Category: Blog

The Last Word


The return of fans to stadiums in England has served as a timely reminder of how much supporters are missed in Scotland.  

Like many of us, I watched on with great interest as the club’s down south welcomed back supporters into the grounds for the first time in almost nine months.  

Seeing excited punters take their place inside the stadium brought a mixture of emotions.  

The first was a feeling of excitement that soon we will experience the same emotions that the small numbers have in seeing their team up close again after being separated for almost a year. 

It has been 280 days since we last saw Motherwell contest a game with fans inside the stadium – the 1-1 draw at Tynecastle on 7 March for anyone who may have forgotten.  

280 days since we had the opportunity to experience the joy of the ball hitting the opposition net, that sinking feeling after conceding a late equaliser, the smell of the freshly cooked pies, a pre-match pint when expectations are at their highest, belief that the afternoon ahead will be the day that everything clicks and the team will produce a performance for the ages.  

Of course, it does not always quite play out like that, but when it does, sharing that incredible feeling of euphoria with like-minded people, who share that devotion and passion for the same club is a magnificent feeling – can anyone truly say they have felt the same at the end of a live stream? 

A victory can shape your weekend, no matter how you decide to celebrate. Leaving the stadium to Kool and the Gang’s ‘Celebration’ when the team have got a result, glancing around and seeing that your fellow supporters feel the same elation is something that has become a distant memory. 

 The same can be said for slumping back into the outside world after a demoralising loss, the sound of Chumbawamba, ‘Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down)’ ringing in our ears – just to offer that little glimmer of hope that next week could be better.  

The second emotion was one of jealousy. Despite being able to watch the team home and away courtesy of the live streaming services on offer, there quite simply is no substitute for the real thing. 

I think the jealousy was intensified by some of the first games back being played under the lights. There is something about midweek fixtures that make them that little bit more special. Whether that be due to providing a release from the working week or that the atmosphere just feels different – many of my all-time favourite Motherwell games have taken place under the glow of the Fir Park floodlights. 

Some of the fans were interviewed entering the stadium and the one common denominator was each one had a huge smile on their face. They spoke of the excitement of being back ‘home’, taking a step towards normality after what has been an exceptionally difficult year and how much they enjoyed the experience and the atmosphere. 

On Sky Sports, the reporters referenced the difference that even a small number of supporters made to the occasion. They mentioned the notable change in the energy levels of the players, in making the game feel much more important and the sense of feeling that football had ‘got its soul back’. 

The game between Wycombe and Stoke City was one of the first matches where fans were allowed in the English Championship. 

Gareth Ainsworth’s Wanderers side fell to a 1-0 defeat, though he could not hide his delight and seeing fans back inside Adams Park. 

“We won a throw-in in the first minute and they cheered like it was a goal. It was eight months of frustration, desire and need coming out in that moment.” 

That sort of release is what every football fan has been yearning for since the pandemic took a stranglehold on the way we watch the game and that brings me to the final emotion – the passion and belief that supporters can be the heartbeat of a game. 

You might get off the couch when we win a corner today, encouraging the team in the only way you can right now. Though when a stadium drives on the team en masse, it often can prompt a positive reaction, players that find their energy levels waning, suddenly find a second wind, teams push on to get a winner, an equaliser – the fans playing their part as the twelfth-man. 

There was also a heart-warming moment during the Wycombe game when the home supporters voiced their displeasure at the failure of the referee to award what appeared to be a blatant penalty after Alex Samuel went down under Josef Bursik’s challenge, but referee Darren Bond instead booked the attacker for diving. 

Old habits and traditions should never leave the game and providing the match officials a friendly reminder that you feel they got a decision wrong are as much a staple of the game as a matchday programme, a pie and Bovril and the supporter in front of you exploding in rage as an opposition player steals two-yards at throw-in. 

While there can be little doubt that the absence of fans has made for a quieter life for our officials, it has also had an adverse effect on many of things we love about the beautiful game and the return of supporters to grounds in England is another positive sign that the day we return to experiencing all of the emotions that make us love our club and the game so much, will come flooding back in the not-too-distant future.  

When it does, we should soak up every single second. 

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.