Graciousness and gratuity may not be the first two emotions going through the heads of die-hard ‘Well fans when they think about Billy Reid ahead of this afternoon’s derby, but they should be. If it wasn’t for the Accies gaffer then this occasion wouldn’t even be taking place.
Motherwell against Hamilton Academical isn’t a fixture that would historically get Lanarkshire pulses racing. Accies have spent a yo-yo existence bouncing between the different levels of Scottish football; they were in the third division as recently as 2001.
Promotions to the top flight in ’53, ’65, ‘86 and ’88 were quickly followed by immediate relegations as the men from down the road struggled to arrive at the top table of Scottish football.
Thankfully Motherwell’s history is more stably rooted in the upper echelons of the Scottish game, meaning there has been something of a gulf preventing any real rivalry to manifest itself between the two neighbours.
Generally Airdrieonians was always the more tumultuous rivalry.
It is generally accepted that if The Steelmen were to face up to the reincarnation of Airdrieonians, Airdrie United, a little more often, that would be the biggest derby in Lanarkshire. The clubs have only met once in a competitive match, in the Scottish Cup in 2007 at New Broomfield. Motherwell won 1-0 that day and the crowd of approaching 6000 remains the record attendance for an Airdrie United match at New Broomfield.
The fact that people still feel that Alan Gow’s arrival at Motherwell from a now-defunct Airdrieonians (via six other clubs mind) is noteworthy is testament to the fierce rivalry between these North Lanarkshire rivals.
Graham Barnstaple, a Lanarkshire-based journalist and lifelong Motherwell fan, recalls: “The Lanarkshire Derby for the majority of Well fans was always against Airdrieonians rather than the Accies, mainly due to the frequency – or lack – of the games against the New Douglas Park side.
“Motherwell fans would watch our home games and then the following week travel over to Douglas Park to watch The Accies.
“As Chick Young would have said they would be seen by many as the “cuddly toy” of Lanarkshire football at that time.”
Yet Hamilton – and, in particular, Billy Reid – have succeeded creating a real interest in this ‘new’ Lanarkshire derby following the Accies’ promotion back to the big time in 2008. It helps that this time they have managed to hang around for more than one season.
Although the ‘banter’ between the sets of fans isn’t quite as vociferous as it used to be in the Airdrieonians days, there is certainly a buzz about Fir Park when the visitors from two miles away in South Lanarkshire come to the north.
The derby experience is made all the more pleasurable for The Steelmen by the fact that Motherwell have had to cope, until 2008, with having no discernable top-flight rival. Granted, Fir Park is a cauldron when either half of the Old Firm visit from Glasgow, but nothing quite compares to the local pride which comes from beating an opponent from just down the road.
Motherwell pride themselves on being a community club; the links with the local area are strong, and with that in mind it is all the more special to be able to enjoy a real local derby.
It also helps that since the North-South Lanarkshire derby came to the SPL both clubs seem to have embraced the passion, energy and desperation to win which defines all the best derbies.
The first two encounters between the teams back in the top flight saw both teams win their home games 2-0. Braces from Chris Porter and James McCarthy respectively settled two very watchable matches as the two foes got to know each other and began to redefine the rivalry.
Motherwell would go on to dominate the derby that season. A 1-0 win on Valentines’ Day 2009 was followed up by a spectacular 3-0 win at New Douglas Park, as a youthful ‘Well side including Hutchison, Quinn, Paul Slane, Murphy and Cillian Sheridan decimated their hosts.
In November of last season the two sides served up an absolute cracker at New Douglas Park in the first derby of the season. An effervescent 90 minutes ended with a share of the points in a four-goal thriller. A match that had pretty much everything even saw a red card for Guillaume Beuzelin after just half an hour.
That match was even more memorable as the over-exuberant celebrations of Mr. Reid saw him take a spectacular tumble in the dugout when Marco Paixao made it 2-1 to the home side (it’s a job for YouTube if you haven’t yet had the pleasure). This was all the more embarrassing for the Accies gaffer as it didn’t even turn out to be the winning goal; a spectacular Jamie Murphy strike secured a point for Jim Gannon’s troops three minutes from time.
In fact Hamilton only have one win against ‘Well since their promotion. That follows a pattern which sees Motherwell with a better than 50% record in head-to-heads, stretching over a little more than 100 encounters.
This is a derby day which is very much still evolving, but nearly 5000 fans attended the last Hamilton match at Fir Park (above average for non-Old Firm and European matches in the SPL at Fir Park), proving that there is certainly an appetite for the fixture.
That appetite should be exascerbated by the fact both sides have plenty riding on this match. Accies are scrapping at the wrong end of the table and Motherwell are desperate for points to keep them clear in third; it’s all set up for a cracker.
You get the feeling ‘Well fans will be gracious in their thanks to Hamilton and Billy Reid for bringing a derby back to Lanarkshire – as long as they don’t have the audacity to try and usurp Motherwell; or, as Graham Barnstaple says: “As long as they remember we are still Lanarkshire’s premier club! With a 25 year unbroken run in the top flight, a cup win, a League Cup final, a second place finish and regular trips to Europe.”
You see, gracious.