Evening News. After making a total of 72 league and cup appearances for City in his eight years with the club, MacRae was transferred to American side Portland Timbers in 1981. He returned to England shortly afterwards in January 1982, signing for Leeds United, but failed to make a first team appearance.

And while his career perhaps ended in a more low-key fashion than it deserved, Motherwell fans will forever treasure their memories of their flame-haired, goal-scoring goalie.

A Hard Act To Follow

Interview: Andy Ross

Alex McLeish’s first managerial role brought with it not only the pressures of venturing into unchartered territory but also the daunting task of following legendary boss Tommy McLean at Fir Park.

In a playing career that brought fantastic success at club level with Aberdeen and 77 caps for Scotland, McLeish had forged the reputation as one of the most respected players of his generation.

He looked set to continue his career at Pittodrie for one more season, before an unexpected call came from Fir Park secretary, Alan Dick.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind! I had signed for another season as a player at Aberdeen, but was looking to getting into coaching, then the call came from Alan Dick who offered me the role of player/manager,” McLeish remembered.

“The role of player/manager was one which appealed to me, I wanted to keep playing but also to ensure I remained in the game after my playing days were finished.

“My game plan was to work under a respected gaffer and learn the ropes that way, but when I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson he told me to get stuck right in and that Motherwell was a great wee club where I would be left to control things like team selection and transfers – nobody would interfere.”

“We had a pre-season camp in Holland and it was clear the quality that was in the squad. I didn’t go in with the attitude that my reputation in the game would automatically earn me respect, it was a mixture of positivity and an element of trepidation given what Tommy had achieved at the club.

“Me and (assistant boss) Andy Watson wanted passing football and we had plenty of players who were able to produce that, my aim was to take what Tommy had built up and make it even better.”

The first hurdle that McLeish faced in charge at Fir Park was the UEFA Cup first-round clash with Faroese side Havnar Bóltfelag.

It was one which the Steelmen handled comfortably, progressing 7-1 on aggregate and setting up a glamour tie with German giants Borussia Dortmund – an occasion which Motherwell fans and ‘Big Eck’ still recollect to this day.

Motherwell would lose the away-leg narrowly 1-0, passing up a number of good opportunities in the process before going down 2-0 at Fir Park in a highly controversial encounter played out on a Wednesday afternoon in front of a bumper crowd and the German television cameras.

“Dortmund is one of these occasions that remains very vivid right up until this day. We had a really good game plan and the preparation was very good,” said McLeish.

“I had played in the first five matches in my role as player/manager but dropped myself for that game – I didn’t feel like I had the same power in my jump and I was losing a bit of pace.

“We prepared for the game tactically and on the night even had some really good chances. I remember we spoke about long-range efforts as I had noticed Stefan Klos liked to wander from his goal, Stevie Kirk tried his luck a few times and came very close.

“After the game the Dortmund staff were highly complementary of our performance, but they did then add ‘we will score in Scotland’.

“I think the afternoon kick-off did take a little bit of the shine off the second-leg, but the club had received a brilliant offer from German television and it was one which kept us strong financially going forward – from a passion point of view we obviously would have liked to keep it at night time under the floodlights, but money played a part too.

“We didn’t like the pre-match press stuff that the Dortmund players did, they indicated we would kick them off the park. The Swiss referee Anders Frisk clearly read these reports going into the game and it played on his mind – they had built us up to be a team of thugs.

“It showed very early on when Dougie Arnott went in hard on one of their players and he went down screaming as if he had been shot. It was the same when Rab Shannon put in a fair but robust challenge 20 minutes later, both were sent-off and that left us with little chance in the tie.”

Despite European disappointment, McLeish’s side continued to turn on the style in the Premier League and the team’s style of play was not just winning over the Fir Park faithful, but prominent figures within the Scottish game too.

“We had a style of play that we were after and we kept to it, every day in training was about passing. I knew I had inherited a great team and my mindset was always on improving it further.

“One of the biggest compliments came from Tommy Burns and, while Celtic fans may cringe now hearing this, he said that he ‘wanted his team to play like Motherwell’ and that was obviously fantastic for me and my players to hear.”

Results in December of 1994 were to prove costly in terms of challenging Rangers for the league title in McLeish’s first season, but a second-place finish was a one place improvement on McLean’s final year in charge and secured European qualification for the second successive season.

Motherwell were paired with relatively unknown Finnish side Mypa-47, but were stunned in the first-leg 3-1 and, despite a 2-0 victory in the away-leg, exited the competition at the first hurdle.

“Mypa had some great players, but I think we were just caught cold in the first-leg, we had a lot of rebuilding to do after the first season and unfortunately couldn’t quite turn it around in the second-leg.”

McLeish had secured the services of Spurs striker John Hendry during the summer as he prepared for life without the likes of Coyne and Arnott who were moving towards the end of their playing careers.

Despite their advancing years however, the former Aberdeen defender quickly realised both players would be much more difficult to replace.

“The unfortunate thing is these guys don’t last forever and you do need to try replace them. We had watched John Hendry in the Spurs reserves and his movement reminded me a lot of Tommy Coyne,” said the former Scotland and Birmingham City gaffer.

“He wasn’t able to hit the ground running though, that can affect confidence and make a huge difference. The task of replacing Tommy was massive as well, he was vastly underrated – although I can assure you he was never underrated by me.

“In the end, it was the more experienced signings that came through for me, guys like Owen Coyle and Willie Falconer were exceptional – it goes to show you that sometimes you can’t beat the old yins!”

The arrival of Falconer from Celtic was to prove a massive factor in Motherwell ensuring survival in what was to be a hugely contrasting second season in charge for McLeish.

Between December 1995 and late January 1996, Motherwell managed just one goal in nine games – that coming in the form of a Joe McLaughlin own-goal in the 1-0 win at Falkirk.

Falconer chipped in with six goals before the end of the season and, despite finishing the season in eighth, there were to be further challenges ahead.

Paul Lambert and Rob McKinnon both departed Fir Park for free at the end of their deals with the club, the first major impact of the Bosman ruling which allowed players to move between clubs at the end of their contracts without a transfer-fee being required.

“We were the first big victims of the Bosman ruling. I tried so hard to get a hold of Paul that summer, I spoke to his wife and learned he’d been in Eindhoven on trial then, obviously, he made his move to Dortmund,” the 58-year-old reflected.

“You can’t blame either of the guys for looking to further their careers and they both did fantastically well, I’m very proud of both.”

Much like his second season at the helm, the 1996-97 campaign was to be fought out at the wrong end of the table.

Like the previous season, it was the arrival of an experienced striker that was to boost the team – Owen Coyle joining from Dundee United and forming a formidable partnership with Coyne.

In their penultimate fixture of the season Motherwell visited Ibrox, to face a Rangers side expecting to clinch their ninth successive league title on home soil. On the other hand, ‘Well were languishing second-bottom of the table and in desperate need of points to avoid a relegation play-off.

McLeish’s side were in no mood to play the role of party guests and produced a stunning display to ruin the party – leaving with a vital three-points and a 2-0 triumph. On the final day Mitchell van der Gaag’s incredible free-kick secured a share of the spoils against Dunfermline and another season in the top-flight.

“At Ibrox we had to try and frustrate them as much as possible on the day, a big part of the occasion was how they made our team-talk very easy,” the Scotland hall-of-famer remembered.

“On arrival there were loads of ex-players turning up for the party with their wives, just waiting for when they disposed of Motherwell and then there was all the press stuff too – the players were so wound up and determined to prove a point and they did!

“Nobody wants to be the manager of a team that suffers relegation, saying that though a relegation shouldn’t break you. In the end, we survived – the tension in the final game against Dunfermline was incredible, in the end Mitch scored a fantastic free-kick which ensured we stayed up.”

Another summer of transition followed the relegation scare, but McLeish was unable to push his team up the league table – a good start being cancelled out by a 10-game winless run between October and December.

McLeish wouldn’t see out the season at Fir Park, Jim Duffy’s departure from his role as Hibs manager prompting the Easter Road side to approach Motherwell for their manager.

He was able to end his tenure on a high though, recording an incredible 6-2 home win over his future employers in his final fixture in charge.

“The situation with Hibs was pretty surreal, I knew I was in the running for the job but thought there was two or three guys ahead of me in the running. My final game obviously went very well for us, but when the approach came a few days later I felt I had to take the opportunity to further my managerial career.

“I loved my time at Motherwell, it was a great place to start my career in management – of course there were some tough times but there were also many amazing highs too.”

McLeish’s managerial career has gone from strength-to-strength taking him to the heights of managing the Scottish national-side, Rangers, Birmingham City and Aston Villa.

He admits he still retains an interest on events at Fir Park and believes there is a comparison to some of the English Premier League’s established sides.

“Motherwell remind me of the likes of Everton and Stoke City in the English Premier League, they are very consistent and steady without really competing for the title,” said McLeish, whose last managerial role was a brief spell in charge of Egyptian side Zamalek SC.

“I’m sure ‘Well fans will be determined to see their team start winning trophies and success in the cup competitions certainly isn’t beyond them. This season I’m sure they’ll avoid being dragged into the dogfight at the bottom of the table.”

As well as retaining a keen interest in the national side McLeish also confesses to having concerns about youth football not just in Scotland but across the UK.

While he admits he doesn’t possess all the answers to improving the declining fortunes on the park, there are important changes that must be made to avoid young talent being lost to the game.

“I know it’s modern times but I dismay about the academy world that currently exists within football. It dismays me to hear of £1 contracts and hearing kids aged nine or ten told that they won’t make it – I would like to see more opportunities being afforded to boys’ clubs too.

“We are too small a country to exclude talented youngsters, they must be given a chance. It’s been so frustrating for me meeting young kids ready to chuck everything because they aren’t getting their chance with the academy teams

“I had to talk round a friend’s son recently who was ready for giving up the game, eventually he moved back to a boys’ club closer to home, there’s no doubt though that we are losing potential in the current setup.

“I don’t know too much about ‘Project Brave’, but some of what I have heard is very concerning. It’s not a think-tank we need, it’s a do-tank.

“With the national side Gordon’s got a big battle on his hands, I look at certain positions such as centre-half and worry that there’s seemingly nobody coming through.

“You need to be able to trust your guys and know they won’t let you down. It’s not nice seeing Scotland’s position in the rankings – there’s a lot of work ahead to turn things round.”

The Transfer Window – Can We Stop This Circus?

Another transfer-window and while Jim White and his band of over excited reporters cry with delight as the transfer total for the English Premier League clubs since June rises beyond the £1.3 BILLION mark, Scottish clubs are battling to secure loan-deals, free transfers and to retain their prized assets in the face of derisory offers from their English counterparts.

 There’s little point in me spending a great deal of time moaning about the spending levels in modern football – it’s a debate that has been done to death. Although it also can be very difficult at times like this when it is constantly shoved down our throat – we’ve even got a page on the BBC Sport website where if you enter your yearly income it’ll tell you how many centuries it will take you to earn his yearly salary. Those reporting on these absurd transfers aren’t only embracing the staggering money involved they are promoting it and making light of it.

It feels like there’s little hiding place from this nonsense, deadline-day is a Sky Sports led PR machine that has expanded on a yearly basis. Deadline-day has now reached the point where club’s down south appear to be in on the act, waiting to the final day to finalise deals and create that extra ‘excitement’, however while the eye-watering levels of spending continues in England and across the rest of European football’s ‘elite leagues’, spare a thought for the rest of us left behind by the this stunt.

The Knock-On Effect

 Let me get this back on track finally…

While the astronomical levels of spending down south are generally exclusive to the top two leagues, the increased revenue of the lower league sides is proving to be a thorn in the side of a number of Scottish clubs.

For Motherwell fans transfer deadline-day is rarely a day worth crowding outside Fir Park for, sorry I’ll rephrase that, it has never been a day for doing that, although recent years have seen us buck the trend somewhat a move some deals both in and out over the line on the final day. This summer an interest in a number of our top assets has caused some concern with the club being challenged to show resolve in the face of a number of derisory offers for players of huge importance to the team.

This is not particularly unfamiliar territory for Motherwell or indeed the majority of Scottish clubs who often are required to sell a player to a so-called ‘bigger club’ in order to keep functioning as they should. Indeed it’s not been a secret that Motherwell sell ‘a vision’ to players that if they perform well in their time at the club then they will reap the rewards with a move to the promised land of English football. However the landscape is changing their too, what was once a move to a ‘bigger team’ now seems to be pretty much a sideways move in terms of average crowds and honours, but a staggering leap in income.

There has been an element of positive news from the bonkers deals in England, when one of our former players, Marvin Johnson departed his current side Oxford for Middlesbrough in a deal that will net ‘Well around £750,000 in sell-on fees, but again the knock-on effect kicks in.

Oxford have now netted around £9million in transfer-fees in the last year and while a player making the step-up from League One to the Championship in England commands a substantial transfer fee, the teams in League One clearly don’t share the same view of Scottish players moving to ply their trade in the English lower divisions. This is clearly represented in derisory offers for players such as Chris Cadden and Louis Moult who both have already been targeted by the League One outfit, but with offers well below their value.

There’s a degree of arrogance to this, in my view this is an attitude to being surrounded by the big money of the EPL and the Championship. Washed-up former manager David Pleat produced a staggering interview on radio earlier this year where he suggested along the lines of there were ‘some good players in Scottish football, if you looked hard enough’, this in relation to Jackson Irvine, a player who left Ross County for Burton Albion, only to move for big money to Hull City a year later. Look down your nose all you like at our game, but while you can suggest that the lack of infrastructure and facilities or bad diet and drink culture or ruining our game, why not consider we also have the proximity to the big money and sheer arrogance of English football?

While I need to concede that a Motherwell or Kilmarnock can’t compete with an Oxford or Burton Albion financially, I do struggle to accept they have a substantially more spending power due to deadline-day, Sky Sports and this seemingly never ending circus.

Jim White might be wetting himself with excitement, Leicester and West Brom may be signing a new left-back from Italy that nobody has ever heard of out of sheer panic, if this is your version of football and excitement, I want out.

Podcast To Support KitAid

The MFC Podcast are delighted to confirm they will be making a large donation of football kit to ‘KitAid’.

The donation of around 300 shirts follows on from Sunday’s successful shirt drive, which raised £275 for the ‘Well Society’ – a total that will doubled to £550 as part of Les Hutchison’s fantastic ‘Double Your Money’ initiative.

Motherwell fans donated a huge number of football shirts to the cause and football fans and keen collectors made their way to the Centenary Suite at Fir Park to snap up a variety of shirts for a donation to the ‘Well Society’.

KitAid help find a home for your unwanted football kit in Africa and beyond KitAid is a charity set up by, Derrick Williams MBE, who visited Tanzania on a WaterAid supporters’ trip in 1998. Derrick, being a mad footie fan, was amazed at the reception he received from children and adults in remote villages just because he was wearing his favourite football shirt.

After two weeks in Tanzania, a flame was lit in Derrick’s heart and he was on a mission to provide kit and equipment to the bare-footed children playing with footballs made of tied string and plastic bags.

Podcast host, Andy Ross said: “We are delighted at the response to Sunday’s event and afterwards turned our attention to how we could donate the remaining shirts left over.

“KitAid do fantastic work across the world and it’s fantastic to think that the support of the Motherwell fans to the podcast event will make a difference in developing countries across the world.”

Your Chance To Own A Piece Of Motherwell History

Our friends at the Motherwell Disabled Supporters Association are delighted to be able to offer the opportunity for one lucky Motherwell fan to own an incredible piece of Motherwell memorabilia. 

Last month the DSA were thrilled to learn that an incredibly generous ‘Well fan had commissioned a Brickstand model of Fir Park, on Saturday, Brickstand owner Chris Smith will be at Fir Park to present the Disabled Supporters Association with this incredible unique item prior to Motherwell’s home fixture with Ross County.

Following the presentation the DSA will be revealing details of the prize draw that will allow fans the opportunity to win the model which captures the stadium magnificently. Jillian Gillen,

Fundraising Manager of the Motherwell Disabled Supporters Association said: “We were absolutely thrilled to learn of the donation of the Brickstand model, it is an amazing item and to think we now have the chance to offer ‘Well fans the opportunity to win the model while raising funds to help improve attending matches for our disabled supporters is fantastic.”

Details of how you can be involved in the prize draw for the Brickstand model will be available from Saturday – with the draw taking place in late October.

Information of the Fir Park Brickstand Prize Draw will be published across the Motherwell Disabled Supporters Association’s social media platforms, as well as via MFCPodcast.co.uk.

Further information can be obtained by emailing: jillian@mfcdsa.com

Off-Air 3 – We Need You!

Andy Ross updates on the MFC Podcast’s final publication ‘Off-Air 3’ and explains how the project has expanded.

Last September we announced that we would be releasing a ‘one-off’ charity publication ‘Off-Air’, a project to help raise funds for to raise funds for an epilepsy alarm for my fiancée’s young niece, I must confess at no point did I know how much work I would find myself having to undertake over the months that would follow or that being part of the project would rank up there with the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had supporting Motherwell.

‘Off-Air’ has brought me the chance to speak to and at times socialise with some of my favourite ever Motherwell players (I even visited Tommy Coyne in his house – there was no danger I wasn’t going to mention that), raise money for a cause close to my heart and produce two publications which I’m extremely proud of – I hope they have become a bit of a collector’s item for ‘Well fans.

When we started the podcast almost three years ago, it was just a few mates having a chat, using a mobile phone as a recorder, while the mobile phone still remains in charge of recording duties, I reckon we’ve progressed a lot further than we could have ever imagined it would have.

Anyway, enough of the soppy stuff – I better get on with what I was intending to write about.

August 2017 and the wheels are in motion for the third and (certainly this time) final chapter where the Motherwell support will have their chance to vote for the 25 Greatest Post-War Motherwell Players. ‘Off-Air 3’ will feature a range of interviews and features on the players voted by the fans as MFC’s 25 best post-war players.

All profits from ‘Off-Air 3’ will be donated to the ‘Well Society’ with the total being doubled as part of Les Hutchison’s fantastic ‘Double Your Money’ initiative.

Voting forms have been distributed to supporters’ club’s and will be available around Fir Park at the upcoming home games against Ross County and Hearts. You can also vote on our fancy new mini-site HERE.

‘Off-Air 3’ is a totally self-funded project, the only way we can bring the publication to you is through pre-order’s and our various fundraising efforts. As it stands we still have some way to go to ensure we meet our production and design costs.

Get Invovled

Pre-Order ‘Off-Air 3’

Pre-orders of the book are available HERE – the publication will be released mid-November (Exact date TBC).

MFC Podcast – Football Shirt Amnesty

The MFC Podcast will be hosting a football shirt amnesty at Fir Park’s Centenary Suite on Sunday 27th August between 10am & 1pm.

Most of us will have football shirts that you, your children or family members have grown out of or no longer wear – we aim to ensure these shirts don’t go to waste while raising money for our ‘Off-Air 3’ publication where all proceeds will be donated to the ‘Well Society’. On the day you will also be able to place your vote as Motherwell fans decide on the club’s 25 Greatest Post-War Players, as well as being able to pre-order your copy of the book in which the results of the vote will be revealed.

On Sunday 27th, everyone is welcome to come along to Fir Park, pick a shirt and make a donation to ‘Off-Air 3’.

On four evening’s leading up to the amnesty, members of the podcast team will be at Fir Park to accept donations of football shirts – please note we can’t accept donations on the day. 

Thursday 17th August – Fir Park Main Entrance – 6pm-8pm
Friday 18th August – Fir Park Main Entrance – 6pm-8pm
Thursday 24th August – Fir Park Main Entrance -6pm-8pm
Friday 25th August – Fir Park Main Entrance – 6pm-8pm

With almost 400 votes registered for the 25 Greatest Post-War Motherwell Players, we are all very excited to see which players the ‘Well support have opted to vote for and get to work on producing the best book in the ‘Off-Air’ series.

Thank you for all your support!

Sparra

MFC Podcast To Host Shirt Amnesty At Fir Park

The MFC Podcast will be hosting a football shirt amnesty at Fir Park’s Centenary Suite on Sunday 27th August between 10am & 1pm.

Most of us will have football shirts that you, your children or family members have grown out of or no longer wear – we aim to ensure these shirts don’t go to waste while raising money for our ‘Off-Air 3’ publication where all proceeds will be donated to the ‘Well Society’. On the day you will also be able to place your vote as Motherwell fans decide on the club’s 25 Greatest Post-War Players, as well as being able to pre-order your copy of the book in which the results of the vote will be revealed.

On Sunday 27th, everyone is welcome to come along to Fir Park, pick a shirt and make a donation to ‘Off-Air 3’.

On four evening’s leading up to the amnesty, members of the podcast team will be at Fir Park to accept donations of football shirts – please note we can’t accept donations on the day. 

Thursday 17th August – Fir Park Main Entrance – 6pm-8pm
Friday 18th August – Fir Park Main Entrance – 6pm-8pm
Thursday 24th August – Fir Park Main Entrance -6pm-8pm
Friday 25th August – Fir Park Main Entrance – 6pm-8pm

We can also accept postal deliveries of shirts, please email info@mfc1886.com and we will provide a postal address.

These shirts DO NOT need to be Motherwell shirts, all we ask is that the shirts are washed before donation. All sizes will of course also be accepted.

Please spread the word with friends and family and let’s hope we can have as many people along to Fir Park on August 27th for a successful event.

Falling Back In…

Words: Andy Ross @AJR2022

Image: @SNSGroup

Last night’s 3-2 League Cup victory was another turning point, in falling back in with football.

 A League Cup second-round victory in the Highlands was always going to be a cause for celebration. A 370-mile round trip from Motherwell via various other stops to collect friends, an encounter where we experienced both highs and lows, from losing a lead on two separate occasions, to the perceived injustice of losing Charles Dunne to a red-card for the incident that led to Craig Curran levelling at 2-2, then there was the scenes that followed Ross MacLean’s wonderfully taken winning goal followed by the relief and jubilation on the referee’s final whistle.

Progression to a cup quarter-final isn’t something that many ‘Well fans will take lightly, particularly given cup failure has become almost a staple diet in recent seasons – I won’t mention any individual games but we all know of a few that will instantly spring to mind. For that reason winning a cup game in the circumstances in which the team did last night was very special.

The celebrations at full-time were brilliant, back to those moments of grabbing the nearest stranger for a hug, punching the air and generally feeling as if you had kicked every ball over the course of the 120-minutes. Is there any other form of ‘entertainment’ gives you those amazing highs and crushing lows? I don’t believe there is one.

Time moves quickly in football and incredibly it was only six months ago that I sat down and wrote about experiencing feelings that I had never encountered before; I had come to the conclusion that I had fallen out with football.

In that blog piece I described that:

“I don’t even think it’s a feeling of acceptance, there’s no arguing that the team and the manager are performing nowhere near the level they should be and that is reflected in our current league position. That makes it even more concerning that at a time where the club is now fan owned, that people are beginning to develop a feeling of indifference towards supporting Motherwell.”

For those who want to go back to unhappier times, you can read the piece in full HERE

Well thankfully things have changed quite a lot in the last six months or so, a huge number of factors both on and off the pitch that have made my experiences of following the team I love so much more enjoyable.

I’ll go back to last night to start things off, as the full-time whistle sounded, to a man the players and management team all came over to applaud the dedicated band of 200 or so travelling fans, in a moment where we could all celebrate as one – this Motherwell team seems very much built on an understanding that togetherness and spirit are key factors. I think as a support all we demand from those pulling on a Claret & Amber shirt is that they put in their very best on every occasion they do so – playing football is a privilege and it’s hugely important that those in a Motherwell shirt treat it as such. The club doesn’t operate on a budget that means we can compete with the very top teams in our league financially, but with the right attitude there’s absolutely no reason why on our day we can’t go to head-to-head with any team.

Of course me sitting battering at a keyboard isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference, this attitude has to on show throughout the club, from the very top down. Stephen Robinson has come into Fir Park and shown a real desire to make the squad, performances and results better. He achieved his first objective in ensuring the team remained in the top-flight of Scottish football last season and this season despite the fact we are in the very early stages appears to have instilled a feeling of belief and pride in the jersey. He kicks every ball on the sidelines and when bringing players to the club seems to try sell them a vision, that while we are unable to pay top wages, that Fir Park is the perfect place to come to and further your career – as long as you are willing to put the work in.

The appointment of Keith Lasley as his assistant of course will help this cause too – a man that never shirked a tackle during his esteemed playing career with the club, he knows what that MFC means to the supporters, the local community and most importantly loves the team. He has experienced the highs and the lows at Fir Park, from European adventures and second-place finishes, to relegation battles and administration. I struggle to see any player putting in any less than their very best for the cause and ‘Las being willing to accept that.

Behind the scenes the club sets the bar extremely high too, Alan Burrows’ Tweet, five hours after arriving home from Dingwall, that he was back in his office ‘buzzing’ raised as much of a laugh as it did a sense of real pride that we appear to have a wealth of people at Motherwell who are obsessed by the club – doing the very best they can every day to make the club better. The media and commercial teams also deserve huge amount of praise – for their tireless work and dedication to the cause – Lewis Irons’ post-match interview with the manager was posted at around 2:30am last night – it was much welcomed as we endured those final few miles of the journey.

In my blog written back in February, I had mentioned there were reasons for optimism, that my love would return and while perhaps my lack of sleep and trying to navigate my way through the final hours of my working day are playing a part on what may seem quite an over-reaction to a good night on the park, but frankly even without last night, things just seem better.

Season ticket initiatives have swelled and encouraged the younger generation to take up supporting Motherwell, some making their very strides into the years of highs and lows that I have described earlier. The players again have clearly bought into this, spending well over their allotted time at the recent club Open Day signing autographs, posing for selfies and chatting to fan old and new. In a time where footballers are often depicted as taking fans for granted, it was refreshing to see that at Motherwell that is quite simply not the case.

The ‘Well Society also appear to finally be making strides to reach out to the wider support and their recent initiative to welcome local Syrian refugees, brought acclaim and exposure in both the local and national press and the recent launch of an Exiles Club is sure to also help increase involvement in the Society from across the world – why stop at Lanarkshire?

Oh and then there was the launch of the new mascots, the fantastic work in the Summer Soccer Camps by the Community Trust and recent signing Charles Dunne lacking the faith in his singing abilities so instead forfeiting his initiation song and instead buying a young fan a new kit with his fine – a lovely gesture that the boy in question will never forget.

The feel good is back, the results might not always be how we like but Motherwell F.C. really feels like a club moving in the right direction – let’s see what the next six months bring.

 

Robbo’s Rebuilding Job: The Early Signs

The MFC Podcast’s Jay takes a look at the transfer dealings, both in and out, at Fir Park over the summer and considers whether Robinson’s rebuilding job has the potential for success.

Deadline day remains a number of weeks away and, with it, so does that longed for and blessed relief of successfully hanging on to the likes of Moult and Cadden. For now, the potential for a big loss remains in existence. However, with the opening match of the league campaign now just a matter of days away, ‘Well fans can look at their squad knowing that it is, by and large, complete. This early on in August, it’s fair to assume there may still be one or two outgoings and incomings, but ahead of Sunday’s opener the majority of our wheeling and dealing has now been completed.

Stephen Robinson has been incredibly busy over the summer as he seeks to rebuild after last year’s shit-fest. Only time will tell just how good a job he has done. But in the early stages of this new season, does it look like he has managed to rebuild successfully?

There have been a number of exits from the squad which narrowly avoided a relegation playoff with Dundee United and, in the main, this has involved the removal of deadwood. Ayr United have moved quickly to snap up David Ferguson and Craig Moore, and the “will he ever stop tweeting about Celtic and actually fulfil his potential?” saga which has surrounded Dom Thomas at Fir Park for years is now over as the winger joins Kilmarnock.

Zak Jules has returned south with early rumours he might return permanently thankfully now looking unlikely, Joe Chalmers has possibly found his level in the Championship with Caley, and the binning of palming-extraordinaire Craig Samson has been universally welcomed. The enigma that was Lee Lucas – a player made from balsa wood who seemed to vanish off the planet for long spells – was another expected departure and, although a hard-worker who gave his all, most ‘Well fans were happy enough to wish Craig Clay their best wishes as he departed for Leyton Orient.

In terms of those whose have departed leaving a larger void, the obvious loss appears to be Scott McDonald. The Australian has been a fantastic player for Motherwell – and Louis Moult – in the last couple of seasons, being a constant thorn in the sides of opposition defences and a constant moan in the ears of officials. The rumours surrounding his negative impact in the dressing room were prominent over the summer and, for the good of the squad as a whole, his departure is arguably a positive step but it has to be acknowledged that losing of player of his ability is always going to be a big loss.

Keith Lasley, a bona fide club legend, moving into the assistant manager role is another notable name missing from this year’s playing roster. Despite now being in his late-30s, Keith continued to be, at times, our best midfield player last season and the debates over whether he could continue to play at the highest level in Scotland in 2017/18 will now never be proven either way, although I still tend to believe he had something to offer on the pitch. Regardless of viewpoint, his departure from central-midfield was naturally going to be a hole requiring filling.

Lionel Ainsworth provided a number of memories for ‘Well fans during his four year spell in Lanarkshire, in particular the third goal at Ibrox which sparked incredible scenes in the away end. On his day, Lionel could rival most attackers in the Scottish top flight and yet, sadly, those days were all too few at Fir Park, making him the perfect example of the clichéd inconsistent winger. By all accounts a big earner, the lack of consistency means his departure – although sentimentally disappointing – was probably the best move for all concerned.

Another player who, at least on paper, still arguably had something to offer is Stephen Pearson, a graduate of the Class of ’02 and a man who managed to win favour back from the ‘Well support with some fantastic performances to keep us in the division in 2014. Unfortunately though, he has looked a completely different player since his return from India and moving him on was undoubtedly the correct decision. And that leaves Faddy – a legend, an icon, a hero to many – who netted his last goal for the club on the final day of last season but who was never going to feature in the first-team in any meaningful fashion anymore. A big loss in terms of how highly he is thought of at the club, but a minor footnote in the out column when it comes to contribution on the park as harsh as it may sound.

With such a large number of players leaving the squad, Robbo has had the daunting prospect of piecing together a team that not just includes standard replacements being brought in, but – given how poor last season was and how close to relegation we came – boasts a marked improvement overall. And early signs seem to suggest he might just have succeeded.

Trevor Carson has, admittedly, had a fairly quiet time of it over the Betfred Cup campaign so far as Motherwell have largely controlled all four matches. However, when called upon the Northern Irishman has looked confident, assured, strong in the air, and has pulled off the odd excellent save. Despite the occasional concerned mention on Steelmen Online regarding his height (because Andy Goram was mediocre at best…), early signs would certainly suggest that he is a vast improvement on Samson, despite how easy such a feat might be. As backup, Russell Griffiths re-joined the club after impressing late on last season. A young goalkeeper who could have a bright future ahead, it’s hoped his taste of first-team football last year will drive him on to competing for the number one jersey again this year.

At the back, Cedric Kipre has, for me, looked the stand-out of the three defensive signings made this summer. A good bit over 6 foot, the centre-half is an imposing athlete, strong in the challenge, and very effective in the air, with his defensive abilities looking promising when tested during the cup group stages. But what Kipre also seems to have in abundance is both excellent calmness and composure, and genuine ability with the ball at his feet. Like all new signings, Sunday will prove the first proper test of just how good an acquisition Cedric will be, but the early signs are that Robbo could have snapped up a very decent player when he added the Parisian to the squad.

Charles Dunne is another who has shown early promise since arriving – strong in the air and with lightening speed, he comes into the squad with attributes that should benefit a back line that didn’t boast the greatest pace last season, although questions remain over his distribution at times. And this week, Ellis Plummer arrived at Fir Park having been released by Manchester City – an England youth international who has found first team opportunities limited on loan spells with Oldham and St Mirren, largely due to injury, there are enough reviews regarding his potential to suggest there might still be a formidable defender there.

In Gael Bigirimana, Robbo seems to have captured as close to a coup as the club can get these days. A Burundi international who has excelled in two spells at Coventry City and featured in both the English Premiership and Europa League with Newcastle United, Gael arrives with great pedigree and has shown already the touches, passing, and energy that suggest he could be an influential player in the Scottish Premiership in the coming campaign. The reaction and general disbelief of two Coventry supporting mates upon his arrival would suggest those behind the signs have done exceptionally well to bring in a player of Bigi’s ability and reputation to Fir Park.

His Coventry team-mate Andy Rose has also been added to the squad, after previous spells with Seattle Wolves, Ventura County Fusion, and Seattle Sounders. A tall, athletic box-to-box midfielder, the 27 year old arrives with the promise of contributing positively to the side, but has struggled during the Betfred Cup matches to exert influence on the match and may require a longer settling in period than some of his fellow new additions. The jury remains out although it is still far too early to be writing any of the new signings off.

22-year old Craig Tanner, able to play on the wing or in the hole, is another new face about Fir Park this season. Joining from Reading after productive loan spells at AFC Wimbledon and Plymouth Argyle, the diminutive attacker has already shown plenty in the opening four competitive matches to suggest he can be a positive player, showing great energy and enthusiasm, and keen to venture forward whenever possible.

Alex Fisher, who scored consistently for a doomed Inverness side at the tail end of last season, has spent the group stages of the League Cup searching for that important first goal without success. Clearly a hard-worker who is strong in the air, Fisher has struggled to open his account at Fir Park despite being handed a number of chances to do so. Last season has proven he has the ability to score at this level and there’s nothing to suggest he can’t do so in claret and amber, but the longer that first strike eludes him, the harder it will be for him to keep some fans onside and maintain his place in the line-up. It has to be hoped that he can get off the mark as early in the league campaign as possible as, once that monkey is off his back, we should then hopefully begin to see the best of the hitman.

Regardless of how below par guys like Samson, Lucas, and Chalmers may have been, rebuilding after losing the number of players that the Steelmen did at the end of last season is still a very difficult task for any club and any management team to take on, particularly when working to a budget. But, based on the limited competitive match-time we’ve seen so far, Stephen Robinson appears to have done so admirably. The 2017/18 Motherwell squad doesn’t just appear to have been built on replacements for those who have left, but there seems to be a genuine quality in a number of the signings brought it suggesting there have been improvements made all over the park.

Having witnessed the four wins in four in the Betfred Cup group stages, who amongst the ‘Well support would choose Zak Jules over Cedric Kipre, or Craig Samson over Trevor Carson, or Craig Clay over Gael Bigirimana? The answer is, quite obviously, no one.

When you factor in the players who remain from last season (at least at the time of writing!) – in particular Louis Moult, Chris Cadden, and Carl McHugh – it would appear there is already a solid case to be made that Robinson has improved the playing squad at Fir Park by quite some distance.

It remains to seen whether Moult and Cadden can be kept at the club, whether the last dregs of the deadwood can be moved on, and whether there may be one or two new signings still to arrive, but overall, I think Motherwell fans can look back at this summer’s transfer activity with genuine appreciation of the rebuilding job undertaken by the gaffer and can now look forward to seeing the squad in its entirety taking the club into a more successful campaign than that of last year.

– Jason Henderson
@jay_mfc

MFC Podcast ‘Off-Air 3’ – 25 Greatest MFC Post-War Players

For the final edition of the MFC Podcast’s ‘Off-Air’ series, the Podcast will be teaming with The Well Society and the Motherwell support to compile the ‘Greatest 25 Motherwell Post-War players.

Set for release in November 2017 (exact date TBC in the next few weeks), this publication promises to be the perfect Christmas gift for all ‘Well fans and will follow on from the hugely popular first two editions of ‘Off-Air’.

The first two editions of the book raised over £2000 for ‘Imogen’s Dream’ charity while proceeds from the final edition will be donated to the ‘Well Society’ as the ‘Double Your Money’ initiative pledge by Les Hutchison draws to a close at the conclusion of 2017.

This edition will feature interviews and profiles of those voted by the ‘Well support as the club’s ‘25 Greatest Post-War Players’.

Voting for the ‘Greatest 25 Post-War Motherwell Players’ is now open and you can submit your vote by emailing your top 10 to Vote@MFC1886.com.

The player listed number one on your list will receive 10 points, second will get nine points, right down to your number 10 on your list receiving one point – voting closes at 6pm on Friday, September 1st.

We will also be accepting postal votes, which can be submitted to MFC Podcast, 6 Ross Gardens, Motherwell, ML1 3BE or by submitting your vote in person to a Well Society representative at any of the stations within Fir Park on a match-day.

You can Pre-Order ‘Off-Air 3’ NOW – with the first 150 orders receiving the opportunity to have their name printed on the back-cover of the publication.

 The only way to guarantee a copy is via pre-order – there will be only a small number of copies available following the pre-order process.