Motherwell FC is today devastated to learn of the passing of one of its greatest sons, Joe Wark, after a long battle with illness.
Everyone at the Club would like to express our deepest condolences to Joe’s wife Maureen, his sons Steven and Kenneth, along with his close family and friends at this difficult time.
‘Well fan Eddie Ferguson recently wrote an article for the Matchday Magazine that details the career of one of ‘the’ Motherwell legends of all time.
‘Joe Wark Knew My Father’
Thursday the 9th of October 1947 may have been a typically cold clear autumnal day in Glasgow, but within the parameters of Motherwell Football Club surely the excitement would have been at fever pitch had they known what the effect of events a few miles away would eventually have on us all.
Joe Wark may have been born a “Weegie”, and his boyhood heroes may well have been from somewhere north of ML1, but from the minute he made his debut in a Pre-Season Friendly against Tranmere Rovers in 1968, he was destined to be forever a Steelman.
As was the norm at this time, Joe had begun his career in the Ayrshire Juniors, running up and down Cochrane Street Park playing in the Tangerine and Black of Irvine Victoria. It wasn’t long before scouts from the senior ranks all over Scotland were alerted to the performances of the strong, tidy and creative player with a throw-in akin to a corner kick, which led to reports landing on managers desk up and down the country.
Of course it was Motherwell boss Bobby Howitt, who made the first move, and Joe was more than happy at the age of 20 to make the Fir Park dressing room his home for the next sixteen seasons.
Strangely enough on his debut previously mentioned, Joe spent 87 minutes in goal after ‘Well ‘keeper Keith McRae was injured. The clean sheet he achieved was to be the first small step on his journey towards legendary status at our club, as a Jim “Jumbo” Muir double won the game for Motherwell.
The fact that Motherwell had begun season 1968/9 in Scotland’s Division Two probably helped him make the step up in class a little easier. Joe was an ever present in midfield, driving the club forward in a glorious romp to the title, netting 112 times, conceding 23 and losing a mere two matches (Forfar and East Fife away) along the way.
Joe showed in that first season that he could augment his excellent defensive duties with some attacking flair. He scored eight League goals in that campaign, including a memorable hat-trick against Montrose at Fir Park, which I’m delighted to say, I actually witnessed sitting on the wee white wall in front of the East Stand! It would be the following season, when the Steelmen returned to the top flight, that Joe would make the left back berth his own.
That year would also signal his first national Semi-Final, in the League Cup against St Johnstone, after starring in an incredible come from behind win in the previous round against Morton. Sadly for us all, the disappointing defeat at Hampden Park would not be last Semi-Final anguish suffered by the great man.
League wise, it was an efficient if unspectacular return to the First Division, although good enough to secure a place in the new British (Texaco) Cup, which was kicking off the following term.
That inaugural tournament would provide the major highlights for ‘Well fans in Season 1970/71, a term in which Joe Wark would further endear himself to the Motherwell faithful , continually showing impeccable timing in the tackle and an ability to seemingly rescue a lost cause without committing any foul.
First up in the new competition was Stoke City, with World Cup winning Goalkeeper, Gordon Banks between the sticks in the first leg at Fir Park. A terrific display by Banks wasn’t enough to stop John Goldthorp netting the only goal, and it was down to the Victoria Ground for the second instalment of an enthralling contest.
The English side managed to take the tie to penalties, but it was the ‘Well ‘keeper McRae who overshadowed his more illustrious counterpart and emerged the hero with two great saves as the Steelmen celebrated a deserved win.
The mighty Tottenham Hotspur were next up, with a host of International stars and even more World Cup winners! Wark along with many of his teammates were not only enjoying the newfound national limelight, but were positively thriving on it.
After a narrow 3-2 defeat at White Hart Lane, a near 23,000 crowd were encouraged to visit Fir Park to roar Motherwell on to what would become a famous victory, with goals from Tom Donnelly, Brian Heron and Bobby Watson.
The Semi-Final saw heartache for “Guiseppe” (as my Dad called our hero), as an injury time Donald Ford goal for Hearts in front of 25,500 fans at Fir Park sent them through to the first ever Final, at the expense of the brave men in Claret and Amber.
League form over the next few years continued to be rather in and out, with Joe yet again keeping a clean sheet as he took over in goal for the second half of a league game at home to St. Johnstone in January 1972. This time Billy Ritchie was the unlucky ‘Well ‘keeper who had broken his leg. It didn’t stop Motherwell though, running out convincing 2-0 winners with Billy Campbell and Kirkie Lawson scoring.
By the time new manager Ian St. John arrived in 1973, it had become apparent that Scottish Football was heading for a radical change, with a ten team Premier League on the horizon.
All efforts of not only Motherwell, but a host of clubs throughout the land were directed towards attaining a berth in the new set-up for the first campaign. “Sinjy’s” first full season in charge saw Joe complete yet another campaign as an ever present (his third in six years), playing 52 competitive matches, displaying tremendous enthusiasm, athleticism, dedication and a clever understanding of how not to fall foul of referees.
League wise the club relied heavily on the scoring exploits of our dynamic striking partnership of Willie Pettigrew and Bobby Graham to guide them to the new top ten set-up, which was achieved on the final day of the season at Fir Park against Dumbarton. Graham scored his 14th goal of the season that afternoon (although Pettigrew failed to add to his 26) in a 3-1 win with the Fir Parkers resplendent in a kit almost identical to the one the boys will wear this afternoon.
The season may have ended happily enough, but a month earlier, it’s fair to say the Scottish Cup caused major heartache not only to Joe, but for all Motherwell fans. Pettigrew had put the Steelmen ahead at Hampden Park in the Semi-Final against Airdrieonians, and were comfortable until a harmless looking late cross into our box was headed into his own net by Fir Park stopper Stewart McLaren.
A couple of minutes from the end of the replay, ‘keeper Stuart Rennie was penalised for taking too many steps whilst carrying the ball, a long defunct rule, and one that was rarely enforced at that time. The resultant indirect free-kick was deflected past the helpless goalie, leaving the Diamonds, who we were to narrowly pip for the final place in the new Premier League, celebrating a place in the Final against Celtic.
The following season would see the pinnacle of a terrific Motherwell side as Wark would once again be an ever-present over 54 games. 1975/76 also saw Joe return to the goal scoring charts, just. A fine strike at Ibrox would earn the Steelmen a creditable draw in the League Cup, although it wouldn’t be enough to help the side to progress out of a Section that also included Airdrieonians and Clyde.
The Texaco Cup had a new name this term, as the Anglo-Scottish Cup made its bow, with Motherwell yet again “in amongst it”. Dundee and Blackburn Rovers were both seen off with ease by the Dossers to earn us a crack at Fulham, boasting an array of talent such as Bobby Moore, Alan Mullery, Rodney Marsh and George Best. A great draw down at Craven Cottage went for nothing as Fir Park witnessed a five-goal cracker, which sadly for Wark and his teammates went in favour of the visitors.
For the second season on the bounce, the Scottish Cup would prove to be devastating to our, by now, captain of the Football Club. It had of course started so promisingly as Motherwell came from two down at home to Celtic at half time, to post a never to be forgotten win with goals from Taylor, Graham and Pettigrew.
When Cowdenbeath, and then, Hibernian (after a second replay at Ibrox) were taken care of, a Semi-Final against the blue half of the Old Firm didn’t hold any fears for the Fir Parkers and their fans. Twenty minutes from time, Pettigrew and McLaren had us two goals to the good, looking home and hosed, with Wark surely dreaming of lifting the old trophy and bringing it back to North Lanarkshire.
Enter Referee, JPR Gordon. He inexplicably awarded Rangers a penalty for an alleged infringement two yards outside the box. The converted kick gave our opponents the impetus they needed to win the tie despite a blatant foul by Rangers defender, John Greig on Pettigrew as he looked certain to earn a replay in the final minute. Early 1978 saw Joe and his Motherwell side hit a slump that would eventually lead to them plying their trade in the First Division 18 months later.
At the end of that World Cup summer, West Brom arrived at Fir Park as Joe Wark was awarded a well-deserved Testimonial by the club. Sadly, Motherwell were ripped apart, and the 8-1 defeat was a precursor to the horror season that was to follow.
Relegation meant radical changes to the playing staff was required from new manager, Ally MacLeod, with Joe being one of the very few who survived the cull. It would be at the third attempt in 1982 that the Steelmen would return to Scotland’s top flight, with Joe playing an integral part in the success.
Following Davie Hay’s departure in that summer, and despite media reports linking Joe to the manager’s chair at Fir Park, Jock Wallace was the man given the task of keeping Motherwell in the Premier League in that crucial first season.
It’s fair to say that Wallace was not a popular choice amongst the Motherwell fans, and he certainly wasn’t on Joe’s Christmas card list the following festive period. The ex-Rangers boss only selected our hero for one league game in the first eight months of the season, a 7-0 reverse at home to Celtic with a certain Charlie Nicholas on fire for the Hoops.
Wark’s final season, 1983/4, would see the Club relegated once again with Joe, now 36 years old, appearing eleven times in Claret and Amber. The old boots were finally hung up after a second Testimonial match against a Rangers/Celtic select in January 1985.
Joe had made 469 league appearances, a post war record for the Club, which given the nature of the transfer system these days, is unlikely to be beat.
Many Motherwell fans have waxed lyrical over the years desperately trying to describe what Joe meant to this club. On the field, his “Mr Consistency” tag was well earned, as on a weekly basis, he took his “teeth oot”, rolled up his sleeves and went to work, playing the game in the right way.
Never would you see Joe commit a cynical foul, indeed he was very rarely booked in over 500 games for the Steelmen. Off the field, Joe was always immaculate, and dare I say it, rather good looking with his teeth in. Every inch a Gentleman and a fine ambassador for Motherwell Football Club, not shy to explain what this club has stood for, and should continue to stand for today.
It was a travesty that this true legend was never given a full Scotland Cap, although he did gain a solitary League Cap against England.
In truth though, although Joe may have hankered for that dark blue jersey, to us ‘Well fans, that only made him more special, as it meant we didn’t have to share Joe Wark with anybody else.
He was probably the only hero in our family which crossed the generation between my old man and myself; my late dad thought the world of Joe, as I did growing up.
For a Left Back to hold such affection not only within the Ferguson household in darkest Renfrewshire, but throughout great swathes of Lanarkshire tells you more about the man than anything I could write about him.
Joe Wark may never have met or knew my father, but I’m so proud to say, my father most certainly knew, and loved, Joe Wark.