A decade on, Stephen Craigan reflects on the day Phil O’Donnell passed away on the Fir Park turf.
The Northern Irishman, emotional yet full of happiness when remembering Motherwell’s famous number 10, speaks so freely and openly about a man who epitomised so many important qualities as a team-mate and a captain of the Steelmen.
“Sometimes it does feel like ten years when I think about how much has gone on in my life, but in football terms, it seems as though it was just yesterday,” Craigan said.
“I still vividly remember the game in general. And the reason I’m mentioning the game is because during that match Phil looked so happy.
“We had been at Ibrox a few days before and he was happy and content ahead of the game against Dundee United. His energy levels were good.
“The way the team played that day was terrific, he was box-to-box and it was almost as though he was rolling back the years to his younger days at Motherwell.”
When ‘Well boss Mark McGhee decided to withdraw O’Donnell from the action, Craigan recalls the horrifying moment the club captain collapsed to the deck.
“Mark McGhee was making a substitution, and I generally remember he looked round and I said to him, “Phil, it’s your number. Time to go off.” Then I just remember his last words: “I don’t feel very well.
“Then from there it was all so fast. He collapsed and before you knew it we were there trying to help him. At first I remember thinking he might have swallowed his tongue. But when I tried to put my fingers in his mouth ,he bit down on me, so I jumped back, then the doctor was there.
“The game was going so well. We were 5-1 up I think and everyone was feeling good. It was a festive time of year and then, all of a sudden that one incident, quite rightly, overtakes everything. The whole darkness of coming off the pitch, going into the dressing room and not knowing what had happened, really took over.
[pullquote]We sat in the dressing room for quite a while after the game, just in our kit, nobody really spoke and everybody was checking their phones waiting for a little bit of information.[/pullquote]
“It was horrific, it really was. Towards the end of the game it was just silence. As players, we just looked about. You’re thinking about David Clarkson, his nephew, on the pitch, his family in the stands, so when you think about all of that, that’s the dark side of it.
“But then you think of Phil as a guy. He wasn’t just a teammate. He was like a father figure to us all. Even though I was a bit older than most of the lads, I was early 30s and Phil was 35, he still felt like that to me.
“No matter what problems you had, if your car had broken down you could ask Phil and he’d know somebody who could get it fixed for you. If you didn’t know how to change a light bulb, he’d probably tell you how.
“He was the type of figure you’d go to if you had a question, and irrespective of whatever question you asked, he’d have an answer.
“Terry brought him back for that reason, to be a good influence in the dressing room. A lot of people maybe questioned if he’d be ready or if he’d be fit, and he more than proved that he was capable to get himself fit and keep himself injury free.
“First and foremost though, he brought a personality to the team. In a quiet way though. He wasn’t loud, he wasn’t shouting and screaming, like I said he was like a father figure.
“But he wasn’t at Christmas time though. At that time of year he became a big kid, probably because he had a young family of course, but just how excited he’d get. He’d talk about going to Lapland, all the presents he would be getting for his family, just so many joyful things about him.
“It didn’t seem like he had a care in the world and, to me, he just seemed like the happiest man in the world with his family, his kids and his wife.
“That came across in his personality too. Sometimes you can tell when people are happy, when they don’t have any underlying problems or when they do, but he just seemed so free and easy, and he enjoyed his life.”
And it was a memorable life Phil lived, fondly remembered by everyone he crossed paths with.
Craigan captured the loss and emptiness that so many felt around Motherwell Football Club in just a few words.
He said: “We didn’t just lose the captain of our team. We lost a huge personality from our dressing room, and I think that was the biggest void.
“Football comes and goes and can be replaced but as a personality in the dressing room, as a father figure and as someone we could all look up to is easily what we missed the most.”