Category: Blog

Winning The Title In Style

With a win percentage of 66.6%, Davie Hay is statistically the most successful Motherwell manager of all time.

Stepping up from assistant boss to the role of manager after the resignation of Ally MacLeod in the summer of 1981, Hay took on the managerial reins and was tasked with taking the Steelmen back into the top-flight.

A memorable season followed in which Motherwell would romp away with the title, scoring 92 goals to create a First Division record for the number of goals scored.

Although the season ended in triumph for the ‘Well boss, Hay endured a difficult start to his managerial career as Motherwell dropped out of the League Cup at the group stages and in his first league match he saw his side defeated 1-0 at Kilmarnock.

The Motherwell board took eight weeks to give Hay the job, though their new gaffer didn’t have to wait as long before the supporters voiced their opinions.

“It took a while before I was appointed and think the club were just waiting to see how it would pan out,” Hay recalled. 

“I never thought anything of it at the time and never really doubted I would get the job.

“We didn’t get off to the best of starts in the league and we lost on the opening day at Kilmarnock.

“It was a really poor game, both teams were trying to play the offside trap and there was a lot of congestion in the middle of the park.

“I remember I was sitting in the old enclosure at Rugby Park and a punter turned round to shout at me that the style of football would get the game stopped.

“He added that I might have been alright as a player, but if this is what I’d be like as a manager then I should chuck it right away – I went down to the dugout in the second half after that.

“As a manager I watched a lot of games from the stand, I always felt that you got a better view from there.”

While life as a manager didn’t get off to the best of starts, it wasn’t long before Hay’s ‘Well team were blowing opposition away with their attractive brand of attacking play.

Dumbarton were dispatched 6-0 at Boghead, Clydebank suffered a 7-1 hammering at Kilbowie before a memorable week where a 6-1 victory over Dunfermline was followed by a 6-0 success over East Stirling.

Motherwell were in imperious form and enjoyed a 23 match unbeaten run between September 1981 and February 1982.

“We had a very good team,” Hay added. 

“The midfield was talented, skilful and well balanced with Brian McLaughlin, Alfie Conn and Graeme Forbes in the middle of the park.

“In Willie Irvine and Bruce Cleland we had two very good strikers and then you had the likes of Joe Wark who was the captain and Hughie Scott in goal.

“It was installed in my thinking process from my time with Celtic that we played attacking and exciting football – that’s exactly what we set out to do.”

In a season in which Motherwell were turning on the style, one of the game’s biggest icons visited Fir Park.

George Best was nearing the end of his career and after a spell with Hibernian had returned to America to play for San Jose Earthquakes.

Despite the presence of the former Manchester United star, San Jose were unable to stop the free scoring Steelmen from racking up another big victory however, and a bumper crowd witnessed a 5-2 victory for the home side.

“I can’t remember too much about it other than it being because George Best was playing for them and there weren’t many more glamorous players than he was,” the former Celtic and Livingston boss recalled. 

“Although he wasn’t at the height of his career, it certainly added an extra attraction to that particular game.”

Another match of note was the 1-0 Scottish Cup third round defeat to Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen at Fir Park.

John Hewitt broke the deadlock after just 9.6 seconds and his goal remains the fastest in the history of the Scottish Cup.

“We actually played very well that day and probably gave Aberdeen their toughest challenge on their way to winning the Scottish Cup that year,” remembered Hay. 

“The goal came from a mistake at the back, I remember who it was and I won’t name any names – it was John Hewitt who got the goal for Aberdeen.”

It would be a 3-1 victory over Falkirk at Brockville that would secure the league title for Motherwell and they would end the season 10 points ahead of Killie who finished in second spot.

Three players had scored 56 goals between them over the course of the season, with McLaughlin and Irvine scoring 20 each and Clelland chipping in with 16.

Despite enjoying a highly successful first season in charge at Fir Park, Hay would depart the club to take a job in America.

He would go on to manage Celtic where he won the Premier League title and the Scottish Cup. Spells at Lillestrøm, St Mirren, Dunfermline and Livingston followed for the 71-year-old, who currently works with New College Lanarkshire.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Motherwell,” the former Scotland international said. 

“I left to take up a job in America which didn’t materialise, it was my own doing and I can’t blame anyone for it.

“I’d always fancied living there and I tried again later in my career, unfortunately with the same outcome.

“I left Motherwell winning but I’d have liked to take the team into the top flight.

“I’m eternally grateful for Ally MacLeod for giving me the opportunity at the club; it was a good place to start my coaching career.

“The chairman at the time was Bill Samuel and he was the best chairman I ever worked with – I sometimes joke that maybe it’s because I only worked with him for a short period of time, so we never had room to fall out.

“I enjoyed the football side and the social side with him; he was a really good person to know.

“He took the directors and coaching staff to Madrid for the European Cup final between Nottingham Forest and Hamburg, then Liverpool v Real Madrid in Paris – it was a good bonding trip and very enjoyable I’ve got to say.

“I’m pleased to see how Motherwell are doing, they always tend to fight above their weight by bringing in young players.

“It looks like they’ll make the top-six this season and the structure is very good at Fir Park.”

The Final Word – v St Johnstone 30/11/19

An interview with Alan Burrows prior to our last home fixture against Livingston reignited the debate surrounding the potential of Motherwell leaving Fir Park.

One day prior to Burrows’ interview with the BBC, the club had announced that debts owed to former owners John Boyle and Les Hutchison had been repaid in full.

It was described as ‘a significant milestone in the club’s move towards long-term viability’ and all associated with Motherwell FC reacted with delight to the landmark news.

This was a collective effort from all involved both on and off the park, as well as a glowing endorsement of the positive effect of fan ownership.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Alan’s attention quickly turned to the future and looking at how collectively the club could kick on and become more ‘modern, vibrant and attractive’.

The ‘Well chief executive stressed that all options would be on the table and when discussing the option of moving from Fir Park he admitted that leaving the venue the club have called home since 1895 could be considered in order to fulfil the criteria of taking the club forward.

“From my own point of view, I have been working within the ground for a long period of time,” he said. “We are now in 2019 and the stadium probably has to be a debate and a question that is put on the agenda quite high in the not too distant future.

“A training ground goes without saying, we have a really good facility at Dalziel Park, but we need to look at how we can either develop that or somewhere else to try to take the club to the next level.”

It goes without saying the emotional attachment of Fir Park is huge. For many this is our home away from home and a constant throughout our lives. We have formed relationships with those who stood and now sit around us, shared joy and disappointments with fellow fans – many of who you share little in common with other than a deep love of the ‘Well.

If the walls of Fir Park could talk then they’d recount stories of hosting our Scottish champions in 1931-32, victories against the odds and European encounters. They would tell tales of glittering displays by the likes Andy Paton, Joe Wark, Willie Pettigrew, Tommy Coyne and James McFadden.

Of course there would be tales of heartache and tragedy too, within the confines of the stadium there can’t be many emotions we’ve not experienced.

The stadium has its quirks that make it that bit more special too. When the Main Stand (now the Phil O’Donnell Stand) was constructed in 1962 building had to be stopped 20 yards from the south end of the stadium due to a complaint from a local resident. By the time the property owner had decided to sell, Motherwell did not have the funds or will to complete a full length main stand.

Winning the Scottish Cup in 1991 financed the conversion of the East Enclosure to seating, the two-tier South Stand followed in 1993 and the Davie Cooper Stand completed the transition to an all-seated stadium. Four stands, none of which are the same size – as far removed from the type of soulless, flat-pack style stadia that many in Scotland have adopted following a move away from their original home.

I struggle to think of an example of a club moving to a new stadium in Scotland that I’ve enjoyed visiting more than their previous home. It would be difficult to argue that St Mirren Park (the Simply Digital Arena) has the atmosphere or the character of Love Street and memories of trips to Broomfield don’t really come flooding back when visiting Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium.

Falkirk (2004), Hamilton (2001) and going back a bit further St Johnstone (1989) have also departed their long-standing homes for new stadiums. The facilities have improved, though much of the atmosphere and that element of intimidation have gone, indeed new Hibernian boss Jack Ross, who played for both Falkirk and St Mirren has previously suggested that both of his former sides built stadiums that were ‘more pleasant and far less intimidating’ for opposition players.

Another element which adds to the fear of a move away is the location of the new stadium. When Aberdeen move on from Pittodrie to take up residence in their new ground, they will do so in Kingsford – eight miles to the west of Aberdeen city centre.

Fans will have to make changes to their match-day routine, travel arrangements and countless Dons supporters who have occupied the same part of the ground for many years will need to find a new spot – habits and traditions will have to be ripped up.

Of course, sentiment can only stretch so far. Like Pittodrie, the maintenance costs associated with the upkeep of Fir Park are substantial. It’s inevitable that when considering the operating costs of the football club, ways in which yearly reoccurring costs can be alleviated and a modern build stadium could do be a way of doing this.

The atmosphere inside Fir Park has improved drastically over the last 10 years or so, with much of that owed to the colour, enthusiasm and noise generated by the ‘Well Bois’.

During that time the group have been joined by fans of other sides from across Europe who share a similar enthusiasm for supporting their team in a noisy, colourful and passionate manner.

Aalesunds FK supporters are a good example of a group who able to do so within the confines of a modern stadium. The Norwegian club’s Color Line Stadion was built in 2005 and has a capacity of just below 11,000 with standing room for 1,180. Motherwell fans who visited the ground for the Europa League fixtures between the sides back in 2010 will have fond memories of a compact, modern ground that boasts an incredible atmosphere that seemed to drive on the home side.

It’s an encouraging example that shows a move to a new stadium doesn’t have to mean a move to a soulless venue and that if done right, the difficult moving process can be one that instead breathes new life into our fan owned football club.

Final Word – v Livingston 2/11/19

It was an end of season dead-rubber, but the match between Motherwell and Livingston at Fir Park in May 2003 is a fixture that ‘Well fans still remember fondly. 

The 2002-03 campaign was an exceptionally difficult one for Terry Butcher’s young Motherwell side, but they would end it on a delightfully unexpected high note.

After the announcement that Motherwell had entered interim administration in April 2002, Butcher replaced Eric Black as manager. A week later the scale of the task facing the Englishman became clearer when 19 players departed Fir Park in what was described as ‘brutal savings’ in order to preserve the very existence of the football club.

Butcher’s hand had been forced in regards to throwing in a number of young players over the course of the season and despite battling valiantly, defeat to Aberdeen in the penultimate game of the campaign confirmed the Steelmen would finish bottom of the table and as a consequence faced dropping out of the top flight for the first time since 1985.

Heading into the final game of the season, the match was very much secondary. In the background there was becoming an increasing likelihood that Falkrik’s attempts to ground-share with Airdrie would be denied, casting doubt on whether they would be able to take Motherwell’s place in the SPL.

In addition there was also increasing speculation surrounding James McFadden’s future at the football club. The 20-year-old had enjoyed a fantastic year, netting 21 times in all competitions and he would have the final say as the curtain came down on an exhausting season for all involved at ‘Well.

Livingston made the journey to North Lanarkshire in ninth spot, 10 points clear of Motherwell, who had managed just a solitary point from their last 11 league matches. 

It looked like Motherwell’s miserable form was set to continue when Lee Makel seized on a defensive lapse from Keith Lasley and then drilled home from outside the box to give the visitors the lead after 16 minutes.

Lasley would make amends for his error on the half hour mark when he glanced home David Clarkson’s pin-point cross to level matters. I’m happy to be corrected, but I think I can safely say this was Keith’s only headed goal during his Motherwell career in which he accumulated over 450 first-team appearances. 

Colin McMenamin scrambled home from close range to restore Livi’s lead early in the second half, but again the young Motherwell team responded in emphatic fashion.

Steven Craig rounded Alan Main and blasted home superbly to level just three minutes after falling behind for a second time and when Clarkson saw his effort strike the post, McFadden was on hand to walk the ball into the net and put ‘Well 3-2 to the good.

Scotland boss Vogts was in the stand to take in the match and there was little doubt that McFadden was the man he was there to see. He was the undoubted talisman of the ‘Well team, every time he had the ball at his feet you felt something was about to happen, he played with great swagger and the fans loved it.

McFadden had been given a taste of international football and after making his debut against South Africa in the summer of 2002, he infamously missed his flight home. Opportunities with the national team had followed, though he had yet to cement his place within the Scotland setup. 

The youngster had a point to prove and yet again he had the fans in raptures when he added his second goal of the game, audaciously chipping his penalty over the despairing Main. Fir Park responded with chants of ‘are you watching Berti Vogts’ and their enthusiasm only seemed to drive ‘Faddy’ on. 

He completed his hat-trick after collecting the ball up just inside the Livingston half, gliding past a host of white jerseys before firing past Main. The goal sparked a mass pile-up among including every outfield player in the team, the stadium erupted – this goal wouldn’t change where the Steelmen would end up in the table, but everyone inside Fir Park knew they were witnessing something special.

There was still time for one more goal and if the mention of a Keith Lasley headed goal took you by surprise, the revelation that he would go on to score another later (this time from roughly two inches out) might come as an even bigger shock!

Motherwell prevailed 6-2, a victory that encapsulated a season in which many youngsters stepped up to the mark. There were plenty of disappointments over the course, especially in the horrendous run of form at the towards the conclusion, though a run to Scottish Cup semi-final, victories over Celtic, Rangers and a 6-1 mauling of Hearts demonstrated the immense talents within the squad.

The likes of Lasley, Clarkson, Steven Hammell, Stephen Pearson and Paul Quinn all would go on to have fantastic careers with Motherwell and beyond, though the 24 May, 2003 will always be remembered for the performance of one man.

McFadden was named Young Player of the Year for the 2002-03 season and three days later he would start for Scotland in a 1-1 draw with New Zealand. Less than a month into the 2003-04 campaign he would move to Everton for a fee of £1.25million.

From there his career continued on an upward trajectory and he would go on to demonstrate his talents to a wider audience at club level and on the international stage where he would be just as revered for a number of inspirational performances and famous goals such as the stunning winner against France in Paris back in 2007. 

Two further spells at Fir Park as a player followed before taking up the position of assistant manager for the 2016-17 season, though arguably his finest hour in claret and amber came in a meaningless end of season encounter in which he demonstrated all of his very best attributes in an unforgettable display of class.

The Final Word – v Kilmarnock 30/10/19

The continued pressure on managers in Scotland shows no sign of slowing down, though Scottish Premiership clubs appear to be demonstrating more patience.

He’d only been in job just over a month and the knives were already out.

Following on from Kilmanrock’s shock Europa League exit to Connah’s Quay Nomads, sections of the press decided that Angelo Alessio’s time was already up.

While there was no getting away from what was arguably one of the most embarrassing in the history of Scottish sides competing in Europe, the case for sacking a manager after just 180 minutes of football is every bit as absurd as the justification that was offered for doing so.

Referenced in one particular article was Alessio’s ‘pidgin English’, his failure to follow what was described as the ‘basics and the dotted lines of management’ as well as the addition of foreign players to a squad that had finished third under Steve Clarke last season.

Former Killie defender Kirk Broadfoot added further fuel to the fire by suggesting Alessio’s methods weren’t suited to the players at Kilmarnock. The former Scotland internationalist is absolutely entitled to his opinion; he’s worked with a number of highly regarded bosses during his career, though it also could be argued that you’ll struggle to find a player who has enjoyed working with every single manager they have played for.

It also strikes you that there appears to be a degree of fear when it comes to something different or something new in the Scottish game.

Last season Kilmarnock recorded their highest league finish since 2001. Clarke was lauded for his role in their success and just a few days after the curtain came down on a memorable he would depart to take up the managerial reigns of the Scottish national side.

Killie undoubtedly overcame the odds to finish above a number of sides who operate with a higher budget and in defeating both Celtic and Rangers (twice) over the course; they showed they were more than capable of going head-to-head with the top teams in the country.

A ‘more of the same’ approach was never likely to be possible for Alessio given the number of changes in personnel at the club. The summer saw the departure of Jordan Jones, Kris Boyd’s decision to retire and Greg Taylor’s move to Celtic just before the transfer window slammed shut.

Scaling those heights for a second successive season was always going to be a big ask, though despite a challenging start, the signs are there that Alessio and Killie are beginning to find their feet. They have shown themselves to be extremely difficult to breakdown and while their lack of goals may continue to be a bit of a concern, Saturday’s 1-0 victory over St Mirren took them third in the Premiership table.

Just like it was far too early to suggest that Alessio should be removed from his position, it’s too early to hail him as a success story. However those in the positions of power at Kilmarnock look like they’ll be rewarded for exercising some patience when it comes to their manager.

Patience seems like a trait that appears to be in limited supply for managers in the modern game.

It’s the job of the manager to front up win, lose or draw and while fans can get caught up in the emotion of a result whether it is good or bad – results are pivotal in dictating those emotions.

Look at social media after a game and you’ll see this all play out, after a win everything is brilliant and the positivity is flowing, yet if you lose a week later then the same team is absolutely no use and the manager needs to go – there’s rarely any sort of middle ground.

Ahead of last month’s game against Hibernian, Stephen Robinson discussed the constant pressure placed on bosses in an interview with the Herald.

“The reality is that it’s my job to make decisions, some of them are unpopular, but you ultimately make them on what you see in games and training,” the ‘Well gaffer said. “We had one poor game against Hearts, so it puts into perspective the crazy hysteria around management.”

Robinson, not for the first time during his time in charge at Fir Park has steered Motherwell back on the right track after a disappointing run of form and again more than repaid the faith shown in him in by the board.

That resilience and ability to react has been essential for Robinson and he’s often quoted as saying that he won’t get carried away after a win, just like he doesn’t get too down after a loss – an element of perspective is very important.

He has been in the same position as his counterpart in the dugout this evening during his time at ‘Well, especially during a torrid run towards the end of last year, though just like Alessio he emerged from troubled times and repaid the faith shown in him as a manager.

Both managers in charge tonight are perfect examples of the benefits of exercising a degree of patience when it comes to making big decisions on the future of a manager.

The Final Word – Aberdeen 19/10

The new season is only eight games old and therefore we should focus on 2019 as a whole when getting excited about matters at Fir Park.

The majority of the 5101 crowd inside Fir Park left in high spirits; a 2-0 victory for Motherwell over St Mirren ensured they would head into the international break in third place, four points clear of today’s visitors Aberdeen.

Over the PA system, Phil Speedie speculated that the win had taken the Steelmen three points closer to Europe and social media speculation has went into overdrive that the ‘Well are going to win the league.

It’s been a really pleasing start for Stephen Robinson’s team and the fans have absolutely every right to be soaking it all up. There has been good football, great goals, plenty of excitement and as shown in the 1-0 victory at McDiarmid Park, an abundance of steely determination. 

‘Well have won five of their first eight matches and have yet to experience defeat away from home. 

A quick look back to this time last season and the contrast is substantial. The team would win just once in their opening nine games and had managed just a solitary victory – a 3-1 success at Dens Park against a Dundee side that were making bottom spot their own. 

The frustration of a poor opening to the campaign was compounded by the quality of the performances during the early stages and something Stephen Robinson has admitted he felt ‘had to change’. It’s a results driven game and when poor results are coupled with poor performances then something has to give. 

On the latest MFC Podcast, I asked Keith Lasley if the pressures of that run of results and poor performances began to take their toll.

The Motherwell assistant manager explained that while the difficult times were a real challenge to overcome, he believes drastic change has led to much improved fortunes for the team. 

“We knew something had to change andwe knew we might get the chance to bring in one or two during the January window,” Lasley explained. “While it may not be the ideal time to add new faces,the manager had decided we were going to make pretty drastic changes to how we played and what we did tactically.

“I think the key thing is to recognise when things aren’t going right and do something about it.

“Great credit has to go to the manager and the bravery to say this isn’t happening any more – it’s a big call to make, but one he and all the staff felt was necessary.

“Those changes made back in January gave us a big platform to build on and I think you’ve seen that in the early stages of this season.”

Those changes have undoubtedly paid off. Looking back at the Motherwell team in the first half of the 2018/19 season and the side that closed out the remainder of the campaign, the difference is night and day.

Robinson’s side won their first five Scottish Premiership encounters in 2019 and added a further four victories before the end of the season. Inspired by the performances of David Turnbull who deservedly swept the boards at the end of season awards evening and the likes of Jake Hastie, Liam Grimshaw and Gboly Ariyibi – the style of football changed and it was bringing positive results. 

They’ve been able to build on their good form too and Motherwell’s record so far in 2019 has seen them earn 46 points from 25 games. In comparison from the same number of fixtures, Aberdeen have managed 40, Kilmarnock 37, Hibernian 31 and Hearts 21.

As the fans are enjoying the chance to dream and get carried away, those within the football club are stressing the importance of keeping their feet firmly on the ground. 

“We didn’t go too down after losing games and the result dictates people’s emotions,” Stephen Robinson said after the victory over St Mirren. “It’s important that we continue to learn and to continue to get better.”

Much is often made of the recruitment process at the club and the fact that Motherwell operate with a transfer budget comparable to that of many English non-league sides.

It becomes the responsibility of the manager and chief scout Martin Foyle to sell the club to potential signings. Given the limitations of the budget available, new arrivals at Fir Park aren’t likely to be the finished article and some may have lost their way a little in the game.

What every new signing has in common is that they have potential, they have elements to their game that can be improved and in playing games in the top league of Scotland they will gain exposure through television coverage and the opportunity to play in front of much bigger crowds than they would have in the lower reaches of English football. 

Not every addition to the squad will be a success and I’m sure that there will be a few examples that spring to the forefront of your mind as you read this, though again that comes with the territory of the market Motherwell are shopping in.

The same can be said for performance levels, with young and inexperienced players there almost inevitably will be highs and lows, days where it all clicks into place and days when you contemplate whether the team on the pitch have ever been formally introduced to each other. 

The fans are have every right to be getting excited and as mentioned by the manager – results dictate emotions. Sowhile results are good let’s enjoy them,while keeping it in mind that there will be dips in form too.

When the tough times arrive, the acid testwill be the reaction of the management team and the players. What 2019 has shown us is that Stephen Robinson is more than capable of reacting to adversity and even if eight games into the season may be too early to reach for our passports, another positive display from this exciting young team today will allow us to enjoy another week of getting carried away.

The latest MFC Podcast with special guest Keith Lasley is available now on all major podcast apps, Spotify and via the podcast website MFCPodcast.co.uk.

The Final Word v St Mirren 5/10/19

The introduction of VAR in Scottish football could jeopardise a lot of what we love about the game. 

Picture the scene. Craig Reid has just forced the ball over the line and the away end erupts. Motherwell have secured second place with the final kick of the ball, but then referee Steven McLean signals he is going to consult with the video assistant referee (VAR).

The 1000 plus away supporters who until this point have been totally lost in scenes of unbridled joy stop dead, they now face an agonising wait to see if the goal will stand. When VAR finally returns its verdict, a foul on Jamie Langfield has been spotted in the build-up, the goal is ruled out, and it’s now the home fans that are delirious – Motherwell end the season in third place and it has been technology that has had the final say.

Here we have an illustration of a moment in football that could have been totally ruined by video technology.

Whether you are in the pub, in the stand, at work or pretty much anywhere else for that matter, we all love to have our say on controversial refereeing decisions. Some will decry the standard of officiating; some will allege bias against their team and almost every single time there will be disagreements. For me debating the referees performance is just as much of a tradition within the game as a pie at half time or losing our minds when an opposition player attempts to steal five yards when taking a throw in.

Controversy can quite often be what makes football brilliant and we can all point to examples of where our teams have benefited from a controversial decision and undoubtedly list 10 times more examples of occasions where we believe our team were given a raw deal.

Following on from the introduction of VAR in the English Premier League, a weekly debate has followed about the influence of video technology. It seems from crying out for what was previously heralded as a cure to poor decisions, has arguably thrown up just as many negatives as it has positives.

In the aftermath of the first week of EPL fixtures, English referees’ chief Mike Riley revealed that VAR had made four mistakes and as its use is limited to goals, penalties, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity, there are key points in the game that will not be reviewed meaning the big decisions will remain the responsibility of the referee.

The intervention of VAR can also have a positive/negative impact on both the players and the crowd too. Take Tottenham’s recent fixture with Leicester City as a good example of this.

Son Heung-Min was found to be millimetres offside in the build to what looked to be the goal that put Spurs 2-0 ahead,  the decision to rule the goal out, which came after a lengthy two-minute review clearly had a major effect in what would happen in the remainder of the game.

The atmosphere inside the stadium lifted, the Leicester fans and players were buoyed while the high of thinking the game was almost put to bed followed by the subsequent disappointment, clearly had an opposite effect on the Spurs players – the Foxes would go on to win the game 2-1.

“I’m not disappointed with that, I’m disappointed because we conceded two goals and the emotion of the game changed,” Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino said after the game. “That is normal that it changes the emotions. For us it was a massive disappointment and for them it was a massive belief.”

Gary Lineker agreed with Pochettino’s assessment adding that VAR “could and should benefit the game but at present it’s sucking the life out of it.”

When former referee Hugh Dallas leapt to the defence of officials in Scotland last week, fans reacted with a scathing assessment of their abilities. In truth there’s almost a bit of pantomime to it all, football fans throughout the ages have portrayed the referee as the villain.

Unfortunately there are times where the lines get blurred, such as the threats to John Beaton following the Rangers v Celtic fixture last December. Behaviour like that shouldn’t ever be excused and while officials have to be capable of facing criticism, times in which their private lives are dragged into matters are clearly unacceptable in the minds of any right minded individual.

Would the introduction of video technology eradicate the issues with idiots taking things too far? I highly doubt that, though there has been support for the introduction of VAR in Scottish football.

In January, Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell said there was now “a real appetite to investigate VAR” from clubs and officials and Motherwell chief executive Alan Burrows, who also sits on the SPFL board was quoted last year as urging the SPFL board to “get on the front foot with VAR and see if there is a way to do it”.

It appears there is an enthusiasm from those in the positions of power to push forward with the potential introduction of video technology and while they will argue that the pressures of the game dictate that ensuring every big decision in a game is correct, I can’t help but feel a lot of what we love about the game will also come under real threat should we implement these measures.

As the first few months of VAR in the EPL have shown, there will still be incorrect decisions only now there is someone else to blame.

The Final Word – Ross County 21/9/19

Amidst the furore that followed more suffering for the Scottish national team, I couldn’t help think back to my own childhood and my relationship with football.  

Coming home from school, straight out with a ball, in for dinner and right back out until the last bit of light had faded – growing up in the 1990’s football was everything.

Those were simpler times, the internet was very much in its infancy, mobile phones were something owned by few and were the size of a large brick, four (and then five) channels on the television, football at 3pm on a Saturday, Sportscene later that night and any spare bit of land would host a game of football.

It’s easy to be over romantic about your childhood, but the mere mention of ‘cuppy doubles’, ‘combi’ and matches between ‘rival’ streets, bring the memories flooding back.

Playing for a team was a nice supplement to the endless hours playing football too. I played for Blackburn Rovers – we changed our name from Motherwell Miners after Kenny Dalglish’s side clinched the Premier League title in 1995. Our rivals were the likes of Motherwell Colts, Aston Villa and EK Swifts, with battles played out at Watling Street (the Motherwell Pavillion), Ballerup and the Hamilton Palace Grounds.

I think everyone who ever took to the pitch on a Saturday morning in those days believed it was their destiny to go on to be a professional footballer.

25 years on and as far as I’m aware, it was only Mark Reynolds who achieved his dream of going on to be a professional footballer from Blackburn’s ‘Class of 1995’, football is still a massive part of our DNA, though changes in society and perhaps more significantly technology mean the world is a drastically different place.

Following on from what was another disappointing week for the Scottish national side, the usual post mortem got underway. Kris Boyd was the most outspoken and offered his view that football was now a middle class sport and kids are being priced out of playing the game.

“All you see is no ball games signs everywhere. The football community of Scotland get the blame of it, but it’s everybody,” Boyd said. “Kids in South America play football on the streets; we’re encouraging people not to do it.

“And then we keep moaning all kids want to do is play computers – they’ve nothing else to do, because it costs an absolute fortune to go and play football because of what our country has created.

“We’re losing too many kids, it’s now a middle-class sport and to be honest, being a footballer now is not the be-all and end-all for kids coming through.”

There were accusations of hypocrisy levelled at Boyd given the prices for his ‘KB9’ soccer academy, though there’s certainly merit in some of his points too.

In my household, two of the boys play football. This can be a costly business, though as they head out to training or to a game on the weekend, I can’t help think back to doing the same as a boy and I see the same excitement.

Playing with their teams, the dedication and devotion of the coaches allows the kids to develop, learn and play regularly in a safe and supervised environment.

Unfortunately at home they don’t have the same luxury, we’ve had various neighbours at the door complaining about the noise coming from the bounce of the ball, worrying about potential damage to their car or that they are making noise as they enjoy playing football.

There are little alternatives either, most of the makeshift venues for my childhood games no longer exist, mainly being replaced by housing. Access to 3G pitches are restricted by padlocks, despite often sitting empty and Boyd is absolutely correct – the prices of hiring pitches is far too costly.

For me accusing kids of being lazy and more interested in alternatives is lazier than that accusation itself. While there are undoubtedly more options for children than ever before, there are also more restrictions.

Nowadays kids don’t have the same sort of freedom, though despite living in a world where more people have access to a mobile phone than they do a flushing toilet, Xbox’s and digital television – our kids still find time for football.

There will be many who have aspirations to pursue a career as something other than a footballer and that’s absolutely fine. Given the number of youngsters who will go on to make a living out of the game, it’s also very sensible.

We don’t need to make sweeping accusations about kids lacking commitment; instead we need to accommodate them. The days of playing football until the very last night may be gone, but the game still holds all of the same significance, if we can learn to stop hampering kids developing then we may just see Scottish football starting to move in the right direction.

Using Football To Make A Change

“I thought I’ll show you and ever since the idea has grown and grown.”

Next summer ‘Well fan Scott McClure will set off to Zambia on a fundraising trip that combines his love of football with his desire to make a difference.

‘Pepe’s Zambia Football Foundation’ is an idea that has stemmed from rather humble beginnings. 

After spending the day spoiling his young daughter and her friends in celebration of her sixth birthday, he sat down in front of the television and turned on the BAFTA award winning film ‘The Last King of Scotland’ which follows Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) while in Uganda on a medical mission.

The thought provoking film and Scott’s words that followed would escalate rather quickly.

“I turned to my wife and said I really wanted to do something like that,” Scott recalled. “My wife didn’t really seem to take much notice and I thought ‘I’ll show you’.

In the weeks that followed, Scott laid the foundations of what would become ‘Pepe’s Zambia Football Foundation’. The project will see him collect unwanted football equipment and taking it to Livingstone, Zambia in 2020 as a vehicle for social change.

As well as his great desire to make a positive difference, he admits he has his own personal reasons in launching his football foundation.

“A few years ago I lost my dad and I have such fond memories of my time with him, especially going to the football together,” Scott explained. “After he passed I started to consider what I’ve achieved in my own life and how I’d like to be remembered.

“I’ve done well in my work and I’ve got a brilliant family, but I still wanted to do something to make the kids proud of their dad and I also hope my dad is looking down on me and my foundation is making him proud.”

It wasn’t long before donations of football equipment came flooding in from far and wide – something that has provided some storage challenges.

“The idea itself has just totally snowballed and the reaction has been totally overwhelming, he added. “I started off with a five foot storage unit and that has been upgraded to a 50 foot unit due to the amount of equipment donated already.

“I’m working in partnership with the Butterfly Tree Charity and they have already offered so much vital advice and support.

“There have been so many amazing donations; those who have followed my pages on social media will have seen I’ve been posting some pictures of some of the kit that has been donated.

“A stand out donation was a full set of Motherwell Hummel kits with the amber tractor print on them.

“Being a massive Motherwell fan, it would be so special to go over next year and have the opportunity to get a picture of a local school all kitted out in Motherwell shirts – maybe that’s me being a bit selfish, but that would be fantastic.”

With significant cost associated with shipping such large volumes of equipment, Scott has had to find ways to fundraise his trip. This evening will see the first of the foundation’s events as the Centenary Suite at Fir Park hosts a quiz and race night with all funds raised going towards the foundation.

During the event there will also be a host of incredibly rare football memorabilia and prizes up for grabs in the auction. As well as being a season ticket holder at Fir Park, Scott is also a member of the Glasgow Reds Liverpool Supporters Club and just days after a special evening for the Anfield side in the Champions League final, he would secure a special meeting with a Scot that played a big part in their success.

“One of the auction prizes is a framed and signed Andrew Robertson Liverpool shirt,” he smiled. “Inside the frame there is also a Champions League final programme and a match ticket from what was an amazing night.

“Getting to meet Andy was a real privilege and it was superb from my son to get to meet his hero.

“He seemed genuinely interested in the foundation and wished me all the best with it all.

“I’m really looking forward to the first event at Fir Park; the cost of undertaking the project is one of the reasons why I won’t be travelling out until September 2020.

“I hope everyone has a brilliant night and we can raise lots of money for the foundation at the same time.”

As Scott continues to promote his foundation, he is hoping to host an equipment drive at Fir Park in the near future and is hoping Motherwell supporters will get right behind the cause.

“My Facebook and Twitter pages will be kept updated with all the latest on the foundation,” Scott added. “If there’s anyone looking to donate unwanted football equipment I’d love to hear from them.

“I’ve already had a good meeting with Alan Burrows about how Motherwell can support the foundation and the MFC Podcast has also got on board.

“Thanks to the podcast we will be sponsoring Jermaine Hylton’s away shirt with a prize draw where fans can win a place at the player of the year event and Jermaine’s shirt.”

The Last Word – v Hibs 31/8

Summer is an expensive time of year and the ever increasing price of football is doing little to alleviate the pressure.

The list of costs associated with the summer months feels almost endless. Those with children are faced with the dilemma of how to keep them fed, watered and entertained for six weeks, before the cost of new uniforms and equipment ahead of the new school year comes to the forefront of our minds. Many will head off on a summer holiday to take a well-earned break from the stresses of work and everyday life, while also enjoying a short break from the weekly routine of following our football team up and down the country on the weekend.

An addition to our summer expense is renewing season tickets for the upcoming season, a big outlay in demonstration of dedication and devotion through whatever the campaign ahead brings. At least two new shirts every summer has also become common place too, gone are the days of a team keeping a shirt for more than one season, the summer brings full scale change.

It doesn’t stop there either, with Scottish sides entering European competitions earlier and Betfred Cup group stage games for the rest of us – the break from football has become even shorter.

Last weekend’s £25 entry fee at Hamilton brought the cost of paying into Motherwell games so far this season to £115 (five Betfred games and two away Scottish Premiership fixtures). £115 extra without considering the cost of taking along the kids as well as the cost of travel, food and drink.

Those in charge at Fir Park have emphasised the importance of the support from the younger generation and their desire to entice young fans is clear in initiatives such as ‘WELLevate’ where free kids season cards are issued following the purchase of an adult or over 60s card and in pricing under-16 entry into the stadium at £3.

Both Motherwell fans and Hibernian will benefit from these sensible prices this afternoon, but with adult tickets priced at £24 (£30 for fixtures against Celtic and Rangers) then it would be remiss of me to fail to acknowledge that some tickets at Fir Park are also too expensive.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that clubs have to make money and a big part of their income is generated through the turnstiles. It could also be argued that if you don’t agree with the pricing then simply don’t attend, though feeling torn over following our football teams is a feeling that is very difficult for a fan to consider and last weekend’s Lanarkshire Derby felt like a real tipping point. 

As Motherwell fans we are lucky in the sense we rarely get caught up in a scramble for tickets, if you want to go and see the team then you shouldn’t have any issues doing so, though it was clear from the reduction in numbers behind the goal at Accies that supporters are being faced with a dilemma when it comes to following their side.

Last season 2246 ‘Well fans made the short trip to the fixture at New Douglas Park in late December while the fixture between the teams in October 2017 attracted 2138 visiting supporters. In comparison 1409 made the trip for last Saturday’s 3-1 victory – representing a drop of 38%.

The £25 adult entry clearly irked some supporters into voting with their feet and the £15 entry fee for under-16’s was even more infuriating. How can we possibly expect to encourage the next generation into following their team when the pricing presents a huge quandary for parents as to whether they can afford to take them along?

Perhaps there would be a degree of understanding if it was the case that some of the extra revenue from admission prices was going towards enhancing the match day experience, however that simply is not the case. The only source of entertainment on offer outside of the football at most Scottish grounds is comparing who has least burnt pie or has found a bit of fizz in their Coca Cola. 

We often vent our frustrations at comparisons made to the English Premier League. The manufactured nature of the over-hyped product is driven by wealth and the astronomical sums of money invested by broadcasters and sponsors – to compare that to Scottish football is comparing two drastically different worlds. 

That isn’t to say that the game in Scotland doesn’t have a lot going for it and the beauty of our game is how ingrained it is in our culture, it’s a game for the people and accessible to all, the passion every single one of us has for our team is immense and perhaps more significantly is real. Selfies with the opposition, half and half scarves and dreadful atmosphere? We leave that for the EPL…  

This is our game and our game is often brilliant, crazy, exciting and quite often downright ridiculous – there’s never, ever a dull moment. Though it’s imperative with the ever increasing risk of pricing out those who love following Scottish football, the connection between empty seats and rising prices has to be acknowledged.

The Last Word v Hearts 16/8

Maxwell, Nijholt, Angus, Paterson, McCart, Boyd, Cooper, Griffin, O’Donnell, Ferguson, Arnott, O’Neill and Kirk. 

Ask any Motherwell fan to rhyme off the names of the players who clinched Scottish Cup glory on 18 May 1991 and they will do so with ease.

Tommy McLean and his side ensured legendary status at the football club on that day by winning a thrilling encounter after extra time and in the process ending the club’s 39 year wait for a major trophy – the last of which came with a 4-0 success over Dundee to earn the club their first ever Scottish Cup triumph.

Over 28 years on and it’s fair to say a lot has happened at the club during that time.

Three second place finishes, European qualification on nine occasions, the emergence of James McFadden, the pain of administration, 13 different managers, two League Cup finals and two Scottish Cup finals. Sadly though, another major trophy has escaped our grasp.

To compound that frustration for ‘Well fans during that period the likes of Raith Rovers, Inverness, St Mirren, Livingston and St Johnstone have all won either the League or Scottish Cup. Without attempting to engage in a debate on the size and stature of Motherwell in comparison to any of these sides, it certainly has been difficult to watch on as supporters of those teams have enjoyed their unlikely success.

Similar to being able to rhyme off the 1991 side, fans will also be able to do the same with cup disappointments. The indirect free kick in the 2006 League Cup semi-final, losing to 10-man Aberdeen in the last eight of the same competition in 2013 or what about THAT Albion Rovers defeat?

There has been plenty of times when a cup defeat has felt like it will take forever to get over, though it’s important to remember that throughout the 28 years that have passed since Tom Boyd held aloft the Scottish Cup draped in claret and amber ribbons, Motherwell have been a top flight club. Only Aberdeen and Celtic have enjoyed a more prolonged period at the top level of Scottish football.

Would we swap that for a cup win? Probably, but there’s reason to believe that we could end our long wait without having to endure relegation in exchange.

Following the last 16 draw that brought us tonight’s fixture at Fir Park against Hearts, there was a bit of despair from ‘Well fans after they saw their side paired with yet another Premiership side.

This year’s Scottish Cup fixture against Ross County was the first time that Stephen Robinson has come up against a team outside the top flight in the knockout stages of a cup competition since taking over as manager in 2017. Prior to the 2-1 defeat to the side that would go on to win the Scottish Championship, he had led ‘Well into 11 cup games, winning eight and losing just three – two of which were finals.

When you add into the mix Robinson’s haul of 11 wins and a draw from 12 Betfred Cup group stage fixtures, he boasts a win rate of 79.2% in cup competitions (66.7% excluding group fixtures).

It’s a hugely impressive record and offers some hope that the possibility of going all the way and lifting a trophy is possible under the guidance of the Northern Irishman.

Cup ties at Fir Park have always held a special significance. The crowd is usually boosted; the atmosphere is turned up an extra notch, while hope and expectation are both in a plentiful supply as supporters allow themselves to ponder what if?

We could have a new side to idolise, maybe our own unlikely hero, we could stop bringing out 1991 commemorative merchandise at every turn – I even think most of us would consider changing our bank pin numbers…

There’s a long way to go and if the previous 28 years have taught us anything then it’s that we may end up disappointed, though let’s soak up the big match atmosphere, get right behind the team and allow ourselves to believe that this could be our year.