Category: Blog

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.

The Last Word – v Celtic 10/8/19

Last week Motherwell Football Club paid tribute to former player Paul McGrillen. 

McGrillen took his own life on 29 July 2009 and on the 10th anniversary of his untimely passing the club released an emotional and poignant video where his loved ones shared their happy memories of Paul as well as the pain of losing a loyal husband and proud father. 

The words of Paul’s wife Michelle were especially emotive and thought provoking. As she explained her anguish of not spotting the signs of the struggles her husband was enduring she said: “For me, everything is fixable. There are people you can talk to. To think your loved ones are better off without you is absolutely not true.”

A few days later and it was the turn of the fans to show their respects and as ‘Well took on Livingston in their Scottish Premiership opener, a tribute banner was unveiled before a minutes applause during which the 1479 travelling fans remembered Paul and brilliantly demonstrated their support for his family.

Sadly tributes to young lives lost far too soon have become a common occurrence for Motherwell fans in recent times.

Just two weeks prior to the tributes to McGrillen, fans took part in the first Alex Lindsay & Lloyd Welsh Memorial Cup. Alex (18) and Lloyd (22) were ‘Well fans, taken from us at a devastatingly young age and their passing has left a huge void for both their families and friends.

Organised by the SIWY Fanzine, the tournament raised £1,687.78 for Chris’s House, which was founded by Anne Rowan in memory of her son Chris, whom she lost to suicide in 2011 at the age of 36. In the years following Chris’s death, Anne experienced an overwhelming sense of guilt. Her hair fell out; she lost her balance and couldn’t go out unaided.

Anne soon turned her focus to taking action and created Chris’s House – the first 24 hour, non-medical crisis centre in Scotland offering integrated support. 

Since the launch almost four years ago, the charity has provided crucial support to those experiencing crisis, supporting them to counter depression and despairing thoughts and exchange reasons for dying with reasons for living. They aim to reach out to the wider community and make a difference not only to each other’s lives but for those who come into contact with Chris’s House at their time of need.

Now while the focus of this article has centred around the issue of suicide in the local area, of course it’s much more widespread than that.

Figures released in June 2019 by NHS Information Services Division (ISD) confirmed the rate of suicides in Scotland has risen to the highest level in five years, with the rate of deaths for people aged 15-24 up 50%.

Despite the hard work in the promotion of mental health issues and the importance of the message that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’, it’s deeply concerning that the rates of suicides in Scotland continues to rise.

It’s an issue that goes well beyond the colour of our scarves, our footballing allegiances and our backgrounds or beliefs – Scottish football fans rarely agree on much, but reducing suicide rates is surely something we can all come together on?

Football can be a fantastic vehicle to drive important messages and the impact of a crowd of supporters coming together to promote a strong message is a very powerful thing.

It can feel nigh on impossible to talk about our fears and our feelings, however the more we talk about suicide openly, the sooner we reduce the fear and stigma that surrounds it.

MFC Podcast – Episode 204

Pro boxer and ‘Well fanatic Scott Allan joins Sparra to look back on the opening day fixture against Livingston and the comfortable win over Annan.

We look ahead to the visit of Celtic on Saturday and the Betfred Cup clash with Hearts.

Also on the agenda is progress in the Caramel Wafer Cup, new signings, Scott’s aspirations to host a title fight at Fir Park and much, much more.

MFC Podcast – Episode 200!

The MFC Podcast has reached 200 episodes! In a special edition of the MFC Podcast, Sparra is joined by Motherwell’s head of 18s to 21s Maurice Ross. We discuss in great detail his role at the club, player pathways, the poster boys of the youth setup at Fir Park, his short spell as a player at the club back in 2011 and much, much more.

‘Well Fans Support Sleep Out

It was an evening at Fir Park with a difference…

On Saturday evening into Sunday morning, a small band of ‘Well supporters took part in the first ever Fir Park Sleep Out.

The event was organised by the MFC Podcast in support of Shelter Scotland, Motherwell FC Community Trust and the Motherwell Disabled Supporters Association.

A night in the cold and rain was more than worthwhile for those taking part, with the latest total of monies raised standing at £1400.

MFC Podcast host, Andy Ross was delighted following the success of the event.

“It was a long night at times, but everyone helped each other through,” he said. “For us this was only one night in the cold and wet, the unfortunate reality is for thousands of people across Scotland are facing this every night.

“Hopefully tonight’s event will make a small difference to helping win the battle against homelessness in Scotland.

“I’m really pleased at how the event went, I can’t thank the team at Security Scotland and St Andrew’s First Aid enough for their presence on the night, as well as Motherwell FC and Robert Park for accommodating the event.

“On top of that, I’d like to thank all of those who took part or supported the Sleep Out through making a donation – it’s massively appreciated.”

You can still donate to the Fir Park Sleep Out HERE

Fans Sign Up For Fir Park Sleep Out

Motherwell fans are set for a night at Fir Park with a difference on 23 March.

Almost 20 fans have already signed up for the first ever Fir Park Sleep Out, which will raise funds for Shelter Scotland, the Motherwell Community Trust and Motherwell Disabled Association. 

Supporters will spend the night sleeping under the stars at Fir Park with only a  sleeping bag to protect them against the elements. 

It’ll be a somewhat different experience from the usual 3pm on Saturday experience the Steelmen faithful are used to, but organisers, the MFC Podcast are hoping it’ll be a great success. 

“There’s been so much work went into the event so far,” they explained. 

“Thankfully the response has been very positive with fans from far and wide signing up.

“We’ve still got two weeks until the event and are now hoping we can really push on, attract more numbers and make the first Fir Park Sleep Out a great success.”

‘Well stars Jake Hastie and David Turnbull have already shown their support for the event and the organisers are currently on the look out for an event sponsor.

You can sign up for the Fir Park Sleep Out HERE, while those unable to take part can support via the MFC Podcast website or by sponsoring any individual fan taking part.