Justice For McGhee – The Spectacular Demise of a Football Manager

Mark McGhee describes it as an ‘injustice’, but a night that clearly holds great pain for the former Motherwell manager was just the tip of the iceberg in what was an incredible last month in charge for the former Fir Park boss.

 McGhee was in his second spell as boss of Motherwell, having returned in October 2015, following the sacking of Ian Baraclough.

In his first spell in charge of the Steelmen, he helped guide the team into Europe for the first time in 13 years, his team played some of the best football seen at Fir Park in many years and he demonstrated great leadership and human qualities in the aftermath of Phil O’Donnell’s tragic death.

However, despite a relatively successful first spell, many ‘Well supporters were vocal in their opposition to his return to the club. Among the reasons for the disapproval regarding McGhee’s return were a disappointing second season during his first spell in charge, that he had declared interest in several other jobs while in the role as boss at Fir Park and perhaps the biggest of them all, Mark McGhee’s persona and arrogance weren’t traits that helped get the fans onside.

On his return, McGhee steered a struggling side to a fifth-place finish, but the team struggled to replicate their form from the closing stages of the previous campaign at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.

Heading into the winter break, Motherwell found themselves in ninth place, four points above Hamilton who occupied the relegation play-off position.

While the break often provides clubs with the opportunity to regroup and prepare for the all-important conclusion to the season, it seemingly had quite the opposite effect on McGhee and his squad.

The former Scotland assistant packed in a great deal to his last month in charge of the Steelmen and while he portrays the victim and a man who suffered great injustice in a recent BBC interview, his eventual fate came of little surprise to anyone who witnessed his quite extraordinary final month in charge.

 January 21, 2016  

 When Louis Moult headed Motherwell ahead with 16 minutes remaining of their Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Rangers at Ibrox they were closing in on making history.

The Steelmen were heading for their first ever victory over Rangers in cup competition and to heap further misery on under pressure Gers boss Mark Warbuton.

Fast forward to the full-time whistle and the headlines had been rewritten, in quite extortionary fashion. Kenny Miller netted twice in the final six minutes of the game and Motherwell had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Shortly afterwards, a clearly crestfallen McGhee spoke to Motherwell’s YouTube channel, he appeared close to tears and distraught. He explained how he felt ‘hollow’, ‘let down’ and that at that point in time he ‘couldn’t give a monkey’s’ about how his players were feeling – the most excruciating post-match interview ever.

When speaking to the press, the ‘Well boss also claimed that striker Scott McDonald, who had missed training for most of the week prior to the game had injured his back ‘carrying the rest of the team’. Reports would later confirm that the Aussie had been left out as his head was ‘all over the place’ following the collapse of a transfer which would have seen him return to his homeland. Depending on what version of events you believe, McDonald never had any sort of injury at all, instead he simply refused to train.

As a Motherwell supporter who was at Ibrox that day, I must confess it was one of the most stinging defeats in recent memory (and there are quite a few to choose from), however much of the pain evaporated to be replaced by anger when hearing McGhee’s comments.

Surely it was his job of the manager to protect his players? Yet instead he had stood in front of the camera and made it all about Mark McGhee, how bad he felt, how he couldn’t care about how the players felt and how he would have to spin his players a lie to somehow prepare them for their next Scottish Premiership fixture – a home meeting with Rangers.

January 28, 2017

The league fixture at Fir Park took place exactly a week after the Scottish Cup tie and within five minutes the match was sparked into life as Michael O’Halloran caught Well’s Carl McHugh high on his thigh and subsequently was shown a straight red card.

It was an incident that brought some hope to the ‘Well supporters and presented a good opportunity to go some way to avenging their Ibrox heartache, but again there was a twist.

McDonald’s late lunge on Miller was deemed reckless by Willie Collum and after 27 minutes both sides were down to 10.

It took until the 72nd minute for the opening goal to arrive and again it was Miller who put the ball in the net.  Emerson Hyndman added a second with three minutes left to secure a 2-0 victory for Warbuton’s team and send Motherwell into tenth spot.

Though it had been a poor performance and another disappointing defeat, but in direct contrast to the previous week, McGhee sang the praises of his team after losing the game and also sighted the ‘poor decision’ to dismiss McDonald as the turning point.

“We’ve got a lot going for us. We’ve got a great spirit, a great energy, determination about us and I’ve told them we have to accept we got beat by a team that passed the ball better,” he said.

“Seeing it again (the sending-off), it’s probably a poor decision, but it’s not done to even things up, he thinks it’s a sending-off.

“After we went down to 10 men, we found it difficult to create chances and didn’t make enough chances after that to win the game.”

January 31, 2017

Three days later, ‘Well would bounce back with a 2-1 win at Ross County, a result that saw them jump into the top-six, despite only holding a four-point advantage over local rivals Hamilton who continued to occupy the relegation play-off spot.

McDonald bounced back from the disappointment of his red card with the opening goal and his manager was glowing in his praise for the striker and his contribution to the team following the match.

February 4, 2017

It was to be a short-lived reprieve for Motherwell and McGhee, when Hearts visited Fir Park for their next Premiership match.

The visitors would inflict a heavy 3-0 defeat on the Steelmen and for the second successive home game, ‘Well were reduced to 10, after McHugh was ordered off. It was a game changing decision, that occurred eight minutes into the second half and with the score at 0-0 – from that point forward Hearts controlled proceedings.

They took the lead with a deflected effort just before the hour mark and then Esmael Goncalves struck twice in a four-minute spell towards the death to cause further misery.

The 10 day break due to the Scottish Cup, brought another chance to regroup for McGhee and his players and despite increasing murmurings of discontent from the fans, they still found themselves in the top half of the league.

February 15, 2017

Motherwell returned to action with a trip to Pittodrie for a rearranged league fixture. It was to be a night that has continued to haunt McGhee ever since and one in which he believes ended his time as a club manager in Scotland.

By half time Aberdeen led 4-0 and in relentless fashion Adam Rooney bagged two more goals to complete his hat-trick. While his team were suffering on the pitch, McGhee was sent to the stand where he suffered abuse from the Dons fans as well as a confrontation with one supporter – a video that quickly went viral across social media.

The game finished 7-2 to the hosts and with that result it appeared the Motherwell support were unanimous in the view that it was time for the manager to go and quickly!

Afterwards McGhee described his dismissal as ‘diabolical’ and suggested there was an ‘aggressive and hostile’ agenda against him.

Time clearly hasn’t been a healer. When discussing the events of that night in the BBC interview, he said: “I have to say it still feels like the biggest injustice that’s ever been done to me in my life. It still makes me sick to think that’s what happened to me. I can’t put into words how strongly I feel about it.”

Following an SPFL hearing, McGhee would receive a six-match touchline ban, a punishment he is yet to serve.

February 18, 2017

A visit to Celtic Park to face then five-in-a-row champions was hardly the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways and there were real fears that having lost seven goals only days earlier, that the Hoops could rack up a cricket score.

Trailing 2-0 at half time, McGhee’s side showed some resolve as they defended manfully to a clean sheet in the second half.

As defeats go, this one probably was considered a good one…

February 25, 2017

While hardly a confidence booster, the Celtic game a week prior had shown that Motherwell weren’t anywhere near as poor a side as they had shown at Pittodrie, however their season took yet another twist off the rails when they hosted Dundee.

A comedy own goal from Zack Jules had given the visitors the lead, before Moult levelled matters after 22 minutes.

What followed was a hammer blow to McGhee’s tenure as manager. ‘Well conceded four times in 18 minutes before the break to trail 5-1.

When the players reemerged for the second half, Fir Park was had almost emptied, some fans headed home, some to the pub, but many also congregated outside the stadium – demanding the sacking of the manager while the game was still in progress.

“I’d be arrogant if I thought a 7-2 defeat at Aberdeen and a 5-1 loss at home doesn’t put me under pressure – of course it does,” McGhee said after the game.

 “Until somebody tells me something different I’ll be here on Monday to do that with Steve Robinson and James McFadden.”

 February 28, 2017

McGhee was still there on the Monday, although by the Tuesday his second tenure at the club was over.

Motherwell had lost all four of their fixtures in February, conceding 17 goals and scoring just three.

His successor, Stephen Robinson managed to steer the club to safety in the penultimate game of the season.

The Aftermath

True to form, McGhee would suggest that ‘Well had been ‘too hasty’ in sacking him,

“At the time I left we had a couple of injuries, particularly to the back four,” he told BBC Scotland.

“We were still cobbling together a few results. Some of our performances prior to that Dundee game.

“I’d be comfortable to say I think I would have kept them up.”

Quite extraordinary arrogance from a manager that had guided to just two wins in his last 14 games in charge and had suffered a series of crushing defeats during his final month in charge.

McGhee’s time as Scotand assistant came to an end in October 2017, the following month he took over the managerial reigns at Barnet, a position he held for just two months before assuming a ‘technical role’ and eventually being dismissed altogether in March 2018.

Since then he claims to have been involved in everything from e-sports to booking Ed Sheeran for a concert in Dubai.

Despite this strange twist in his career, I doubt it comes close to that final month in charge at Fir Park.