Category: Blog

Record Breakers

Rangers’ seven straight clean sheets earlier this season attracted plenty plaudits. But in the not-too-distant past, the Steelmen were also embarking on a similar run which ensured Premier Division safety.

Rangers’ 2-2 draw with Hibernian last weekend ended a run of seven consecutive clean sheets for Steven Gerrard’s men.

While the Light Blues were rightly being lauded for their defensive form, the goals conceded in Edinburgh ensured that they could only match a record set by Motherwell 24 years ago.

The 1995-96 season was a strange campaign from a Motherwell perspective.

Coming off the back of a third-place finish in 93-94 and ending the following season as runners-up there was understandably great optimism among the claret and amber faithful for more success for the Steelmen.

The team had forged a reputation of challenging at the summit of the Scottish game, while playing an attractive and expansive brand of football. Among their ranks they had players such as Rob McKinnon, Paul Lambert, Dougie Arnott and Tommy Coyne – experienced and quality footballers who were reaching great heights for ‘Well.

Alex McLeish was heading into his second season in charge at Fir Park and the young boss followed up splashing out a then club record transfer fee of £400,000 on Mitchell van der Gaag from PSV Eindhoven towards the end of the previous season with the capture of striker John Hendry from Tottenham Hotspur looking like a move that would help bolster his attacking options.

Despite the additions of some high-profile new faces with the experience and quality of the side that had seen ‘Well challenge at the top end of the Scottish football in the previous two years, they would endure a disappointing start to the new season.

Exiting the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle to Mypa-47 started the season on a disappointing note and that was coupled with a serious injury to Van Der Gaag in the first-leg defeat at Fir Park which ruled him out for six months.

Motherwell opened the season with four draws on the spin before getting their first three points after a 3-0 success over Kilmarnock at Fir Park.

The joy was short-lived however, and a 2-1 midweek defeat at Ibrox was followed by a 2-0 defeat at home to Raith Rovers.

Defeating Aberdeen 2-1 at Fir Park seemed to have put things back on the right track for McLeish, though few could have predicted the horrendous run that followed – sending the team hurtling towards a relegation dogfight.

A 4-2 loss at Easter Road set the ball rolling on a fifteen-game run in which Motherwell would fail to record a single victory – losing nine times and drawing six. 

During the height of their slump, ‘Well would go eight games in succession without finding the net – a record that remains the club’s longest run of matches without scoring a goal in their 134-year history.

Ironically when that elusive goal finally arrived, it was a Falkirk player who scored Motherwell’s goal. On a drab Tuesday evening at Brockville, Joe McLaughlin put the ball into his own-net to clinch a 1-0 victory at Brockville and end a painful wait for the ‘Well fans who could have been forgiven for forgetting what it felt like to celebrate the ball hitting the net.

After the exhilaration of seeing their team win a match and scoring a goal (sort of), normal service was resumed one week later as Aberdeen recorded a 2-0 victory at Fir Park to send the Steelmen spinning out the Scottish Cup.

There were more league goals for McLeish’s side in their next league game against Rangers at Ibrox. Martin fired home a wonderful long-range effort and Willie Falconer notched his first goal for the club, but ‘Well were denied a well-deserved share of the spoils when Ally McCoist rolled home a penalty with 13 minutes left on the clock.

Having lost the next two matches after finally getting back to winning ways it was vitally important that Motherwell got back to winning ways when Aberdeen visited Lanarkshire for the second time in a fortnight and they managed to do just that when Alex Burns notched his fifth goal of the season to clinch a 1-0 success.

McLeish’s side would have to wait 11 days for their next league encounter, taking on Raith Rovers at Fir Park. Rovers had been rocked days prior to the fixture after seeing their extraordinarily successful boss Jimmy Nicholl depart the club for Millwall leaving Jimmy Thomson and Jim McInally in temporary stewardship.

Again, the match was decided by a single goal, Falconer getting his first on home soil to help ‘Well move off the foot of the Premier League table.

The Bairns were next up at as Motherwell enjoyed their third successive home fixture and again it was Falconer who netted the winner – the striker had endured the disappointment of missing a penalty on his debut against Kilmarnock, but was beginning to demonstrate his abilities to pop-up with a big goal and this was the case yet again as Falkirk were defeated 1-0.

Falconer lifted the ball over Tony Parks in the Falkirk goal before nodding the ball into the net, a goal of real quality, style and huge magnitude.

‘One-Nil, to the Motherwell’ was becoming a real favourite for ‘Well fans and for the fourth successive game the team battled to three-points in that fashion when Paul Lambert’s first half penalty was enough to see off Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.

It was a case of another game and another clean sheet when Tommy Burns’ exciting Celtic side came to Fir Park. The Hoops were harbouring strong hopes of ending Rangers’ quest for an eighth successive league title, though they couldn’t breach the strong Motherwell backline featuring the likes of McKinnon, Van Der Gaag, Martin and McCart – it wasn’t a fifth successive win, but another game without conceding.

Given the team looked to be in serious relegation trouble, it had taken a quite superb run of form to turn Motherwell’s season around and defeating Partick Thistle 2-0 at Firhill in their final game of March moved them six points clear of the Jags who were occupying the relegation play-off position.

Billy Davies opened the scoring in the first half and Van Der Gaag put the game beyond doubt after the break. Theresult was made even more impressive by the fact their opponents were themselves enjoying a good run of results including a very impressive 5-2 demolition of Hearts at Tynecastle just one week earlier.

A club record seventh successive clean sheet was secured as Hibernian were swept aside at Fir Park in emphatic style. Coyne opened the scoring before Falconer and Martin put gloss on a fine afternoon’s work.

It was the most comprehensive victory in a tremendous run that saw the Steelmen ensure their top-flight safety – taking 19 points from a possible 21 – scoring nine goals without reply.

The run would end on game eight when Brian Irvine netted a second half equaliser for Aberdeen at Pittodrie to cancel out Falconer’s opener and the Dons would go on to take all three points after McCart’s own goal late in the game.

In the final three encounters of the season, Motherwell managed only a single point meaning they ended the campaign in eighth place – nine points clear of Partick Thistle who finished second bottom and 15 ahead of Falkirk who suffered automatic relegation after only picking up one point in their final 10 fixtures.

Following on from a season where the team were record breakers for both good and bad reasons, McLeish’s side again would struggle in the league during the 1996-97 season – only avoiding the relegation play-off on the final day of the season.

Derby day with a difference

The Lanarkshire derby is normally a well-contested and passionate affair, prompted further by the supporters. Now, the verve must come solely from the 22 on the pitch.

For Motherwell a Lanarkshire Derby hasn’t always meant a meeting with Hamilton, though in recent times this fixture has taken on an increasing level of importance.

It has been over 27-years since Motherwell last took on Airdrie in league action and it would take until 2008 for their next Lanarkshire Derby in the league.

Following on from Hamilton earning promotion to the top-flight for the first time in 20-years by clinching the Division One title in 2008, the teams would face off five times during the 2008-09 campaign.

Since Chris Porter’s brace earned ‘Well a 2-0 victory over Accies in November 2008, the teams have met a further 31 times in the league.

The Steelmen have come out on top 13 times, Hamilton have won 10 and eight fixtures have ended in stalemate.

“Even though it’s maybe not traditionally as big a derby as some of the others in Scotland, it was certainly a big occasion to be involved in both as a player and now as a coach,” said Motherwell assistant boss Keith Lasley.

“I think maybe it’s what generation you come from that dictates which one holds more significance in terms of the Lanarkshire Derby, though with Motherwell and Accies having been in the same league for quite some time now, it has built up a lot.”

Keith’s view is one that’s shared by Dougie Imrie, who over the years played a key-role for Accies in their meetings with Motherwell.

While there was never any love lost between the midfielder and the ‘Well support, Imrie thrived on playing in these fixtures and was rarely far away from the spotlight.

Now working for Accies as a youth coach, he holds both positive and negative memories of coming up against the Steelmen.

“For both teams, the bragging rights are massive,” Imrie explained.

“Anywhere I went to and got a bit of abuse, I rose my game a little bit and I think I always did that against Motherwell whether that be popping up with a goal or an assist – I enjoyed the games and the atmosphere was always fantastic too.

“There was the season where we won 4-0 at Fir Park and then won 5-0 in the next game at home.

“Everyone was bang at their game and both of those games are very memorable.

“I’ve also been on the end of a few heavy defeats against Motherwell as well, so I know how it feels to be on both sides and I’m well aware of how much it means to the supporters– the result will have a massive impact on people’s weekends.

“For today’s game I think the players will have to get themselves going and with it being a derby and crucial points at stake, that shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Unfortunately, fans will be unable to be inside Fir Park for this afternoon’s Scottish Premiership fixture, meaning both sets of supporters will have to watch on nervously from home as the teams do battle amidst a surreal atmosphere.

Motherwell season ticket holder Scott McClure, regards a game with Hamilton as a must win for his side, though is well aware of the ability of Accies to spring a surprise.

“When the fixtures are released you certainly look out for your games against Hamilton,” Scott said.

“It’s always crucial to get a result against Accies, every season they are tipped for relegation.

“I feel we are a far bigger team, but that makes it even harder when we don’t win.

“There’s certainly plenty of passion on show, I think of the games we didn’t win for example Peter Hartley pushing Dougie Imrie at full-time a few years ago.

“I don’t think the lack of fans will make too much of a difference today, we seem to be getting closer to form now and I’m sure after four games the players will be growing more used to the circumstances.”

Accies’ Supporter Liaison Officer, Sean McHugh admits it comes as a source of frustration that some ‘Well fans see a fixture with Accies as a lesser derby and believes that their small but loyal fanbase have big expectations when it comes to facing Motherwell.

“The significance to Hamilton fans I think is huge, we are always looking to better ourselves against Motherwell and get a result – at the start of the season we always aim to win two or three of the derby matches,” he said.

“I think it probably is a bit of an annoyance to Hamilton fans, that some ‘Well fans classify us as the smaller neighbours and that Airdrie is the bigger game for them.

“In recent years Airdrie have been down the leagues and we’ve been in the Premiership, during that time there has been some tightly contested games when we’ve given Motherwell a bit of a doing and then there’s been extended runs where we’ve struggled to get a result against you.”

When pressed for their Lanarkshire Derby highlights, both Imrie and Lasley have matches that instantly spring to mind.

Imrie was keen to recall a 4-0 success for Hamilton at Fir Park in 2014, followed by a 5-0 thumping on New Year’s Day 2015.

Lasley admits most of his memories come from victories at Hamilton, where the ‘Well are roared on by their supporters who pack out the away stand behind the goal.

“The memories I tend to hold tend to be the away games rather than the home games,” he explained.

“To walk out and see the Motherwell fans pack out the stand behind the goal was always great and some of my fondest memories came from getting a result there and seeing the supporters erupt – it was always a nice sight.

“The game where Louis Moult scored the winner in 2016 is one that springs to mind, from memory it wasn’t a great game of football, which can often be the case with derbies, though particularly at that venue where a game of football can sometimes struggle to break out. 

“It was a moment where my first reaction was to look up and see the fans going crazy.

“Tom Aldred getting a double a couple of years back was another big moment at that end too.

“There have been some disappointments as well, though the good moments are the ones that stand-out.”

With Accies often finding them outnumbered in terms of supporters inside the stadium, some have suggested that they may find the adjustment to playing behind closed doors easier.

McHugh disagrees with this assessment however, insisting the crowd are a hugely significant factor in driving the players on.

“I think the lack of a crowd will make a real difference,” he added. 

“I spoke to one of our players recently about the suggestion that no crowds would suit Hamilton players as they don’t particularly play in front of a bigger crowd and he argued that in fact it was the opposite – you take that extra adrenaline from playing in front of a crowd.

“It’s not just from your own fans, but also the opposition fans too – today’s game will be a totally different atmosphere from usual and who deals with it best will be a big factor in the outcome of the match.”

Many of Lasley’s derby highlights revolve round the scenes of celebrations with the ‘Well fans and despite their absence inside the ground this afternoon, he and Stephen Robinson have been reminding their players how much this game means to the fans.

“Playing in an empty stadium is different, the feeling of the game, the ebb and flow, as well as the momentum of the game doesn’t seem to be as clear when they fans aren’t there,” the ‘Well assistant continued.

“Fans can drive a game of football at times with the feeling and emotion coming from the stands, that’s always even more charged in a derby match.

“It will be different, but that’s the same for both teams and the players will be made well aware that even though our fans won’t be with us in the stadium, but they’ll still be right behind whether be watching on a TV screen or listening in on the radio – this is a derby match and one that we are determined to come out on top.”

My Last Match

25 February 2020

Motherwell 1-2 St Mirren

Donnelly (12)

Obika (50), Durmus (87)

For the second successive Tuesday, defeat to St Mirren had left me questioning why I even bother. Just like one week previously, I slumped out of Fir Park while the travelling contingent of Buddies fans revelled in what was an unexpected, but admittedly, a fully deserved victory.

Doing my best to get out of a freezing cold Lanarkshire night, I was back at the car in record time. The radio was quickly turned off. I’m not one for taking defeats badly, I’ve supported Motherwell from a very young age and I’m used to feeling that painful gut punch just when you begin to think that things are looking much brighter – though on this night I was sulking at best.

Was it as bad as one week before? On that occasion Saints were 4-1 up by half-time only for Motherwell to somehow recover to level at 4-4. Though of course there was a sting in the tail, penalties and a succession of wayward kicks from the spot ensured that for another year our Scottish Cup hopes were over.

Third spot in the Premiership table, though suddenly looking like we may never ever win a football match ever again. On the bright side after facing the St Mirren three times in the space of as many weeks, this would be the last we would see of the Paisley side, who were proving to be a source of great irritation.

That’s what we do isn’t it? Allow the glimmers of light to re-emerge, dust ourselves off and go again. Yet two months on, I’ve still not had the chance to go again.

I missed the 4-1 success against Ross County at Fir Park one week later due to illness. Watching on an online stream, I struggled to recognise those in claret and amber from those that played as if they had never been formally introduced to each other in the second half seven days previously. Typical luck, I’d endured all but one of the last eight ‘Well games in which they’d failed to register a single win and here they were turning on the style in my absence.

A rare Saturday shift meant that again I had to settle on following the 1-1 draw with Hearts from the couch, though at least there was the vital six-pointer with Aberdeen at Fir Park on the horizon and the team appeared to be emerging from their slump. A Friday night fixture under the lights that was sure to have a big say in the race for third in Scottish Premiership – what better an occasion to make my return?

Of course, the escalating concerns resulting from the coronavirus outbreak led to the postponement of the Dons fixture and indeed forced the suspension of the 2019/20 campaign until further notice.

Whether it was a lack of understanding or an unwillingness to accept the gravity of the situation at the point in time, never did I anticipate that a few months down the line, the day that football returns is even more uncertain as it was then.

Eight weeks on and we have grown increasingly used to watching on in horror as the devastation caused by COVID-19 becomes increasingly apparent. People losing loved ones, losing their jobs, their businesses, having to go long periods of time without seeing family or friends and a requirement not to leave their homes unless totally necessary – football is way down the priority list.

This has led to me feeling a fair amount of guilt for missing the football as much as I currently do. I watch an old match and the urge for the wonderful highs, the crushing lows and everything in-between is huge. I can’t ever remember reading as much football related material and the same can be said when it comes to listening to podcasts about the game or watching YouTube documentaries.

It seems I’m not alone either; social media is full of clubs, fans and players sharing memorable moments, group chats taking on a tone of desperation when it comes to that first game back, pre-match drinks are already planned – our excitement on the day that football returns will be off the scale.

Football for many can provide an escape and release – it’s 90 minutes away from the stresses of our everyday lives, part of our routines and for a number a social occasion. There will be those of us who only see some of our mates at the football, some use it as a family occasion, though for everyone it is special.

When you win it can shape the rest of your weekend, a loss quite often does the same – there’s a gaping hole in our schedules and traditions right now and it’s at that point where I begin to come to terms with why so many of us are missing the beautiful game.

Personally I’ve been following the game for over 25-years now, with the vast majority of my Saturday’s spent within the confines of a football stadium. It’s only natural that when something for which we hold a great passion for is removed as an option, that it will be missed.

Thinking back over those 25-years, there has been times where I’ve felt fed up perhaps even contemplating taking a big step back from how much effort, money and time I invest in following my team.

Though it’s quite like Michael Corleone in the Godfather – just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Perhaps that’ll be the case for some of those who have lost some of their enthusiasm for the game for whatever reason will find a new found spark during this time where the element of choice has been removed. The option to turn on the television and catch a game live is gone, football teams up and down the country are going into survival mode and in times of crisis it’s so often the supporters who rally round and do all they can.

I have to go back to the 22 January for the last time I witnessed Motherwell win a football match in person, on that occasion a long midweek drive to Pittodrie proved to be a very worthwhile one.

When the time does arrive for football to return though, I’m not sure the result will matter whatsoever. All that time without experiencing any of the emotions that go with being a football fan means that even the thought of that all too familiar gut punch seems strangely appealing.

It Doesn’t Feel Like Saturday

It may not be more important than life or death, though there’s no denying the significance of football on our lives and for that we miss it desperately.

by Andy Ross

In a short space of time many of us have forgotten what a normal day feels like.

Personally, I’ve slowly grown used to the sun breaking through my curtains, stirring and remembering that the world outside is essentially off limits. These are exceptionally difficult times and while football is far down the priority list right now, it may also be one of the important factors in providing an escape, hope and inspiration during where many of the things that we were able to take for granted are absent from our lives for an indefinite period of time.

It’s quite incredible to consider that it was only 15 days ago that the SPFL announced the suspension of Scottish football matches and the events that have transpired since. Many of us will now be adjusting to working from home and substantial restrictions on our ability to leave our homes, though for some their lives have been turned upside down through the loss of employment as a consequence of this epidemic – the world has become a very confusing, scary and surreal place in recent weeks and as a result we’ll all feel significant mental challenges in the difficult days, weeks and months ahead.

This is where the absence of football is felt so badly.

‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’

Bill Shankly

Perhaps the most famous quote in football has been debated in the last few weeks and surely in a time of global crisis we can reach the conclusion that while Mr Shankly’s passion for the game that we adore strikes a chord, it ultimately is factually incorrect.

Of course, there are much, much more serious issues going on in the world right now, life and death situations that are much more serious than whether the Scottish Premiership season is played to a conclusion or the potential restructuring of our league setup.

Though at times like this, we are reminded that football is so often the perfect release from the difficulties we face in our lives, it brings us together and allows us even just for 90 minutes to forget other (quite often more important) matters and together experience all sorts of emotions. From the highs of a last minute winner, the crushing disappointment of the opposition snatching one at the other end, losing your mind over a decision you in reality suspect the referee may have got right. When you win it can shape the rest of your weekend, a loss quite often does the same – there’s a gaping hole in our weekend schedules and traditions and we obviously miss it desperately.

A loss of routine coupled with the loss of our escape and the uncertainty that surrounds our day-to-day lives quite simply feels overwhelming. To reflect on the situation as it is causes me significant anxiety, boredom can rise to the surface quickly and it feels more important than ever to ensure that we are looking after those closest to us – it’s hard to imagine that there has ever been a time where so many of us are facing the same mental health challenges at the same point in time.

Football has again provided some respite in the most difficult points of the first few weeks of social distancing and lockdown. Revisiting recording episodes of the MFC Podcast has been a perfect distraction from what is happening outside, I’ve read more football content online than I think I ever have before, finally got round to reading some of the books that I glanced at in the bookcase and cursed myself for not getting round to – there’s still plenty to go and for that I feel like my sporadic overspending on football books has now been justified.

The wider football community has also continually shown real class throughout these bleak and uncertain times too. Whether it be the players and staff at Motherwell phoning their elderly season ticket holders to check in on their wellbeing, Celtic donating £150,000 to the vulnerable and to help support NHS staff or Livingston helping fund free meals for those in need within the local community. There has been so many brilliant acts of kindness and demonstrations of proper community spirit and human kindness in action it shows that we will get through this.

It’s a tough thing to consider that a resumption of what we once considered to be the ‘daily grind’ is still quite some distance away. Though that day will return and when it does I think it’s safe to say that life automatically will become a great deal brighter.

A life where we count down the days until a Saturday, where we escape our worries, revel in the highs, despair during the lows, spend time with those who matter most and take part in all of the silly (but hugely important) routines and superstitions .

In the meantime, regardless of your allegiances it seems like the one time where that doesn’t really matter. Talking about a memorable game, goal or player could really provide an escape and that connection that the loss of the beautiful game has caused.

Even those I consider to be the strongest mentally have been quick to admit that they are struggling right now, given the circumstance that’s totally natural. Though not everyone struggling is as comfortable speaking up, please make use of video calling, social media and messaging apps to check in on those closest to you – it could make all the difference.

And keep in mind that not every Saturday will be like today. It won’t be too long before you are hugging someone you’ve never met before, before you hear the roar of the crowd, you smell the pies, the freshly cut grass – it will be bliss and we’ll appreciate it more than we ever have before.

The Case for Summer Football

Scotland in February and the weather is rubbish. Not exactly breaking news, but as fans suffer the pouring rain, freezing cold conditions and driving winds when watching their team, is it time Scottish football turns to summer football?

Most of you reading this article will have a particular game that you’ll recall as the coldest football match that you’ve ever attended. One where it wasn’t an enjoyable experience in the slightest and your only desire was to get through to the full-time whistle, seek refuge somewhere warm and thaw out.

The most recent example for me is a 2-2 draw with Hearts at Fir Park in 2015 where my daughter (who was only three at the time) and I headed for the exits with around 15 minutes remaining. It was a decent game too, but when you can’t feel your legs, your hands are stinging from the cold and you’ve developed a headache that normally only comes on after trying to wolf down copious amounts of ice cream at Usain Bolt speed – you know you’re beat. 

What makes more of a mockery of all of this is that we pay for pleasure to do so, well at least some do – it now appears fans are beginning to vote with their feet. 

Last Tuesday’s Scottish Premiership fixture between Hamilton and Aberdeen attracted a crowd of just 1218, with 423 hardy souls making the long journey from the Granite City on a night in which even the most devoted Dons supporter must have taken a look out of the window and considered taking in the game on Sky Sports instead. 

I rarely take much notice of attendance figures for football matches; generally they are only used in debates where a fan of one club will try to demonstrate how ‘tinpot’ another club is using their crowd as a stick to beat them with.

What can’t really be argued though, is when a game is broadcast on satellite television there are more eyes than usual on Scottish football. If someone was tuning in for the first time last week, their first impression would have been a match played out in poor conditions, to the backdrop of an atmosphere usually reserved for a bounce match and in front of a stadium where 75% of the seats were empty – there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s hardy a great look. 

I’m not suggesting for a minute that had Accies taken on Aberdeen in the summer then suddenly the stadium would have been full, though it surely would have offered a great deal more appeal than last Tuesday evening did?

Of course, we’ve already had our ‘winter break’ where the players have three weeks off competitive action after a jam-packed December and in 2019 all teams in the top league each contested at least six games. 

Between January 22 and March 4, Motherwell will have played five midweek fixtures, four of them in league. Is it the case that we are shoehorning matches into months where the weather is notoriously unpredictable? Not only that but it’s unpredictable in the sense that it’s hard to predict just how bad the weather will be. 

It often feels like fan safety is secondary too in all of this. Weather warnings are issued and the public are advised to only travel in an emergency, but instead of going with the masses, Scottish football quite often throws down a challenge to loyal fans by allowing games to go ahead when the bigger picture and common sense dictates it’s unsafe to do. 

Then there are the effects of bad weather has on games. After taking in the BSC Glasgow v Hibernian Scottish Cup tie, Hamilton boss Brian Rice called for wind meters to be introduced into the game. 

“The worst conditions you can play in is the wind and I think it has been proven,” Rice said. “There must be a wind meter, something we can use because it just destroys the game. The players don’t like it, the fans won’t come out in it, the game is a lottery.”

Introducing summer football could prove to be a boost for our sides in European competitions too. Year after year we can only watch on with despair as our teams are caught cold in Europe as they suffer defeat at an early stage. 

It surely can only be a positive if our teams are going into fixtures that they’ve worked so hard to earn in the previous campaign with the best possible chance?

I believe it would also work for enhancing the coverage of our game too. Scottish football would have the best part of three months uncontested between late May and the middle of August. It would present the perfect opportunity to remove misconceptions around the game and demonstrate why we all feel so passionately about it to a much wider audience – many of who tend to feel somewhat starved of football during the summer months. 

It’s not all positives when it comes to summer football, and some may straight away point to the fact the season would start in March where the weather is every bit as uncertain. 

There’s no denying that it presents a risk, though I’d remain confident the midweek fixtures in June and July will be much more pleasant than those we’ve experienced in the last few weeks of games in February. 

Some may argue that the summer is spent playing other sports or is the obvious time for a time for a family break and I can see why there would be concerns that these factors could affect attendances. 

There would also have to be consideration for the FIFA calendar, though with Scotland not having qualified for a major tournament since 1998, do we really put our domestic league on hold in case the national side manages to end a 22-year drought?

Instead the solution should be to react if and when the situation does arise, embrace change and at least consider the possibility that instead of having to brave the elements through the winter months and midweek games in particular, we could instead enjoy a vastly more pleasant experience in a move that could change the dynamic of Scottish football for the better. 

 It would be a fresh approach that could represent a step away from continuing to do things just because that’s always been the way things have been. 

A Big Gamble

Bookmakers are pumping ever more cash into club sponsorship. Yet with gambling addiction on the rise and punts galore in the dressing room, something may have to give.

By Andy RossFeatured in Nutmeg 13 available here

For the fifth successive season the top four leagues in the country will be sponsored by Ladbrokes, while the two major cups also feature a bookmaker as their title sponsor. Three of the 12 top flight sides are sponsored by gambling firms and the Main Stand at the National Stadium has been the William Hill South Stand since 2016. Attending or watching a football match in Scotland, there is next to no chance that you could avoid the presence of gambling.

There are undoubtedly financial benefits to the Scottish game courtesy of these deals and SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has been keen to stress the significance of Ladbrokes’ sponsorship of the four professional leagues in Scotland. Speaking as the bookmaker extended their sponsorship deal, Doncaster said: “We have enjoyed a superb partnership since they first came on board in 2015, and are confident that will continue and flourish until 2020 and hopefully beyond.

“We are also aware of our social responsibilities as a senior professional league in Scotland and will continue to promote a message of responsible gambling in conjunction with Ladbrokes.”

 At a time when Scottish football looks on with a degree of envy as the game down south reaps the rewards of astronomical sponsorship deals, some would argue it would be nonsensical to turn down a deal that will benefit all 42 sides and Scottish football as a whole. Many football fans will bet on a big match or place a weekly coupon, indeed many will see it as part of the culture, something they have done for many years. However, for others it runs much deeper, an addiction that can have catastrophic effects.

Former Motherwell and Hearts winger Kevin Twaddle admits his gambling addiction took him to the brink of suicide. Twaddle shared his journey into the gambling abyss in his book Life on the Line and has spoken on behalf of the Scottish PFA to 40 of the 42 SPFL clubs about the dangers associated with gambling.

“Football is a gambling industry now and is no longer the beautiful game,” he explained. “I used to do talks with the PFA, though that doesn’t happen anymore. If you are caught inside the game having a bet on any football it’s a sackable offence, though I would guarantee if you were banning all players in the SPFL who have a bet, then you would have no football – almost everybody does it.”

Twaddle has been encouraged by a shift in understanding of mental health issues not just within football, but across society as a whole. The message that “it’s OK not to be OK” continues to be shared far and wide, though according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, problem gamblers are more likely than others to suffer from low self-esteem, develop stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression, have poor sleep and appetite and to develop a substance misuse problem.

“When you are in the throes of betting, you will do absolutely anything for it, you don’t see any consequences and your morals go out the window,” Twaddle added. “It’s the worst hidden illness. Football is riddled with players being investigated for things they shouldn’t be doing – it’s unbelievable.

“The big question is what do you do if you keep accepting money from gambling companies? It’s constant in football. When you’re a compulsive gambler you go through so many emotions that nobody will understand. You go through so many highs and lows, no wonder you end up with depression and anxiety.

“I’ve had three close friends in the last 18 months who have committed suicide through gambling. When I was at Motherwell I was seeing the club doctor for glandular fever, but also for depression as well. Who is at fault and who is to blame? The players pay money to the PFA but they are doing fuck all about it. What can they do? All their wages are being paid through gambling companies and it’s the same for the hierarchy in the game.”

Twaddle’s take on the gambling epidemic within Scottish football may seem extreme though you don’t have to look far for examples of individuals who have been punished for breaking the game’s strict gambling laws. In 2017, Cowdenbeath defender Dean Brett was sacked by the Central Park club. It was found he had placed 2,787 bets, with eight of those against his own team – five involving matches in which he played. Brett now turns out for Bonnyrigg Rose after rediscovering his love for the game that turned its back on him.

“There wasn’t much support offered to me at all, Cowdenbeath met with me a few times but it’s probably all on you to turn things around,” Brett recalled. “The SFA banned me and Cowdenbeath then terminated my contact, but neither helped with the problem. I wouldn’t say there’s support through the game, only from groups which are away from football. I’d say gambling talk is definitely common in changing rooms – both teams I’ve played for have been the same so I can’t imagine many other teams are much different.

“I feel that if the authorities are going to be strict about gambling within the game then they can’t display gambling logos on their strips and name cup competitions after bookmakers. They benefit from bookmakers’ cash but ban players for gambling – it’s a bit hypocritical.

“I’m not sure earning a lower wage makes you bet more but definitely the lower the level you go you’ll probably have a better idea on who will win matches compared to the bookies – it probably does make you bet more if you know teams and players.”

 Bookmakers offer almost 100 markets available for most senior matches in the UK. The information is re-laid by “data scouts” who communicate via handheld devices or through commentating on the match down the phone. This is the information you will see on the digital pitch on most live betting sites, displaying updates such as home dangerous attack, home corner, away throw-in, etc.

Genius Sports Group has the exclusive rights to collect, license and distribute live data from SPFL fixtures to sports betting operators globally. Despite the Genius deal giving them exclusivity and access to Scottish senior matches, a number of unlicensed organisations also operates at SPFL games, reserve matches and women’s matches across the country. I spoke to a data scout who worked for one of the unlicensed data providers for eight months after taking up the role early last year. He explained the difficulties of working in such a role, both in carrying out the job and his struggles with expenses, financial penalties for errors and payment of wages.

“The job was sold to me as quite glamorous; I was excited to get going – though the reality was so much different from what I anticipated,” the former scout recounted. “My first game was a Scottish Premiership fixture and I was advised I would be paid a match fee of £55. It cost me £28 to pay into the match and £20 on petrol. Expenses aren’t covered so I was essentially paid £7 for an afternoon’s work. Throughout the game I was on the phone to a call centre agent, quite often they would swap between agents during the games and given I was receiving the call from Austria there was a language barrier.

“That first match went smoothly enough, though it wasn’t always the case. I made a mistake in a reserve game and was deducted half of my match fee – I tried to appeal as it was simply a case of the agent not picking up my instruction, but that appeal was rejected.

“In my first few months I did loads of games across the leagues as well as reserve and women’s games. They asked me to register for a Skrill account, so they could pay me at the end of the month – it all felt underhand and it was an absolute nightmare trying to access my wages.

“The problems just kept coming up. I was thrown out of games at three different stadiums – it was incredibly embarrassing. The licence holder was conducting their own checks to ensure that nobody was illegally collecting data at fixtures and I was caught out. My final dismissal came at McDiarmid Park and that was the tipping point for me. The job felt murky – I wasn’t enjoying covering matches and the pay was shocking.”

Scottish Women’s Football (SWF) and its chair Vivienne MacLaren have taken a strong stance on both alcohol and gambling sponsorship with the women’s game in Scotland. Both types of advertising are banned, something MacLaren believes will help enhance the family feel and demonstrates the social conscience of women’s football.

“I’ve not got an issue with alcohol or gambling sponsorship within the men’s game and I understand the importance too,” she explained. “I understand that gambling companies and to a lesser extent alcohol brands are really the only ones with money to put into the game, especially in Scotland.

“If you don’t have those investments, you don’t have clubs that are solvent in many regards – I understand it, but we need to do a hell of a lot more to deal with the fallout that comes with this.

“If you are a gambling addict, the slightest reminder of a brand for that person is absolutely a serious issue and we need to think more about these people. It’s a minority, but for that minority it’s a horrific, horrific thing – like alcohol addiction, gambling addiction is an illness.

“We have been approached by gambling and alcohol firms in the past, but given the fact that over 80 per cent of our registered players are under the age of 18, it would be an insane and highly irresponsible move to allow these firms to be part of our game. We want to position the women’s game in Scotland to be a clean brand because in the long term that attracts a better calibre of partner. We don’t want our partners to write a cheque and walk away. We work closely with our partners and are communicating with them every few days.

“It’s important that young girls and boys are motivated by the role models they see within the game, to be motivated by healthy living, taking part in physical education, being fit, consuming a healthy diet and having a healthy mind – good mental health is so important, especially in young girls as they are growing up. I don’t think you can do that while promoting alcohol and gambling companies – for me that’s cheating a bit.”

Despite taking a strong stance on gambling sponsorship within the game, SWPL1 and SWPL2 matches are still regularly available for in-play betting. The recent SWPL1 fixture between Hibernian and Motherwell had over 80 markets available to bet on. MacLaren admits this is a source of major concern in the women’s game and something they are desperate to eradicate.

“We really need to clamp down on the scouts attending these games and look at how to prevent them attending – we need to have rules in place and implement them,” she said. “It concerns me and without an increased staffing structure it can be very difficult to control. Personally I’ve ejected data scouts from matches before. As clubs commit money to having full-time players who are paid, you will see much more of a focus on a transition towards more professional contracts. The big thing for me is generating even more income into the game so we can support the clubs in building a much more professional focus.

“If we are able to fund the clubs more, then we can potentially have it as part of their criteria as SWPL members that they have someone to eject these people from the grounds. There are some players being paid £20 a week to play SWPL football and then you’ve got someone potentially being paid ten times as much to provide data from our matches – we have banned gambling advertising from our game and yet they are trying to make money out of it. It’s a joke and we can’t allow it to continue to happen.”

 While the women’s game has rejected sponsorship from gambling companies, in the men’s game, Motherwell are one of the teams in the top flight who continue to reap the benefits of sponsorship. The Fir Park club have recently announced the biggest sponsorship deal in the club’s history with Paddy Power coming on board as their main sponsor.

Motherwell are the first Scottish team to take part in the betting firm’s “Save Our Shirt” campaign, dedicated to removing sponsor logos from the front of jerseys. The bookmaker argues that their promotion respects that some things in football are sacred and having a shirt that doesn’t resemble a billboard is a big part of that – the aim of “Save Our Shirt” is to give the shirt back to the fans.

Paddy Power opting not to display their logo on it has certainly added to a more aesthetically pleasing product, though they have revelled in the attention from their latest marketing campaign. Huddersfield Town were the first team to announce a partnership with the bookmaker one week before Motherwell unveiled their sponsorship deal. It all began with a diagonal Paddy Power sash across Town’s traditional blue and white vertical stripes on their kit. The team even took to the field for a friendly against Rochdale wearing the shirt which had been widely described as “one of the worst ever”.

Days later and the shirt was revealed as a fake and that instead Paddy Power would be “unsponsoring” Huddersfield. Surely there’s never been such hysteria around a shirt launch? Paddy Power had got the football world talking about the fact they weren’t featuring on the Huddersfield Town shirt – for the Irish bookmaker it was well and truly job done

Motherwell communications manager Grant Russell believes the Steelmen attracting a company like Paddy Power is a real coup for the club and emphasises the financial benefits attached to such a deal.

“To be able as a club to attract a blue chip, huge national company like Paddy Power maybe shows everyone that we’re getting recognised for everything that we do – the fan ownership, the way we portray ourselves, stories that we tell right down to the way we play on the pitch and the young talent coming through,” he said. “A company like Paddy Power could have had their pick of hundreds of clubs, but they came to us. That shouldn’t be underestimated and it doesn’t happen often. It’s a massively positive deal for the club in a financial sense and we’ll have a bit of fun with it too. Paddy Power are well known for their irreverent tone and it will allow us to push the boundaries a bit.”

While keen to talk up the positives of the club’s biggest ever sponsorship deal, Russell wants to ensure that Motherwell don’t compromise their position as a socially responsible club with the best interests of their supporters and the local community at the root of everything they do.

“We are delighted to be working with Paddy Power; we aren’t going to shy away from that [issue]. I think every gambling company recognises the need to be promoting responsible gambling and we will work with them in doing that.” “It’s not an onus on the club to promote responsible gambling, it’s second nature. It’s in this club’s DNA to look after each other. If someone is experiencing hard times or having trouble, we’re here as the constant to help you. That’s what our community is, that is what we are as a fan base and what we are as a club.

“We will constantly be looking to do our part, to be socially responsible and be able to help. Whether that is through running workshops or awareness campaigns, we will always do that for our supporter base. That will always be what Motherwell Football Club does. We will push these messages 100 per cent in all of these factors that affect people’s lives in a negative sense.”

It’s a strong message from Motherwell, who have often been at the forefront of promoting serious issues in society. Though on the back of their receiving a record sponsorship deal from a bookmaker, some people will surely point to a conflict of interest.

The same accusations could be aimed at the wider Scottish game, with all 42 teams in the SPFL benefitting from the sponsorship of gambling firms. Dean Brett and Kevin Twaddle have both highlighted a lack of support for problem gamblers within the game, while suggesting that the authorities aren’t in a position to deal with the issue given the vast sums of money being injected into Scottish football by the gambling industry.

In rejecting gambling sponsorship, the SWF have taken a brave step and shown that an injection of money from the industry isn’t pivotal to survival, though with no full-time sides in Scotland, many players on low or no wages and an overwhelming number of volunteers across the women’s game – is this being done at the cost of progression?

The debate on gambling within Scottish football will continue to divide opinion. For many the sponsorship money invested by bookmakers is essential to the financial security of the game; but with problem gambling on the rise, the link to mental health issues and suggestions of a gambling culture within dressing rooms, it seems like a tipping point may be reached in the near future.

The Best Matches of the Decade

It’s been a memorable last 10 years for ‘Well fans. From the high of successive second place finishes, three cup finals and European adventures to struggles at the wrong end of the table.

Let’s countdown the 10 most memorable matches of the last decade.

10. Motherwell 3-0 Aalesunds FK – Europa League – 5/8/2010

After suffering late disappointment in the first-leg as the Norwegian side levelled from the penalty spot, it was all to play for one week later at Fir Park.

‘Well made a dream start when Jamie Murphy opened the scoring after just four minutes and John Sutton swept home nine minutes later to double their advantage.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who at the time held the post of reserve manager at Manchester United, was in the crowd to watch future signing Anders Lindegaard and he witnessed the keeper concede his third goal of the evening when Jonathan Page tapped home in the final minutes to seal progression to the final qualifying round for Stuart McCall’s exciting side.

9. Motherwell 3-0 St Johnstone – Scottish Cup – 16-4-2011

In a semi final encounter billed as far too close to call, Motherwell sealed a place in their first Scottish Cup finalin 20 years with a blistering first half display.

Stephen Craigan headed the Steelmen in front after five minutes and his celebration after breaking the deadlock typified the passion that the ‘Well legend would demonstrate every time he pulled on a claret and amber jersey.

Jamie Murphy drove into the box and drilled a low effort into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 and before the break it was three when John Sutton found the net with a quite incredible dipping volley from 35-yards out.

8. Celtic 1-2 Motherwell – Scottish Premiership – 19/12/2015

At the time of writing it’s been over four years since Celtic last lost a league fixture at Celtic Park, that was when Louis Moult’s double gave Motherwell all three points in the East End of Glasgow.

Mark McGhee’s ‘Well side held firm in the opening 45, but fell behind to Nir Bitton’s deflected strike just after the restart. It looked like the Hoops were on their way to a routine victory, but instead they were stunned as the visitors responded brilliantly.

Moult slotted home after great work by Marvin Johnson to level matters and he would double his tally six minutes later from the penalty spot to turn the match on its head. Celtic piled on the pressure in the closing stages, but Motherwell weren’t to be denied a memorable victory.

7. Motherwell 3-1 Celtic – Scottish Premiership – 28/04/2013

European football was guaranteed by a sparkling performance against the champions in waiting at Fir Park. Gary Hooper opened the scoring, but Neil Lennon’s side were powerless to resist what would follow.

Keith Lasley combined with Henrik Ojamaa and the Estonian finished wonderfully, restoring parity before half time and Michael Higdon scored from the penalty spot to put Motherwell ahead.

Lennon had cast some doubt on Higdon’s PFA ‘Player of the Year’ nomination in the build up to the game and the striker sent the Celtic gaffer a message with his celebration after finding the net. The third goal arrived when Mikael Lustig’s clearing header rebounded off his own post and ended up in net after striking Fraser Forster on the back.

6. Motherwell 3-0 Rangers – Scottish Premiership – Play Off – 31/5/2015

Despite a 3-1 victory at Ibrox just three days earlier, there were plenty of nerves as Rangers visited Fir Park for the second leg of their Scottish Premiership play-off.

A cagey first half did little to remove the tension, but Fir Park would erupt when Marvin Johnson’s deflected shot looped into the air and through the hands of CammyBell. As the famous commentary from Derek Rae described, ‘Fir Park was twisting, shouting, shaking’.

Lionel Ainsworth drilled home to put the game beyond doubt and the gloss was put on a quite brilliant few days at the end of a difficult season when John Sutton converted from the penalty spot – the last of his 79 goals for the club.

5. Motherwell 6-6 Hibernian – Scottish Premier League – 5/5/2010

The only match on this list that isn’t a victory, though there can be little disputing the merit of including what was arguably the most incredible 90 minutes in Scottish football history.

Motherwell were dead and buried at 4-1 down and also at 6-2, yet they weren’t and Craig Brown’s men would clinch a draw in the most dramatic of circumstances. Anthony Stokes made it 6-2 for Hibs after 65 minutes, but 11 minutes later it was 6-5.

When referee Willie Collum pointed at the spot to award ‘Well a penalty, the clock read 87, substitute Ross Forbes stepped up to take it and he saw his effort kept out by former ‘Well keeper Graeme Smith.

It didn’t end there though, in the third minute of time added on, Lucas Jutkiewicz thundered home a volley from what seemed like an impossible angle, sparking wild scenes among the players and they eternal optimists within the support who remained inside the ground when all looked to be lost.

4. Motherwell 3-0 Aberdeen – Scottish Cup –14/4/2018

Motherwell under Stephen Robinson had already reached the final of the Betfred Cup during the 2017/18 season when they took on Aberdeen looking to make it a double.

They did so in emphatic style, quite simply steamrollering their way to a richly deserved victory over the Dons – a second 3-0 victory in a cup competition over Derek McIness’ side that season.

Richard Tait did brilliantly to square the ball for Curtis Main to knock the ball home for the opening goal and within two minutes Motherwell had established a position of command when Ryan Bowman reacted quickly after seeing his initial effort blocked to turn the ball into the net and make it 2-0.

After the break, Main added another when he seized upon Kari Arnason’s error before driving into the box and dispatching the ball superbly beyond Joe Lewis. The scenes of celebration at full-time showed just how much the win meant to fans and players alike as an incredible season continued at pace.

3. Rangers 0-2 Motherwell – Betfred Cup – 22/10/2017

We’d become quite well versed on what to expect from these occasions. When it came to coming up against Rangers at Hampden, Motherwell just couldn’t get the job done.

Thankfully, nobody had filled Stephen Robibnson’s side in on the script and they produced a performance to defy the odds and book their place in the 2017 BetfredCup final.

The first half was one sided and much was owed to Trevor Carson in helping keeping Rangers at bay, though as the game went on it became increasingly apparent that it might just be our day.

That belief increased when Louis Moult found the net after Peter Hartley’s header had struck the crossbar and he the talismanic striker was at it again when he sent a sublime shot over the head of Jak Alnwick in the Rangers goal and into the gaping goal.

It’s one to watch time and time again – the silence as the ball leaves Louis’ foot, time seems to stand still and then the noise of the ball hitting the net, followed by an explosion of noise from the ‘Well fans – brilliant!

2. Aberdeen 0-1 Motherwell – Scottish Premiership

There’s little dressing up that as a footballing spectacle, this game was right up there with the very worst, though it was an occasion where the result mattered much more than the manner in which it was achieved.

Motherwell made the trip to Pittodrie knowing that anything less than a win would see them having to settle for third spot, though over the course of the 90 minutes it was the hosts would enjoyed the majority of both the possession and the chances.

A fairly dire goalless draw seemed inevitable as the fourth official signalled just one minute of injury time, but there was to be a late twist that would propel this match into Motherwell folklore.

Keith Lasley launched a free-kick from his own half that sailed over everyone inside the Dons penalty area and clattered the crossbar, an almighty scramble would follow before Craig Reid prodded the ball into the net and secure second spot for the Steelmen.

There were plenty of protests from the Dons players who felt that Jamie Langfield had been impeded by John Suton in the build-up, but their protests were in vain as the bumper travelling support soaked up a triumph that earned them second spot in the most dramatic of circumstances.

1. Rangers 1-3 Motherwell – Scottish Premiership Play Off – 28/5/2015

After successive second place finishes, the 2014-15 season was markedly different for ‘Well and the team would finish second bottom of the Scottish Premiership.

If they were to ensure their top flight survival, it would have to be done by overcoming Rangers in a two-leg play-off, with the first fixture taking place on a Thursday night at Ibrox.

All the build-up to the game surrounded Rangers competing their journey back to the top league of Scottish football, with some pundits predicting that Motherwell would be doing well to even be in the tie come the return leg at Fir Park.

The early exchanges of the match saw Rangers lay siege on the ‘Well goal, forcing George Long into a number of good stops. As time progressed, the visitors began to show signs of settling into the game and just before the half hour mark Lee Erwin’s deflected shot found its way past Cammy Bell and into the net.

Rangers were stunned and before half time it was 2-0 when Stephen McManus headed home from Marvin Johnson’s free-kick.

‘Well fans were delirious at half time, though that was nothing compared to when Lionel Ainsworth drove the ball home following a lightening quick counter.

Darren McGregor did get one back for the home side before the end, but it was a night that belonged to Motherwell and the 950 ‘travelling fans lapped up every single second of their first win at Ibrox since 1997 and one that gave the perfect platform to finish the job three days later. 

Phil O’Donnell – Forever 10

This afternoon’s fixture against Hamilton promises to be an emotional occasion as supporters honour the life of Phil O’Donnell.

On the 12th anniversary of his tragic passing, the legacy of our inspirational captain continues to burn brightly around Fir Park.

Last month he was posthumously entered as one of the first group of inductees into the Motherwell FC Hall of Fame – a fitting tribute to the joy he brought to ‘Well fans while wearing a claret and amber shirt.

Progressing through the ranks at Motherwell, Phil made his debut in a 2-2 draw against St Mirren in November 1990. By the end of that season he was playing a pivotal role as the Steelmen sampled Scottish Cup glory, throwing himself into a sea of flying boots to head the ball beyond Alan Main and put ‘Well 2-1 ahead.

It was a goal that encapsulated O’Donnell’s all-action style, he was full of energy and demonstrated an exceptional level of skill and ability. Phil was the youngest member of the 1991 squad and his determination, energy and enthusiasm inspired his team-mates.

Speaking to Kenny MacDonald ahead of the 2017 Betfred Cup final that saw two of Phil’s former sides go head-to-head, 1991 Scottish Cup winning keeper, Ally Maxwell spoke of Phil’s role in the team’s success.

“I think we were all pretty aware that Phil was a special kid,” he said. “That season he’d started in the reserves but he trained with us – you looked at him and thought, ‘who the hell is this?

“I always thought of him as a natural player. He hadn’t been robotically coached, he got from box to box on enthusiasm and energy.

“We’d guys like Davie Cooper and Stevie Kirk so we really needed to have legs in the team.

“But Phil was in the starting side on merit because of the way he’d been playing and the thing people forget about him was that he had real bravery.

“His goal in the final was his first for the club but, after Davie Cooper’s free-kick was headed back across the goal, he threw himself in among the flying boots to get his header in to make it 2-1.

“I’d got to know him quite well because a couple of times a week Tom Boyd, me, Jim Griffin and Phil would go for a game of snooker after training.

“He was the youngest of the lot of us and you could tell he was a genuinely nice kid.”

Phil’s stock value was rising and he would win the Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year award in 1992 before going on to win his first full international cap the following year when he replaced Dave Bowman in the 1-1 draw with Switzerland at Pittodrie.

Craig Brown, the Scotland manager who capped O’Donnell described him as “a perfect gentleman” and “an ideal role model”, insisting injuries deprived him the opportunity of becoming a mainstay for the national team.

“But for injury, I’m sure he would have had many, many more caps,” he said. “I think in his first spell at Motherwell he was probably the best box-to-box midfield player maybe not just in Scotland but in the UK.

“He was a Steven Gerrard-type of player, and he went to Celtic and that was no surprise.”

The 1993-94 campaign ended with another PFA Young Player award before the all too familiar tale of a young player bursting on to the scene, attracting great plaudits from the ‘Well supporters and then inevitably the attention of the bigger clubs with greater resources became reality.

At the age of 22, O’Donnell swap Fir Park for Celtic Park. Tommy Burns splashed out £1.75million to bring him to Parkhead and the fee remains Motherwell’s highest ever transfer fee received.

That season he would earn his second Scottish Cup winners medal, coming off the bench as Pierre van Hooijdonk’s goal earned Celtic a 1-0 success over Airdrie.

Three years later he earned his sole league winner’s medal as the Hoops denied Rangers a historic tenth successive title. During his time at Celtic, Phil would play 90 times, hitting the net 15 times.

Unfortunately, as with much of his career, injuries proved to be a challenge for Phil and after departing Celtic for Sheffield Wednesday he managed just 20 appearances, scoring only once.

After his release in 2003, there were suggestions that his career was over, though the chance to train with his boyhood club would provide a last chance at top-flight football.

It was an opportunity he grabbed with both hands, he would go on to captain the club and flourished in the role – he was now the rode model and the driving force for the young players within the squad.

One of my favourite memories of Phil in his second spell at Fir Park was his role in a 1-0 victory at Rugby Park, just over a month before his devastating passing. He put in a tireless shift that day and would contribute the winning goal of the game – a deflected effort that found its way past Alan Combe in the Killie goal.

He celebrated that goal with all the enthusiasm of his first ever goal for the football club, it was evident that he was enjoying his football every bit as much as he did during the infancy of his career.

The devastating events of the 29 December, 2007 will always be difficult to reflect upon. The football world instantly became worse off the day we lost Phil O’Donnell. His stature within the game was reflected in the tributes which came in from far and wide.

As fans it was difficult to know how to react, I think we all felt we had lost someone close to us. We’d witnessed Phil burst on to the scene, help inspire the team to Scottish Cup success and later return to captain a side that under Mark McGhee were playing some of the best football seen at Fir Park in many years.

Sadly, I never had the pleasure of meeting Phil in person. Though I’ve greatly enjoyed the company of those who knew the man affectionately known as ‘Uncle Phil’ and listening to their stories of a dedicated family man, who would do anything for his family, friends and his team-mates.

When writing this piece, I stumbled across an interview with Henrik Larsson, speaking ahead of Phil’s tribute match at Celtic Park in 2008 and felt it beautifully summed up his contribution to the game and his fantastic qualities as a person.

“You always have guys who are talkers in the dressing room and guys who are a bit more calm,”Larsson said. “Phil was a bit calmer but a great guy.

“For me coming over here as a foreigner, he was always someone you could ask a question and trust his answer – Phil was not only important for me, but for a lot of the foreign players.”

It wasn’t just the overseas players; Phil O’Donnell will always be a massive part of Motherwell Football Club. Today we celebrate his memory and offer our support to his family and friends on this incredibly difficult day.

Forever 10 – Brave as a Lion

When the Steelmen went into meltdown

Motherwell’s dreams of the big time crashed in spectacular style 17 years ago, before a painful rebirth. Key figures look back.

By Andy Ross

The headlines painted a bleak picture: “Motherwell in turmoil”, “It’s hell at ’Well”, “Motherwell on the Brink”. Thursday, April 25, 2002 and Scottish football writers tried to explain the dire situation at Fir Park.

One day earlier at a press conference held in the Davie Cooper Suite inside the stadium, ’Well chairman John Boyle had announced that the club was seeking to gain a court order to put the club into interim administration as a result of serious financial problems at the club.

It was a far cry from the bravado and confidence emanating from Boyle following his purchase of the club in 1998. He quickly introduced a number of plans to entice punters through the gates at Fir Park – from reduced entry, kids go free, bring a friend, no initiative was off limits.

Boyle also had a vision of making Motherwell the “third force” in Scotland, acknowledging that while they would be unable to match the financial clout and strength in depth that Celtic or Rangers possessed, there was no reason why the club couldn’t be the next best thing.

To achieve his goals Boyle would splash the cash both on transfer fees and wages with big names such as John Spencer and Andy Goram signing for the Steelmen. It was bold, exciting and it would also lead to their eventual downfall.

Financial troubles within the Scottish game were rife after the collapse of the Sky television deal and plans for SPL TV had fallen by the wayside. Motherwell’s troubles were compounded after losing their main sponsor Motorola.

Scottish football fans had already seen the demise of Airdrie and Clydebank, now crippling debts were threatening the existence of a top-flight team.  After the press conference it was down to chief executive Pat Nevin to break the crushing news to the playing and non-playing staff that many were being made redundant.

“My least favourite phrase in football is ‘let’s go to the next level’ as that more often than not means spending more money,” Nevin said. “When John and his advisors started saying that financially it wasn’t working and they were thinking of administration, I told them that I thought it was ridiculous.

“I had been running things on budget for all that time and now they wanted to scrap it, get rid of all the people and get them back in on cheaper contracts. You’ve got to remember I’m a former PFA chairman, I’m a union man – I’m not going to do that to people.

“What I did was suggest three plans: the first was that we sell the players of value like we had previously with Lee McCulloch and Stevie McMillan. I could get the wage bill down considerably and we’d be back on an even keel quickly. If you have debts it’s because you wanted and accepted them. It was important to consider that everyone else was going through this too and having to reconstruct due to the changing finances within Scottish football.

“The final plan which I made very clear was I had a buyer. I told them if they wanted to get out they could, and there would be no need to go into administration or anything like that, we could go on. The potential buyer was keen to get involved, he was going to take over the club and be quite strict in the way he ran it, which was good for me and that’s where we stood.

“There was a meeting set up between the potential buyer and John. I wasn’t allowed into this and unfortunately they couldn’t come to an agreement. One day later they placed the club into administration. John desperately wanted mayself and Eric Black to stay on, to which I said there was no way if he was sacking people and not paying debts owed to local community people.

“John and the directors asked me to do the press conference and I said I’d do that but was going to tell the truth. After that they decided that it wasn’t such a good idea. What I did instead was a much more important thing and that was to go downstairs and have a meeting with all of the staff. I told them all I knew about the situation and that they didn’t deserve to be left in the dark.

“Some of the people had been there for decades. I emphasised that I wasn’t taking a penny from the situation and that I was walking as well. I couldn’t watch on as people lost their jobs and swan about continuing to pick up money.

“All the players were asking questions and I was explaining everything, absolutely openly and straight to their face. That was one of the few positives that came out of the situation that many of the players came up to me afterwards, thanked me for doing everything I could and fighting for them.”

Bryan Jackson was the administrator tasked with saving Motherwell FC. Having previously worked on the administration process at Clydebank, he would later go on to oversee the same process at the likes of Dundee, Dunfermline, Hearts and Portsmouth.

Motherwell would release 19 players, including 10 players who still had a year or more left on their deals with the Fir Park club, something Jackson maintains was essential to become “leaner, more cost-effective and more attractive to a new buyer”.
Reflecting on his arrival at the club Jackson describes just how bleak the situation was and denied any suggestion that administration could have been avoided.

“It felt really dark and I think it was a real shock to Scottish football – there have been casualties here and there, but this was the first top flight casualty,” he explained. “People mistakenly thought, maybe understandably, that as football clubs have a fanbase, a scenario like this couldn’t happen and that the next white knight would be just around the corner.

“Pat was away by the time I arrived, though I’m unsure as to how he reached the conclusion that administration could have been avoided.

“Scottish football got overheated, the television money came in, and the wages went up as teams chased the Holy Grail. Unfortunately the television money dropped but the wages didn’t, certainly not at the same rate.”

Former Bolton and Wigan defender Greg Strong found himself without a club after learning he would be one of the 19 players made redundant. At the time he was public in his condemnation of the way in which the process was handled. However, 17 years on he admits his stance has softened somewhat.

Strong would move on to Hull City shortly after learning of his redundancy and the English defender believes he was one of the lucky ones, pointing to examples of players who fell away from the game after their time at Fir Park came to a sudden end.

“It was devastating really, there were a lot of us who had committed to the club and the club had committed to us by offering the contracts they had,” Strong said. “When all of a sudden the rug is pulled from beneath your feet, it’s horrendous.

“I had just bought a house and had a mortgage – we had no time to prepare for what happened at all. I won’t speak badly of the club, time moves on, though on reflection I’m sure those involved will now know that things could and should have been handled much better. We were all put in different rooms with people who didn’t know us and just told what our fate was.

“I remember the drive home and having so many things in my mind, thinking that I would have to tell my wife that I no longer had a job. It was even horrible for those who stayed. To this day I’m very good friends with Martyn Corrigan and he found it difficult being one of the ones who stayed. It was just seeing so many of his friends and their families upset and thinking how can I just carry on?

“I’m not sure Karl Ready ever kicked a ball again. It’s sad as that’s ultimately ended a player’s career.”

In the immediate aftermath of administration, a group of shell-shocked supporters put the wheels in motion to aid the cause and help the club they love survive.

Matt Johnstone was one of a small group of fans who had been invited to form a steering group shortly before the club entered administration. They would have just one meeting before the direction of the group swiftly changed and the ‘Well Worth Saving’ campaign was born.

Johnstone produced the popular fanzine One Step Beyond. He was backed up by John Wilson, who continues to run fan website Fir Park Corner, and other prominent members of the Fir Park fanbase.

He admits it was only at the press conference announcing administration that he realised the possibility of such a chain of events had been discussed previously – it was now down to ’Well Worth Saving to explain the situation to the fans.

“We had a meeting in the boardroom before administration where we were basically a sounding board for their ideas. The club was beginning to alienate supporters and the fans in turn were walking away in their droves,” Johnstone recalled.

“We represented a large chunk of the fanbase and knew the reaction that ideas would get. I think we had one meeting, but before we had the chance to get anything going, administration was put on everybody. As we already had that group in place, ’Well Worth Saving was basically already up and running.

“Keith Brown [a ’Well Worth Saving spokesperson] phoned me in the morning and explained we’d been invited up to the press conference, which was taking place at lunchtime inside Fir Park.

“We were just sitting there totally gobsmacked. We didn’t really understand what administration meant – it was a large step into the unknown. The press conference helped give us more information. We couldn’t go on what the papers were saying – they all had us liquidated.

“Keith reminded me that during the meeting in the boardroom one of the financial guys mentioned administration, which nobody else picked up on. As far as we were concerned he was just talking in business terms, though the plans were in place for administration before we even met with John Boyle and the board.

“After that we got our heads together and to work on getting some funds raised. It was at the forefront of our minds that the club might not survive, the fear that the club might disappear was there for us as much as it was everyone else.

“We were still responsible for explaining it all to the ordinary supporter, as not everyone had the access to the board that we did. We were able to put it in layman’s terms and get the message across that this didn’t have to be the end.

“The amount of money that John Boyle was spending just wasn’t sustainable and if he had kept on going like that it could have easily folded the club.

“We witnessed the players in tears and pointing fingers at directors, telling them they should be ashamed. Our main focus was Motherwell Football Club. You had Greg Strong slaughtering us in the papers but then walking into a contract at Hull City on more than he earned at Fir Park.

“It came to a point where although you felt sorry for some of the lower earners who were likely to struggle to find a club, it was the players earning the big wages that got all the attention.

“You begin to think, wait a minute here, I know what you are on, you weren’t complaining when it was offered to you and you weren’t good enough to be getting it – it became apparent how much overspend there had been on a very average squad.

“The priority was the football club, rather than the individual players and if they had to take these actions then that was something as a group we were going to support.

“Our focus was on raising money to keep the club ticking over and seeing the season through. We helped pay the wages of those who were left for the last few games of the season and help see the club through the summer –we left it for others to point fingers.”

The next job for Jackson was tackling the spiralling debts accumulated over years of overspending at Fir Park and ensuring the existence of the football club established in 1886.

He admits he had to show a ruthless side when it came to redundancies and his actions brought significant backlash from many of those who lost their jobs.

“Motherwell had a huge squad on very high wages – their wage bill was 130% of their turnover,” he explained. “What happens in administration is that you have to self-generate and it has to be pound in and pound out in order to keep the doors open.

“The second option is that you close down; the club goes into liquidation and dies, basically. I couldn’t get the doors open with the wage bill as it was and it certainly wouldn’t be attractive to any potential buyer at those levels. We had to make absolutely brutal savings – there was no other option.

“There was a huge amount of anger; this was unprecedented in the scale of it. A lot of the anger was directed at me personally, but I understand that and that’s part and parcel of the job.”

The hostility building towards Motherwell wasn’t just confined to the players and staff made redundant following administration.

After finishing bottom of the table at the end of the 2002/03 campaign the club faced another battle, this time for their top flight safety. It looked like the Steelmen’s run of 17 successive seasons in the top flight was over, though Falkirk’s failure to fulfil stadium requirements meant ’Well were given a stay of execution.

Ahead of the 2003/04 season Alex Burns and Stephen Craigan both joined on free transfers, prompting outrage from their former club Thistle and in particular Jags chief executive Alan Dick.

“There were some clubs and some people and there was some support from clubs and less from others,” he reflected. “Overall I felt we were a nice, well liked club, if there is such a thing.

“As time went on the hostility began to grow, partly because clubs like Thistle, who had done their own unofficial administration with the Save The Jags campaign, felt we’d cheated and taken an easy route.

“Both players were out of contract and free to go. I understood why they were angry and they were quite personal towards me – I was fairly thick skinned and took it on the chin.”

As time went on, it became clear to Jackson that his hopes for a buyer for the Steelmen were becoming slimmer by the day.

He did have a backup plan though. Motherwell, under the guidance of Terry Butcher, were giving youngsters a chance and the likes of James McFadden and Stephen Pearson were flourishing.

It wasn’t long before both players were attracting interest from a host of clubs both home and abroad – suddenly Jackson saw another route.

Ultimately, McFadden would swap Fir Park for Goodison Park, joining Everton for £1.25 million – a deal that Jackson believes saved Motherwell Football Club.

“I expected a club like Motherwell to find a buyer quite easily and perhaps that was my own naivety. It wasn’t expensive to buy it and it is a really nice community club that has always brought great players through,” he said. “There were plenty of rumours of potential buyers. I have to tell you that all of those stories were all exactly that and that’s backed up by the fact we got to the end of year one and there was no buyer.

“By then I was grasping at any option. At one point myself and Terry [Butcher] were pondering whether we could get a consortium together. He felt we would work really well together, but I told him that we’d fall out.

“Terry would be wanting a new forward or centre half and as a football fan I’d want to give him that, though financially it wouldn’t be possible and it would have caused a falling out.

“I began to see a different route; if we could sell players for enough money then we could do a deal with the creditors. James McFadden and Stephen Pearson were coming through and I thought if we could sell those players for a certain amount of money, then there was a deal to be done.

“There was a bid of £300,000 from Craig Brown, who was the manager of Preston at the time. I don’t blame him, he was only trying to do the best for his club, but I think it was derisory. I replied in writing and my response was I’d have to reject the offer and added: did you miss a zero?

“I was on a beach on the Maldives and it was coming up to the end of the transfer window. We’d started negotiations before I left and John [Boyle] was involved in the deal and did a good job.

“John isn’t a successful businessman for no reason, he’s fairly hardnosed. The bidding started at £500,000 as one lump sum and that was going to do it for us. We got them up to £750,000 and I thought if we could get them up to a million then we could do a deal with the creditors.

“James was ready to go at that time and take the step up – we didn’t want a disgruntled player and I was also mindful of what would happen if James was to pick up an injury.

“There was no escaping the fact this was a distress sale – we were in administration. John got it up to a million and continued to push on. We ended up at £1.25 million and he was still negotiating for more but I eventually managed to get him agree to take the bird in the hand.”

On April 21, 2004 the news arrived that Motherwell fans had been desperate to hear: the club had come out of interim administration to end a two-year chapter of uncertainty. The work of Jackson, ‘Well Worth Saving and all involved with Motherwell had saved the football club.

In the years that followed, John Boyle would return to the role of chairman, before handing over his shares to the club’s supporters in 2011.

Today Motherwell are the only fan owned club in the Scottish Premiership and in November 2019 announced debts owed to former owners John Boyle and Les Hutchison had been paid back in full.

“When I tend to get these jobs, I say it feels like it’s 50/50 as to whether you can get it over the line and I felt that at Motherwell, though it was always a confident 50/50,” said Jackson when contemplating his time at Fir Park. “My subsequent jobs I never felt that way at all for a number of different types of reasons.

“There was a feeling that the fans would not allow the club to die in any type of way, there was a community spirit there and a real optimism that we would find a way. I was confident the club would go on to do well, had a good set of players and that was a nice feeling.

“Everyone deserves credit for what they contributed, to get it over the line John Boyle waived a massive part of the debt owed to him so that the dividend could be paid to the creditors and that was absolutely huge.

“Part of my heart is still with Motherwell, you can’t be involved in such a process with the club and that not be the case –  part of me will always be there.”

Article featured in Nutmeg 14 – Available now HERE

The Final Word – v Rangers 15/12/19

After Amazon broadcast a full round of English Premier League fixtures live on their online steaming service, could the way we watch football be set to change forever?

A Tuesday night fixture between Crystal Palaceand Bournemouth was perhaps a somewhat underwhelming way for Amazon to mark their first foray into broadcasting live football. But what would follow certainly offered plenty of food for thought.

All 10 midweek Premier League fixtures were shown on Amazon’s Prime streaming service, resulting in the two biggest sign-up days ever for the service in the UK.

In what is already a crowded market featuring both Sky Sports and BT Sport, fans of English football could be forgiven for letting out a sigh as they contemplate shelling out yet another subscription fee to follow their team.

Multiple subscription packages have become the norm for football fans in Scotland too. With BT Sport, Premier Sports and Sky Sports currently sharing the rights to show live matches, the life of an armchair fan is certainly an expensive one.  

There was intrigue ahead of Amazon’s debut and the general consensus was it was an impressive first showing. The picture quality was excellent, many of the pundits insightful and the goals show was a continuation of BT Sport’s brilliant efforts on Champions League nights, allowing fans to watch the big moments straight after they happen.

That allows big moments to be seen by many and quickly. When there’s a big moment in a game, whether that is a brilliant goal, magnificent individual skill or a controversial refereeing decision, why not put it out there?

In Scotland we have broadcasting restrictionswhich quite often result in having to wait over 24 hours to see televised highlights of matches.

Are we missing out on a big opportunity to get people talking about Scottish football? A chance to show off what is going on and make inroads at removing misconceptions that many hold about our game by being on the front foot and getting it out there instantly?

Of course, the media team at Motherwell do great work to upload a highlights package online as soon as the restrictions are lifted at midnight on a Sunday morning, but the restrictions mean it is club-filmed footage, rather than the all singing, all dancing broadcast footage.

For supporters living abroad, the ability to stream live matches is a huge part of fuelling their passion and continuing to follow their team. The majority of sides in the top flight are now offering their own online broadcast services, allowing fans overseas to stream matches live.

It was brilliant to see the ‘Dubai Dossers’ converge on the Bidi Bondis Bar on Palm Jumeirah to see the Steelmen defeat Hearts last weekend. Those who previously would have had to miss out on watching their team in action no longer have that issue. As a fan-owned football club, having a highly engaged fanbase no matter where they happen to live is hugely significant.

Closer to home and just like with all broadcasting deals, there is an understandable fear that attendances will suffer as a result. There must be a real possibility that casual fans would opt for watching games on the cheaper streaming service rather than attending games.

There’s potential for this to have an influence on even the most dedicated of fans too. The option of watching from home or in the pub, especially when their team is playing away, could represent a real threat to attendances and that’s before considering the ever-increasing cost of attending matches.

Personally I don’t believe there is any substitute for watching a match from inside the confines of the stadium. Though at a time in which more and more of us have to pick and choose our games, then this would mean not being in the horrible position I’m sure many of you are familiar with.

Whether it be searching the internet for ‘a stream’, listening to radio updates, following the game on a live scores website or even worse a live betting page with the ‘safe, attack and dangerous attack’ updates that leave you imagining what is going on throughout every agonising second.

An interesting case study of a league that has embraced live streaming and reaped the reward is the German third tier 3.Liga.

Every single match in the league which features the likes of 1860 Munich and Kaiserslautern is shown live by Deutsche Telekom in high definition. It’s offered free to those with an internet and phone package with Deutsche Telekom or for €9.99 per month.

The deal is worth €18million to the clubs, with a further two million coming from a public station. 

Previous motions for a subscription-based service in Scottish football fell by the wayside, though habits, trends and crucially technology haveadvanced greatly since Roger Mitchell’s proposals for SPL TV back in 2002.

The Scottish game has widespread appeal and football fans across the country are some of the most engaged in the world. So many of us live and breathe football, we have no problem criticising our own game. But if an ill-informed outsider dares try put down the Scottish game – they have in turn attempted to take us all on.

I believe the hunger and passion of Scottish football fans would make a dedicated streaming service a huge success. But what about the fans who attend matches?

Many of the complaints when it comes to the live broadcasting of football tend to revolve around moving kick-off times.

Amazon shifted start times for their Premier League debut and the Crystal Palace fans made their feelings known with a banner that read ‘Kick offs sold to the highest bidder, Amazon profits, fans suffer.’

Fans often feel like an afterthought when it comes to these scheduling changes. The best recent examples of this in Scotland have come in the Scottish Cup semi-finals, with Aberdeen and Inverness supporters travelling to Hampden for 12:30 kick-offs – presenting significant challenges for those travelling by public transport.

Sadly when considering the implementation of a broadcast deal, supporters who attend games seem to be very far down the list of priorities.

Should the time come where Scottish football opts to go down the route of offering a live subscription streaming service there would be numerous big issues to consider. But with advancing technology, changing habits and a desire to expand the appeal of the Scottish game – a step into new territory could represent a massive step forward.

Episode two of the new official Motherwell FC podcast ‘The Longer Listen’ is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and via most major podcast apps.