By October 1939, two Regional Leagues had been constituted under the auspices of the Scottish League, a West and an East League with 16 teams each. Motherwell were pooled to play in the West League, and they played out 30 games finishing fourth in the table. Even though League football had resumed in this unofficial basis, the SFA suspended the Scottish Cup competition.
The geographical nature of the competition proved difficult particularly for the teams in the East who were denied the chance to play against the Glasgow giants and the income that came with their visits. It was agreed that change was needed, although the change still saw the League’s played out in geographical basis for the remainder of the war with the Country split North and South, although this also meant the teams in the North, such as Aberdeen missed out on the money from playing against Rangers and Celtic.
Motherwell saw out the war years in the Southern League finishing as high as third in 1944/45 as the teams prepared for the ending of the war and the game returning to near normality. They also secured a Summer Cup win in 1944 when they managed to gain revenge over Clyde for the Scottish Cup defeat in 1939 with 1-0 win at Hampden in front of a crowd of 40,000.
During the war years players tended to turn out for the team nearest the barracks where they had been stationed. This meant players like Gordon Bremner turning out for Arsenal and Davie Mathie guesting for Hibs for example.
Manager John ‘Sailor’ Hunter was also busy preparing a new team to replace the all conquering heroes of the 30s, and it was during this period that a number of future stars were secured. The first of these was in May 1941 when goalkeeper Johnny Johnstone was signed up. A year later, in June 1942, Charlie Robertson and Archie Shaw were called up from Armadale Thistle and Wishaw respectively. In November 1942, after a successful trial, Andy Paton was signed up.
The Second World War was to act as a defining period in the history of the club, as it brought to an end the successful spell challenging for the title with a side that had stayed together for virtually ten years. By the time the war had ended the team had virtually ceased to exist and a new side had to be pulled together after hostilities had ceased.
Also with the war coming to an end the Scottish League were preparing for another war time season, even though Germany and Italy had surrendered in early May 1945 it was thought many of the servicemen no longer needed in Europe would be diverted to take on Japan in the Pacific theatre of war.
The League was set up in two divisions but back under the control of the Scottish Football League, and to show that there was no resemblance to the previous set-up, the two divisions were named A and B rather than the traditional First and Second Division.
Motherwell were in Division A, and even though these divisions were meant to be temporary there was an almost immediate need for change given the sudden surrender of the Japanese only a few days into the season.
This forced plans for a re-organisation of the Leagues, and the teams for each division would have to be selected by the League authorities as relegation and promotion had not been in action during the war years. Therefore season 1945/46 was to be the last of the unofficial seasons.
This season saw Motherwell finish a creditable sixth having lost only ten of the 30 games played in what was a season of great change in Scottish football as it geared up for the first official season after the war.
Season 1946/47 started with the planned re-organisation of the Leagues. It was broken into three separate divisions to try and accommodate all the teams who had filled in during the war years as well as the sides that had previously been in the League but could not carry on during the war years. It was decided to hold on to the old division names of A, B and C, with the top division made up of 16 clubs including Motherwell. Division B also had 16, will the lower tier had only 12.
The start of the season witnessed major changes both on and off the field at Fir Park. Firstly long serving Manager John ‘Sailor’ Hunter decided that he would step down and act as club secretary, and he was to be replaced by league winning hero George Stevenson.
On the field it was all change from the team who finished the last season prior to the War, with Stevenson being the only connection between the two sides. This saw the introduction of a number of players who were to become legends at Fir Park, including Johnston, Redpath, Shaw, Paton and Willie Kilmarnock.
This was to be an inconsistent season for the new manager’s side, where they were as likely to beat someone 6-1 before losing the following week, although they were never heavily beaten. This meant the first season after the War saw an 8th place finish in the table.
It also saw the first season of the League Cup, but Motherwell couldn’t make it out of their qualifying group which included Queen of the South, Falkirk and Aberdeen – all of who were played home and away.
In the Scottish Cup the club reached the semi final and played in a mammoth tie, The Hampden tie was played to a finish and turned into a marathon. With the sides tied at 1-1 after the 90 minutes due to a Turnbull opener for Hibs before Willie Kilmarnock equalised. Motherwell then laid siege to the Hibs goal, but disaster struck in the 142nd minute when Howie’s long punt won the game for the Edinburgh side, and they progressed to the final.
One other major step taken in 1946 was the formation of the Motherwell Supporter’s Association, which is still going today, helping fans travel to games by arranging coaches for those who either do not have a car or do not wish to travel on their own.
The following season was almost a carbon copy of the last with more inconsistency securing another 8th place finish. Again there was no qualification from the League Cup section, and an appearance in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals, losing to Celtic.
Season 1948/49 was a tough one for Motherwell as they were involved in a relegation battle toward the end of the season. They defeated Morton 1-0 at the end of April and, ultimately, it was the result that secured their safety, with Queens Park and bitter rivals Airdrie dropping down to Division B.
As stated in the club handbook at the start of the next season, “to lose half of the total League games was not in the Motherwell tradition.” Even with the signings of Aitkenhead from Hibs and McCall from Newcastle (for a transfer fee of £5,500), the Steelmen suffered a run of five defeats in a row through January, mainly due to injuries to key players.
This was all hard to believe at the start of the season as the first seven League games brought only two defeats. Bringing a total of seven points, things were looking set for a reasonable season. This was up until the League Cup qualifying section cut in at the start of September, with the Well being drawn along with Dundee, Falkirk and local rivals Albion Rovers. Two defeats, one each away to Falkirk and Dundee, was enough to see them finish second once again and go out of the tournament.
In the end they finished 12th in League but only three points in front of second bottom Morton. It was also during season 1948/49 when the first matchday programme was issued for a home game, when Rangers visited Fir Park on 14th August.
During the following season history almost repeated itself, as the club finished the season with almost exactly the same record as the previous season. Disappointingly the number of wins, draws and defeats were identical, with only goals for and against showing any change from the previous year. This resulted in a similar disappointing points total of 25, securing a 10th place finish nine clear of bottom club Queen of the South.
There was renewed optimism heading into the 1950/51 season with the squad now boasting a nice blend of youth and experience. The hopes were high that the season would be one of the most successful in the club’s history, and for once all associated with the club were not to be disappointed, particularly in the cup competitions.
The League Cup section saw Motherwell win five out of their six games against Airdrie, Hearts and Partick Thistle to make it through to a quarter-final date with Celtic. This first leg brought a terrific result with the Well winning by four goals to one. The return leg ended in a 1-0 defeat but this was enough for a 4-2 win on aggregate and a semi final place against Ayr Utd. Two goals in the last six minutes clinched the tie in a seven goal thriller with Motherwell winning 4-3, advancing to play Hibs in the final.
The game did not produce the skilful, pacey attacking game that many had expected when these two teams met, but this was probably down to the tactical preparation of the two sides. Both sides had lucky escapes as the confident Hibs forwards were thwarted by the well organised Well defence. As time wore on in the tie and with Hibs attack blunted, Motherwell began to push forward themselves.
Eventually as the second half progressed Motherwell broke the deadlock with Kelly opening the scoring. This was quickly followed by a Forrest goal making it 2-0. The tie was finally put out of doubt when Watter’s goal near in the last few minutes sealed victory for the Steelmen.
The winning of the trophy was recognised by the council, with a Civic Reception held in the Town Hall on Monday January 8th. The provost paid tribute to the club and its players, both past and present, after an enjoyable dinner served in the Large Hall.
The Scottish Cup almost brought double success as Motherwell made it to the final of the more established cup tournament in the same season. They progressed to the final, seeing off Peterhead, Hamilton, Ayr United and Hibs to face Celtic. The final attracted a massive attendance of 131,943 at Hampden. After dominating much of the game and playing the better football, Motherwell failed in their attempt to complete the cup double.
In reflection to have won the League Cup and qualified for the Scottish Cup final was no mean feat and one that the club should look back on with a great deal of pride.
All the success in the cup competitions came at a cost to the league campaign, and this combined with postponements, and saw the club were forced to play 16 games in nine weeks from the beginning of March to the first week in May. Having to play almost every Saturday and midweek during that spell it was a tall ask. Ultimately it meant that the Steelmen had to settle for a disappointing 9th place in the table.
The Scottish Cup, the trophy that had eluded Motherwell for so long, was finally secured in 1951/52 season. In an epic cup run that saw Motherwell play 10 games to win the trophy in front of a total of 564,367 fans. The early rounds saw Forfar, St Mirren and Dunfermline knocked out to set up a quarter-final with Rangers. The first game was at Ibrox and the game ended 1-1. The replay was played at Fir Park and is memorable for the fact that it produced a record home attendance for the Well with 35,632 crammed into the ground, producing record gate receipts at the time of £2,530.
Motherwell won the game 2-1 thanks to goals from Aitkenhead and Humphries. After two games with Rangers it took three to see off Hearts in the semi final! After two draws the third game was played at Hampden.
The game was played only two days after the initial replay. The first goal arrived ten minutes into the second half when Kelly was on hand to touch the ball over the line. On the hour mark the lead had been doubled when Humphries made no mistake from 18 yards. Motherwell tried to hold on to the two goal cushion and were punished in the 80th minute when Conn scored, but the seal was put on an epic 270 minutes of cup football when Repdpath scored in the final minute to send Motherwell through to their fifth Scottish Cup final, where they would face Dundee at Hampden.
The final attracted the massive attendance of 136,274 to see if Motherwell could finally win the Scottish Cup. The first half ended goalless, although Willie Kilmarnock was called upon to clear three Dundee efforts from his own goal line, but Motherwell had responded with a Watson effort hitting the Dundee cross bar with the keeper beaten.
With the wind at their back in the second half Motherwell swept forward and were rewarded with a goal in the 57th minute thanks a low shot from Watson. Two minutes later the lead had been double when Redpath sent a 20 yard shot shrieking into the net. Motherwell were now in complete control and kept looking for more goals to ensure that nothing would prevent them from winning the cup they had desired for so long.
This pressure resulted in two more goals with Humphries scoring with six minutes to go and the victory rounded off with a fourth from Kelly with four minutes to go. Motherwell had finally secured their first Scottish Cup victory in their distinguished history to date.
After the cup successes of the previous two seasons much was expected of Motherwell in 1952/53 season. Sadly this was not to be the case and after a disappointing league campaign they finished second bottom of the table with only 25 points, dropping out of the top flight of Scottish Football for the first time in 50 years. From the next season Motherwell would be plying their trade in Division B, for one year at least.