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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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