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.