Following the sad passing of Bert McCann this week, there will be a minutes applause to celebrate his life before today’s game versus Aberdeen.
The following feature article was included in ‘Steelmen’ matchday magazine a few weeks ago, recapping the career of a Motherwell great.
Bert McCann – A True Steelman
By Eddie Ferguson
On the face of it, the 15th of October 1932 wasn’t great for Motherwell fans of that time as the Steelmen, then Champions of Scotland, were going down two nil at Tynecastle Park engulfed in a light drizzle.
However, sixty miles up the road to Dundee, a boy was being born who would light up Fir Park and become adored by everyone who wore Claret and Amber favours.
Robert Johnstone McCann was born and bred in the City of Discovery.
Although all indications are that young Robert had little interest in any Football Club south of the Perth Road, in the decades that followed there can be little doubt that this Football Club would hold a special place in his heart, as he has in a certain generation of Motherwell fans.
He would become one of the all time greats at Fir Park, and be an integral part of the finest half-back line this Club has ever produced alongside Charlie Aitken and John Martis.
His early football experience came playing in the Maroon and White of Dundee North End in the Tayside Junior Leagues, before being snapped up on amateur terms by legendary former Motherwell striker, Willie McFadyen who was then manager of Dundee United.
Even before he pulled a Claret and Amber jersey over his head, he had lightly etched his name into Motherwell folklore by being part of the Arabs side that took an early lead at Fir Park, only to lose twelve goals and be part of both Motherwell’s record win, and the Terrors heaviest defeat.
He left Tannadice after a year for Queens Park where he had a terrific time culminating in Bert gaining six Scottish International Amateur Caps, and being tracked by a host of top-flight clubs.
It was the summer of 1956 when Motherwell reverted to their much-vaunted policy of identifying promising youngsters who would be allowed to develop in the Motherwell tradition.
It was a process that had previously reared Motherwell legends and Championship winners like George Stevenson, Bobby Ferrier and Willie McFadyen.
Despite interest from bigger clubs, Bert opted for life in Lanarkshire under the guidance of recently appointed Motherwell manager, and, fellow Dundonian, Bobby Ancell.
Initially, the young midfielder signed on at Fir Park on part-time terms to allow him to complete his Modern Language studies at Edinburgh University.
Indeed it wasn’t unusual for Bert only to meet up with team mates at a Saturday lunchtime to prepare for a first fixture, even on the occasions that he was captaining the side.
Bert made his debut in a 4-2 reverse League Cup tie at Starks Park against Raith Rovers before making his Fir Park bow eleven days later as Airdrieonians were routed by six goals to one.
From that point on he would pretty much be a regular in the line up for that campaign, only missing five games through injury as 1956 drew to a close.
Not being particularly renowned for his scoring exploits, McCann endeared himself somewhat to the Fir Park faithful that debut season, scoring eight times, contributing to five important wins over Airdrie (twice), Queens Park, Dundee and Ayr United, as Motherwell finished a respectable seventh.
The following campaign was difficult for Bert as injuries plagued the schemer, but season 1958/59 would see the young man blossom along with several of his peers before the watching eyes of not only Scotland, but the world.
The renowned “Ancell Babes” introduced themselves to Scottish Football as Bobby Ancell orchestrated a brand of football the likes had been rarely seen before, with Bert McCann the absolute lynchpin of everything that happened offensively on the pitch.
Time after time he provided the front five, typically, Hunter, Reid, St. John, Roberts and Quinn, all Internationalists, with opportunities and situations that they thrived on.
Bert was an ever present in that campaign, playing in all 42 competitive matches as the Steelmen notched up 105 goals which had the fans on the East Terracing purring with joy and satisfaction as the Fir Parkers finished an impressive third, six points off the Champions, Rangers.
The campaign that would take the club into the “Swinging Sixties” started with terrific optimism around Fir Park with concrete steps being installed onto the terracing to help bring the capacity up to 40,000.
Training facilities also took a turn for the better as the Club paid for the use of Motherwell Stadium for day to day training to help preserve the Fir Park pitch and keep it in top notch condition, which was vital to allow Ancell’s footballing philosophy to thrive.
Again it would be a most entertaining season for the Motherwell spectators with their favourite’s just failing to score on four occasions throughout the whole campaign of 44 matches.
It was only the famous forward lines of both Hibernian and Hearts that scored significantly more goals than the Steelmen.
1960/61 saw Bert once again be an ever present for Motherwell as the club mixed it with Scottish footballs big boys. No more so than when Motherwell where drawn against Champions elect Rangers in the Scottish Cup.
The fans were treated to a thrilling tie at Fir Park where the visitors raced into a two goal lead as they threatened to blow the Steelmen away.
Gradually, backed with a fervent home support, Motherwell got a foothold back in the game, as McCann fed Ian St John who slammed the ball low into the net a minute before half time.
The second period was end-to-end stuff before Bert McCann secured a replay, calmly firing home from fifteen yards.
The Ibrox replay, in front of a sell-out crowd, would go down in Motherwell folklore.
The Fir Parkers started brightly – taking the lead, but by the break the Light Blues had fought back and were ahead.
Nobody could have seen the performance the Steelmen produced in the second half, inspired by manager Ancell’s team talk.
Pat Delaney rifled home an equaliser from a free kick given for a foul on McCann. And before the hour had arrived Bobby Roberts got to a ball before the Rangers keeper to prod the third over the line as Motherwell turned on the style.
The Ibrox crowd watched on stunned and mesmerised as the Steelmen scored twice more to complete a 5-2 thrashing of the Glasgow giants.
Legend has it, that almost every Rangers fan stayed until the end to applaud Bert and his team mates off the turf, such was the display the Fir Parkers had produced.
With the new season on the horizon, the exciting Motherwell side were beginning to be dismantled as the vultures circled ML1 looking to snap up the emerging talent, particularly striker, Ian St. John, who departed for Bill Shankley’s Liverpool for £375,000.
Despite Ancell’s attempts at replacing the obvious quality with promising youngsters, the performance almost inevitably took a dip.
It would be a season of injuries for McCann as Motherwell finished a disappointing 9th of 18 Clubs.
The first game of 1962/63 season saw Falkirk visit Fir Park in front of the magnificent newly extended Main Stand.
Bert McCann was the man of the match, expertly dictating play as the Steelmen ran riot.
Bobby Russell scored five times with Pat Quinn helping himself to a mere four in a stunning 9-1 victory in front of an enthralled audience.
Mid-table obscurity would be a recurring theme for the remainder of Bert’s time running up and down Fir Park with his last goal rounding off an emphatic 4-1 home win over Morton before his final appearance in an ill-fated clash with Rangers on Fir Park.
Bert McCann’s career at the top level was effectively brought to an abrupt halt by a horrible tackle inflicted in a League game at home to Rangers in April 1965.
The Motherwell Club Doctor of the time was quoted as saying it was the worst Football injury he’d ever seen with studs marks being gouged across Bert’s thigh muscle.
That summer Bert made the short hop over the Clyde to join the Accies for a season before retiring at the age of thirty-three, and using his academic qualifications to become a Teacher.
Bert had gained five Scottish International Caps and also five Scottish League appearances in an era where the domestic game was awash with terrific talent.
His International debut came in May 1958 in front of over 100,000 fans as West Germany were defeated 3-2 in a Friendly match at Hampden Park, alongside fellow debutants and ‘Well players Ian St. John and Andy Weir, who scored.
Further appearances in Dark Blue came against Northern Ireland, Wales and England before his final Cap, which came in horrible 9-3 defeat against the “Auld Enemy” at Wembley in May 1961.
Bert McCann made 246 appearances in Claret and Amber, captaining the side on many occasions and returning 21 goals for the cause.
To this day, Bert takes an enthusiastic interest in Motherwell FC, being part of the Former Players Club and part of the Well Society.
On the park, Bert had the ability to play in any midfield position.
A consistent performer, who initially relied to a large extent on his vision and ability, but developed a cogency and timing in the tackle that brought a respect from his opponents, and adulation from his Motherwell supporters.
Despite not being the biggest or most robust of players, he had the strength to play a defensive role if required and the talent to be creative just off the Centre Forward.
However he was probably best suited to being the architect of the team, dictating the tempo, direction and structure of any given match.
And if that “team” happened to be one of the finest this Club has produced in 131 years, then surely Bert McCann was one special player that fully deserves never to be forgotten around these parts.