Through the years
Motherwell Football Club has a rich history dating back to 1886, formed from a merger of two local clubs, Alpha and Glencairn.
Since then, the club has won everything on offer at the top end of Scottish football, including the top flight title, the League Cup and the Scottish Cup.
1886 - 1917
Massive changes in society in the 1870s gave birth to a new generation of leisure pursuits which saw football became the sport of the masses.
The revolutionary introduction of half days on Saturday for many trades gave the working class man the time to indulge in these pursuits. During this time many teams were founded throughout the Lanarkshire area. These teams were most notably work teams.
The early teams in Motherwell were dominated by Glencairn, who started up in 1877. Named after John Glencairn Carter Hamilton of Dalziel, they initially called open ground at Craigneuk their home, using a local school as their facilities. This park was known as the ‘Foot of the Knowe.’ However, they soon moved to ‘The Meadows’, via a short stay at a pitch at Broomside near Kidstones Pit, in the area now known as North Lodge.
The Meadows was an in-demand park, hosting the annual gala occasions as well as being the home of Glencairn’s fierce rivals, Alpha FC. Alpha FC would go on to become the most popular side in the area and eventually become the backbone of Motherwell Football Club.
Founded in 1881 by the workers in George Russell’s Alpha Steam Crane and Engineering Works, which was based in Park Street, they developed by playing against a host of other amateur teams that had sprung up in Motherwell, Wishaw and Bellshill. Some of the more prominent names at the time were Dalziel Rovers, Milton Rovers, Motherwell North End, Motherwell Amateurs and Hamilton Park.
In 1886, a Motherwell Charity Cup was established to engage local teams in a tournament that was to be for the ‘benefit of the poor’. Another game that was set up at this time was an exhibition between Glasgow Ancients – as the name suggests, a selection of older players from Glasgow – and a select XI made up of players from both Alpha FC and Glencairn.
This was a huge deal. The months prior to the game had been filled with talk of the two top sides in Motherwell amalgamating to form a stronger team. This argument was done no harm when the select overcame the more experienced Ancients 2-1 in front of a large crowd.
On 6 May 1886, the Alpha board met and decided to disband the club as it was, and reform it under a new constitution and set of rules. The plan was to keep the same name, but 11 days later representatives of Glencairn and Alpha met in the town's Baillie’s Pub and decided to form a new club altogether.
This new club was to be called Motherwell Football Club. A committee was formed and they were able to field a team, albeit an Alpha-dominated one. Their debut fixture proved to be a successful one as they outshone Hamilton Academical 3-2.
On the dawn of this new era, the Motherwell Times commented that the merger of the two sides could make “Motherwell second to none in the west of Scotland as a country club." In the early years, life was somewhat chaotic for the fledgling Motherwell, with no regular competition to play in, although the Lanarkshire Cup was still seen as a prestigious tournament at this time.
The new side reached their first final in 1888, where they lost to Airdrie. Not only was competition difficult to find but games would still start with players short, as they struggled to make the game after a shift in the local iron works.
The Scottish Cup did offer one major tournament that was available for Motherwell to compete in. They entered the competition for the first time in 1886, losing 6-1 to Cambuslang in the first round. They then made round three in 1888, only to lose 6-2 to Dumbarton.
Then in a move to push the club forward, the AGM of 1893 heard the heated debate of whether the club should turn professional or not. In the end it was decided unanimously in favour of turning professional. This also meant an increase in gate prices with entry now costing 6d (2.5p) and season tickets moving to 7/6 (37.5p).
The decision of the Scottish League to form the second division in 1893/94 allowed them to expand into geographical areas that they were previously absent from, such as Tayside, Edinburgh and industrial Lanarkshire. Motherwell were therefore duly elected, along with nine other teams, to form the second division for the start of 1893/94.
The other nine teams who joined Motherwell for this historic season were Hibernian, Cowlairs, Clyde, Partick Thistle, Port Glasgow Athletic, Abercorn, Morton, Northern and Thistle.
Motherwell’s first game was a 4-1 home win against Clyde, with the first professional Motherwell side striding out in maroon shirts and satin knickerbockers, although the preferred colours throughout the period were to remain the original blue. In their first season in the division, Motherwell managed a respectable fourth, winning 11 of their 18 games.
The year 1895 saw two major developments at the club. They brought home their first professional silverware in the form of the Lanarkshire Cup - and the club moved for the final time. The tight, muddy Dalziel Park was deemed unsuitable for league football, but Lord Hamilton solved the problem by granting a lease on a piece of land at the northern end of his Dalziel Estate. The club took Fir Park as the name of their stadium.
The first game played at the new ground was watched by over 6,000 spectators, as Motherwell hosted Glasgow Celtic. Unfortunately the visitors were to spoil the party by winning 8-1.
Motherwell continued to play their league football in the second division with varying degrees of success. Usually finishing anywhere between bottom and fourth, they broke the trend in the 1902/03 season, finishing as runners up. This ultimately saw them invited into the newly expanded first division the following season.
The transition up a division wasn’t an easy one for Motherwell, as they struggled to adjust. Season 1904/05 was a particularly difficult one, with the club finishing bottom of the 14-team division, winning only six of their games and losing 17. This league position left the club seeking re-election to the top division, but were duly grated that re-election, along with Morton.
In the years following this disastrous 14th place finish, Motherwell established themselves as a solid middle of the table side. However, a slump in form saw them finishing second bottom of the table in 1910/11.
During this spell, Motherwell won their first game against Rangers with a 1-0 home win at Fir Park on 2 March 1907, and strangely in such a poor season, also completed the Old Firm double with a 2-1 win over Celtic at Fir Park on 4 February 1911.
With the elevation to the top division, Motherwell players started to attract the attention of international selectors. Goalkeeper Colin Hampton was selected to play for the Scottish League, while outside left Robertson became the first Motherwell player to be selected for Scotland when he lined up against Wales at Kilmarnock on 5 March 1910, in a 1-0 win for the Scots.
Season 1910/11 produced a decent run in the Scottish Cup and, after seeing off St Johnstone 2-0 in the first round and Airdrie 5-1 in the second, Motherwell were drawn to take on Hamilton at Douglas Park in the third round. The game attracted a crowd of 17,000, but it was not to prove a joyous occasion for the men from the steel town, as their neighbours ran out 3-1 winners on the day.
After this game, the directors met in the Commercial Hotel in Hamilton to deal with the important task of finding a suitable candidate to manage the team going forward. From an original list of 70 applicants, a shortlist of 12 was drawn up. One of the most inspired decisions in the history of the club was taken when John ‘Sailor’ Hunter was appointed to the post of team manager.
At the start of the 1913/14 season, the club took the bold decision to change the club colours. They ditched the blue and white that had served the club since its birth and replaced them with the more distinctive claret and amber. It was often thought that these were the racing colours of Lord Hamilton of Dalziel, but records show that these colours have never, in fact, been used as the families’ colours. It is more likely that the club were influenced by the success of Bradford City FA Cup winning side of 1911, and in a quest to find colours that would clash less often with other sides in the league, they adopted the radical colours of the Bantams.
The new colours were first worn in the opening fixture that season when Celtic came to Fir Park on 23 August 1913. In front of a crowd of 20,000, producing gate receipts of almost £500, the sides battled to a hard fought 1-1 draw.
The summer of 1914 saw the outbreak of the First World War and unlike their English counterparts, the Scottish FA decided to carry on with league football but agreed to suspend the Scottish Cup competition. At the time of this decision, very few people of the time felt that the war would last as long as it did. The desire to "do one’s bit" for the country meant that there was no need to resort to conscription for the four years of the conflict.
As a result it was left to the individual to respond to the decision as they saw fit, or on the amount of moral pressure they were put under. There was an impact at Motherwell with players drifting in and out throughout the years as they returned home on leave.
During the war period, manager Hunter used the time wisely as he started to build a team that would be ready to challenge for honours in the coming years. These youngsters included outside left Bobby Ferrier from Petershill, Hugh Ferguson and Willie Rankine from Parkhead Juniors and keeper Jock Rundell.
1918 - 1929
After a few quiet years following the end of the First World War, things got back to normal for the Scottish leagues in 1920. However, at this time, industrial problems hit the Motherwell area.
Both the nearby steel and iron industries' main customers, the Clyde shipbuilders, were forced to cut production due to a glut of German ships being snapped up by the British to work their shipping lines. By then end of the 1920/21 season, two of the major works - Lanarkshire Steel Works and Dalziel Works - had ceased production.
This had drastic consequences on the town, with the number of unemployed jumping from 1,000 to 4,500. This obviously had a knock-on effect to the club. And things were further worsened with a slump in coal mining in the area.However the football club did provide a ray of sunshine in these dark industrial times. The 1920/21 season was their most successful to date as a professional club, and come the end of the season they found themselves fifth in the league. The also reached the quarter finals of the Scottish Cup for the first time since before the war, only to lose to eventual winners Partick Thistle. This good season was mainly due to Hughie Ferguson’s 42 league goals, a new record for an individual in a season.
The following season would prove to be a disappointing one for Motherwell, especially following on the back of the relatively successful 1920/21 campaign. Despite reaching the Scottish Cup quarter finals for the second year running, the club could only muster 13th place in the league.
In June 1922, the Motherwell board were forced to consider an offer for their prolific talisman Hughie Ferguson. Manchester City bid £3,500 for the free scoring forward, which fell short of Motherwell’s £4,000 valuation. They declined the offer, but ultimately Manchester City came back with an improved offer of £3,900, which the board accepted.
Unfortunately for Mr Mangnall, the Manchester City representative negotiating the deal, Ferguson put loyalty first and declined the move south. As the minutes from the board meeting put it: “the matter was left in abeyance."
With Ferguson still on board, Motherwell faced a tough season tangled in a year long relegation battle. However, the Scottish Cup offered more success, with the club reaching the semi finals for the first time. After seeing off St Johnstone, St Mirren, Falkirk and Bo’ness, the Steelmen faced Celtic at Ibrox for a place in final.
Nine special trains were laid on to take the Motherwell supporters through to Govan for the momentous occasion, with the game being played out in front of more than 70,000. Motherwell were unlucky to lose an early goal, and just as they looked likely to pull one back, Celtic scored again and managed to hold on until the end.
In May of 1923, manager Hunter made one of his most significant signings for the club, when he snapped up George Stevenson from Ayrshire Juniors side Kilbirnie Laedside. Stevenson would go on to play a pivotal part for the Steelmen over the next decade, including the 1931/32 league winning side.
The 1923/24 season brought nothing of great excitement for Motherwell. A 10th place finish in the league - and an early Scottish Cup exit in the third round - ensured that this season was one of the more easily forgotten in the history of the club. However, one moment of note was when rookie striker Willie McFadyen made his debut in a 0-0 draw against Ayr on 6 October 1923.
An even more disappointing season followed, with Motherwell finding themselves stranded at the foot of the table tied on 30 points with Ayr United and Third Lanark. Fortunately for The Steelmen, a superior goal difference saw them avoid relegation. This was thanks to a terrific 8-0 win over Haddington.
A time of change followed in the 1925/26 season. Hughie Ferguson finally left Fir Park, heading to Cardiff City for a fee of £5,000. Having scored 362 goals in his nine years at the club, he remains the club’s all time greatest goal scorer.
The departure of Ferguson paved the way for Willie McFadyen to lead the line, and in his first game in his new role he found the net twice in a 5-0 win over Raith Rovers. With McFadyen picking up where Ferguson left off, Motherwell had an explosive start to the season that saw them occupy second in the table for a long period. For this reason, their eventual finish of fifth was very much seen as a disappointment.
The 1926/27 was one that carried high expectations. There was a great belief that Motherwell could break the league title monopoly that had been established by Rangers and Celtic over the previous years. By Christmas of 1926, Motherwell were two points clear at the top, and a when the two met in January, over 30,000 watched the game. Unfortunately for the club, Rangers went on to win this game which proved to be crucial in them piping Motherwell to the title.
During this successful season, plans were put in place to take part in a tour of Spain. In the summer of 1927, manager John 'Sailor' Hunter and 16 players set off on a trip that would see Motherwell rake in guaranteed earnings of £1,700.
Under the supervision of director James Taggart, the squad played eight games, winning six, drawing one and losing one. Notable results from this trip included a 3-1 win over Real Madrid, a 2-2 draw with Barcelona, a 4-0 win against Celta Vigo and a 5-0 thrashing of Red Star Olympique on a scheduled stop over in France on the way home.
Motherwell ended the decade as the only major challengers to the dominance of the Old Firm. After their second place finish in 1926/27, in the final two seasons of the decade the Steelmen could only muster a third spot finish in each season.
During the 1927/28 season, some of Motherwell’s star players finally received some international recognition. George Stevenson was the first called up for a match against Wales in October, before keeper Alan McClory joined 'Stevie' for the game with Ireland in February.
1927/28 tour of South America
At the end of the 1927/28 season and following the success of the previous tour of Spain, it was decided by the board that the team would go on a summer tour of South America.
This trip saw games against 11 Argentinean and Brazilian teams, including the Brazilian national side, with which they drew 1-1.
Only losing four games on the tour, the trip almost ended in disaster. With the final game against a Brazilian league select, in which Motherwell suffered a 5-0 drubbing in front of 40,000 fans.
Overrunning, the players had to be taxied straight from the stadium in their football kit so they didn’t miss the boat home. Fortunately, they all made it.
The success of the two tours, combined with the excellent showing in the league, had set Motherwell up for an unprecedented run of success over the next decade as they put up a sustained league challenge to the two Glasgow giants, who had dominated the game since it turned professional in the late 19th century.
1930 - 1939
The dawn of the 1930s saw industrial conditions picking up within the area, providing a great optimism going into the new season. If the new working security wasn’t enough, the club offered even more reasons to be cheerful: an astute set of directors, a visionary manager, a much improved ground, and a group of loyal and talented players that were seen as second to none in the country.
Spending £1,000 improving Fir Park, the capacity was now bolstered to 35,000, with plans in place to increase it further to 40,000. A new cement barrier wall around the pitch was built, and an elaborate drainage system was installed. The dimension of the pitch was also enlarged to 100 x 70 yards.
With these foundations in place, the club embarked on a period of unprecedented consistency in the First Division which was topped off by a league championship win in 1931/32. During this golden spell, Motherwell reached three Scottish Cup finals, unfortunately losing in all three.
Season 1929/30 saw Motherwell finish second in the table, finishing five points behind Rangers. They finished the season in excellent form, winning seven in a row and amassing 34 goals in the process. This was rounded off with the final match of the season, thumping Queen’s Park 9-0. That result saw them confirmed as the league’s top scorers with 104 goals.
There was no success in the cup either, with a 5-2 defeat to Rangers seeing the Well crash out in the third round after they had previously seen off East Stirling and Clyde in the opening two rounds.
At the start of 1930/31 season, the press were once again asking if it was time for Motherwell to break the strangle hold of the Old Firm and wrestle the league title away from the Glasgow giants, given their recent performances in previous seasons. The Steelmen weren’t long in answering that question as they exploded into the league season by winning their first eight games. By the end of September, they were sitting proud at the top of the table.
The following month, manager John 'Sailor' Hunter was given permission to take a deputation to look at Welsh left back Ben Ellis, who was playing for Bangor City in Northern Ireland. He was very much impressed, and looked for permission from the club board to sign him. The deal was complete in late October, with a £350 fee agreed with Bangor, plus another £50 if he made 12 first team appearances. Although Ellis had to wait until February to make his debut, he would go on to be a permanent fixture in the side right up until the start of the Second World War.
On Christmas Day 1930, Hunter decided to drop centre forward Dowdalls and he duly replaced him with Willie McFadyen, putting in place the legendary five man forward line for the first time that contained Murdoch, McMenemy, Stevenson, Ferrier and the prolific McFadyen.
The league challenge continued and Motherwell were constantly in touch right through until March, when their challenge suffered a massive blow at the hands of Celtic. Losing 4-1 at Parkhead was enough to knock Motherwell off the top of the table. They never quite recovered from that hard defeat, and in the end they had to settle for third place behind the Old Firm.
A first Scottish Cup Final appearance in May 1930 was a great achievement for the club. Facing Celtic in the final, Motherwell roared into a two goal lead. However, late in the second half, when the cup seemed destined for Fir Park, Celtic staged a dramatic comeback. After pulling one back, they managed to get an equaliser with a goal that has passed into Motherwell legend.
Thomson of Celtic broke down the wing and he sent in a hopeful cross. As the ball came into the Motherwell box, there was a shout of “go for it Alan”. Centre half Alan Craig thought the shout was for him and he followed the instruction and the ball glanced off his head and into his own net. Sadly the shout had been intended for goalkeeper Alan McClory, who had also followed the same instruction and was left stranded by the header from Craig.
Unfortunately for the Steelmen, the replay didn’t go their way with Celtic running out comfortable 4-2 winners in front of a crowd of almost 100,000.
At the start of the 1930/31 campaign, Motherwell were fortunate to retain all their key players. It was hoped that this would allow them to maintain their momentum into the new season and finally bring an end to the Old Firm’s domination of the Scottish league. The only concern they faced was a downturn in trade and the likelihood of a depression hitting the region and what effect this would have on the club.
But any possible depression was nullified as Motherwell achieved all their hopes and dreams in a fantastic season. Sailor Hunter’s team lost only two games, both away, in a dominant league campaign, finishing five points clear of Rangers at the top of the table.
Once again they scored a barrow load of goals, finishing the season with 119. Willie McFadyen established a new single season record by an individual as he beat Jimmy McGrory’s previous mark of 49. Scoring his 50th on the penultimate game of the season against Cowdenbeath, and setting a new record, McFadyen went on to add another two to his final tally.
To this day, his 52 has never been bested, and is unlikely to in the future. He has ensured his rightful place in history with this incredible feat, and as a result, the 1931/32 league triumph by the Steelmen will never be forgotten.
The Motherwell fans were unsurprisingly ecstatic and they rushed on to the pitch at the sound of the full time whistle at the last match of the season to salute their championship heroes. The players, unused to winning titles, had already slipped into the bath. The crowd were entertained by chairman Tom Ormiston who made a series of speeches, before he was replaced by director Crystal, who following some witty remarks, managed to get the crowd to disperse.
The supporters merely moved from the inside of the ground to Fir Park Street where they waited for the players to emerge from the stadium. First to appear was John McMenemy, who was mobbed by the supporters, as were all his team mates. However, a particularly special reception was given to record breaker McFadyen. The last two to appear were the left wing pairing of Stevenson and Ferrier who were immediately hoisted shoulder high and carried through the street.
In the evening, a commemorative dinner was held in the ballroom of the Grosvenor Hotel in Glasgow, with 200 guests present. Congratulations were read out from Lord Hamilton of Dalzell and Mr Livingstone French, president of the South African FA. On behalf of the beaten champions, Rangers’ Duncan Graham gave a brief review of Motherwell’s history and acknowledged the key point that the Motherwell directors had refused to sell their players and as a result of this policy they were reaping the reward in the form of their first league title.
It was a truly remarkable season, despite McFadyen’s individual season record the team’s tally of 119 was a new First Division record. They ended the season five points ahead of Rangers and a remarkable 18 in front of third place Celtic. The 66 points that they accumulated had only been bested once since the top division had been made up to 20 teams. That was Rangers with 67 in 1928/29 and in the same season Rangers only lost one game, the only other time that a team had gone one better than the two Motherwell suffered in 1931/32.
The league win was the first outside the Old Firm since Third Lanark had won the title back in 1904, and it was to be the only time that the title was to be wrested from the big two in the years between the wars.
The following season, all of the championship winning side had been retained as Motherwell tried to secure back to back titles. The opening game of the season was a gala occasion with the flag being unfurled prior to the game. A special flagpole was erected for the occasion, one that was eight feet higher than the previous one at the ground. The flag was unfurled in front of a crowd of 120,000 by the chairman’s wife Mrs Ormiston as the town band played “See the Conquering Hero Comes”.
Three defeats on the bounce during October and November saw Motherwell playing catch up in the title race throughout the rest of the season, and despite rattling in another 114 goals they could only finish runners up to Rangers, trailing in three points behind.
It was the turn of the cup to provide the excitement as they reached their second final in three years. Having scored 27 goals in six games, seeing off Hamilton, Montrose, Dundee, Kilmarnock and Clyde, they were through to face Celtic in the final once again.
Motherwell suffered defeat in this Scottish Cup final, but had only themselves to blame after conceding a bad goal. In the first minute, Ben Ellis hammered in a free kick but Kennaway in the Celtic goal saved and then Stevenson weaved his magic past two defenders but his shot flew just wide of the post.
Three minutes after the interval disaster struck the Well. Ellis and McKenzie got in each others way trying to clear the ball and Celtic forward Bert Thomson sent the ball into the penalty area. Alan McClory in the Motherwell goal looked certain to collect but Jimmy McGrory nipped in front of him and sent the ball into the net.
Motherwell fought back with Stevenson trailing the ball around three defenders but failed to beat the keeper after all the hard work had been done. On the final whistle, Motherwell fans were left to reflect again on what might have been.
In 1933/34, Motherwell split the Old Firm for the last time for 60 years as things started to slide a little as the 30s progressed. There was once again no problems scoring goals with 97 bagged in this campaign but it wasn’t enough to prevent Rangers claiming their seventh title in eight seasons.
During 1933/34, more Well players had been honoured at international level than at any other previous time in the club’s history. Stevenson, McFadyen and McMenemy all picked up two caps during the season, while Blair, Telfer and Ogilvie were all capped for Scotland and Ben Ellis for Wales. Stevenson’s caps took his grand total to 21, made up of league internationals and full international appearances. At this stage he had won 11 full caps, by adding one more against Northern Ireland the following season he set the early record of most capped player for Motherwell with this 12th appearance.
A string of early defeats and a run of injuries meant that Motherwell were left in the unusual position of being left with a string of meaningless games in the run in towards the end of the season, given that they weren’t in contention for the title or relegation. In the end they finished the season in sixth place in the league table, the lowest league placing since 1924/25. The explanation for such a poor run of form was the higher than normal number of players that Motherwell were forced to use during the season, with 25 different players turning out at various stages of the season.
For the start of 1935/36 season, there were a number of changes in the playing side of the club, with Crapnell and Thomson retiring, along with Crawley moving to Preston and Dowall moving on the Bury. Coming in were Grant from Blackpool and Hutton Bremner from Queen’s Park. This was the first major shake up of the squad in a good few years.
In the league, they were never as consistent through this season as they had been during the early 30s. As a result they never really managed to mount any kind of challenge at all, although Celtic were the only side to beat them twice, as the Celts won the league for the first time since 1925/26.
The next season was to be one of change at Fir Park, as the side that won the title back in 1931/32 started to break up and Hunter was forced to rebuild his side once again. The first player to depart was forward John McMenemy who moved to Partick Thistle for £1,000, having given eight years service to the club after signing from Celtic.
By the end of December, it was decided that Willie McFadyen could now be transferred and he duly moved south to Huddersfield, with Duncan Ogilvie returning to Fir Park in exchange. McFadyen was one of the all time greats with the highlight of his time at Motherwell being the 52 goals scored in securing the league title back in 1931/32.
In the end, the reshaped side had to settle for a fourth place league finish and a run to the fourth round of the cup, where they were halted by Clyde with a 3-2 defeat at Shawfield.
In 1937/38, things looked to have returned to normal, with the early weeks of the season making many believe another title challenge was on the way, but a run of only two points from 14 during a spell in December and January put an end to that, and a fifth place finish was all that could be achieved.
The last full season before the war saw Motherwell drop to 12th in the league, which was mainly down to more changes in the playing staff with captain Bobby Ferrier retiring, ending his left sided partnership with George Stevenson. Also a tough cup run took its toll on the players and probably affected their league performances, though a place in the Scottish Cup final was sufficient reward.
The final was played against Clyde, with the game attracting 94,000 to Hampden eager to see if Sailor Hunter’s team could end their jinx and lift the cup. Sadly once again they were to return to Motherwell empty handed. The Fir Park side started the game well with Ogilvie and McCulloch going close but it was Clyde who took the lead in the 30th minute against the run of play, when Wallace scored with a fine drive.
With five minutes of the second half gone, Clyde struck again. Everyone thought Martin, the Clyde forward, was offside, including Motherwell keeper Murray but the referee played on and the Clyde player scored. Clyde scored a further two in the last six minutes to complete Motherwell's day of misery. Sadly the great Motherwell side built by Sailor Hunter will go into the record books as the best side never to have won the Scottish Cup.
Preparations for a new season got underway with the possibility of a Second World War in the air. Motherwell started the season with all the players from the previous season intact, and opened the season with a 3-3 draw at Kilmarnock. The following week they picked up the first win of the season with a 3-0 win over Aberdeen. After taking both points in a 4-2 win over Kilmarnock at Fir Park, they subsequently lost the next two games to Alloa and Hearts.
It was after the fifth game against Hearts that the SFA decided that the leagues would be suspended, as war had officially been declared on the Germans only three days after they had invaded Poland. The SFA suspended the league as it was feared that football would be a target for bombing runs by the Luftwaffe and they were deemed unsafe. As a consequence, all players’ contracts were declared void as the clubs would have no income to pay them, and it would also allow them to be called up if required.
1940 - 1953
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 a 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 10 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 wartime 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 setup, 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 reorganisation 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 reorganisation 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 eighth 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 Supporters 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 eighth 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 14 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 ninth 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 10 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 doubled, 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.
1954 - 1965
The 1953/54 season was a new low for the club. Not only were they in the lower division for the first time in 50 years, but they faced a struggle to be promoted back to the top flight. Fortunately, their pedigree of having played at the higher level for half a century was enough to see them win Division B.
However, it was turn of luck that was to see Motherwell stay there. In the 1954/55 season, the Steelmen didn’t adapt well to their rightful division after a year in Division B, and they found second bottom, a point behind Raith Rovers, at the end of the season. With the club looking set to slip back into the lower league, the Scottish Football League announced a restructuring of the league format. The top flight was to be increased to 18 teams, with Division C disbanding and the top five teams joining Division B to form a league of 19 teams. This ultimately saw relegation scuppered for a season, saving Motherwell from the drop. This change in luck allowed for a new sense of hope going into 1955/56 season.
Before the season began there were to be three notable departures from Fir Park. Manager George Stevenson stepped down, as did groundsman Ben Ellis, while goalkeeper John Johnstone retired. It was announced that the new manager would be Bobby Ancell, who was managing Dunfermline Athletic at the time of his appointment. This was the start of an exciting new era at Motherwell, as Ancell went on to produce an exciting young side.
The club ensured a mid table finish with only five defeats, two of them being in the last two games of the campaign. They gained 33 points with 11 wins, 12 draws and 11 defeats.
The poor cup run, installation of floodlights and other ground improvements meant that the club made a loss for the first time in six years, amounting to £3,657. The new floodlights were inaugurated on Wednesday 29 February against Preston North End. The game finished with a 3-2 win for the visitors.
Prior to the start of 1956/57, Motherwell started the implementation of their policy of no longer signing seasoned professionals and reverting to the previous policy of identifying promising youngsters who would be brought up in the Motherwell tradition. This policy produced league winners in Stevenson, Ferrier and McFadyen.
This saw four signings made in the close season to support this. Inside right Bert McCann from Queen’s Park, William Cowie, a centre half from Kilsyth Rangers, left back Pat Holton from Hamilton and lastly a new keeper ,Alan Wylie from Penicuik.
Ancell’s new side continued to play impressive football and were early challengers for the title, being described as “the most attractive footballing side in Scotland”. During November and December, two more players were added to the squad, with Billy Reid’s brother Sammy being snapped up from Douglas Water to play on the right wing along with Gerry Baker from Chelsea.
The Scottish Cup kicked off in the fifth round at the start of February with the Well beating Stirling Albion 2-1. The next round brought a visit from Second Division Dumbarton to Fir Park, and a lack lustre display saw Motherwell crash out of the competition.
A disastrous run of eight games without a point cost the Well any chance of winning the title and saw them slip from challengers to finish seventh in the table, 18 points off the leaders Rangers.
In 1957/58, Ancell continued the change in his squad as three more great servants from the 1952 cup winning side left the club, with Willie Kilmarnock moving to Airdrie after serving since 1939, Johnny Aitkenhead, a stalwart since joining in 1949, and Tommy Sloan released. These moves were instrumental in bringing the average age of the side down from 31 to 25.
November marked the debut of Ian St. John who had been signed earlier in 1957 from Douglas Water Thistle. This coincided with two wins on the trot, as Motherwell won against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and at home to Queen of the South.
The season was marred by a number of injuries and a bout of flu that swept through the club and meant that consistent selection was made difficult. This meant that players were being asked to play in a number of positions, for example, Ian St. John was asked to play in almost any of the five forward positions.
In January it led to another of Ancell’s young signings making his debut, with John Martis lining up at centre half to replace Andy Paton against Hibs on 2 January.
Motherwell reached the semi final of he Scottish Cup and were drawn to play Clyde at Celtic Park at the start of April. Clyde were 3-0 up after 54 minutes, thanks to a hat trick from Coyle. But the Well fought back through goals from Quinn and St. John and were only denied a draw when in the dying seconds a McSeveney header crashed off the underside of the bar and bounced clear.
Back in the league, Motherwell finished strongly in the last eight games when they lost only two of them and pushed themselves into a comfortable mid table position. The major achievement had been the introduction of a batch of new young players, including St. John, Weir, the two Reids and Martis.
It also saw the end of three illustrious careers at Fir Park when Archie Shaw, Andy Paton and Charlie Cox were awarded free transfers by Manager Ancell. Andy Paton move the short distance across the Clyde to become captain of neighbours Hamilton Accies, and Shaw was kept on at Fir Park in the role of assistant trainer. With the release of these three players all ties with the team that won the Scottish Cup back in 1952 had been broken, with none of the 11 left at the club.
The following season saw the emergence of the 'Ancell Babes' in all their glory with the young players filling most of the positions in the side. The players were asked to put into practice the footballing beliefs of their manager, which was to produce a good footballing side “which concentrated on all-out-attack and a team would inevitably win providing they had the skill to sustain the constant pressure”.
In the league, they went on to lose only one game out of the first 16 and many were starting to believe that this team could repeat the feat of the great side of the 30s and bring the title back to Fir Park. To prove that the team was built in the image of attacking football that Ancell had prescribed they won 5-1 at Airdrie, 4-0 at Dunfermline and an 8-1 win at home to Third Lanark.
A run of four consecutive defeats were to prove decisive in the push for the title as Motherwell dropped out of contention behind Rangers and Hearts. In the run in third place was secured with only one defeat, to champions Rangers, in the last six games.
One major change during the season was behind the scenes, with long serving doyen of Motherwell John 'Sailor' Hunter deciding to retire due to illness and advancing years. He stepped down from the post of secretary on 25 March after 48 years service at the club. He had joined the club as manager in April 1911 after a playing career that saw him play for Liverpool, Arsenal and Portsmouth in England, and Hearts and Dundee in Scotland.
Once again the next season saw Ancell’s team delight people the length and breadth of the country with their excellent style of football. But they still didn’t manage to win any of the major trophies. The club’s standing was probably still higher than for many years with the team recognised by the press as the team of the year and a large number playing at international level.
The league campaign actually saw the team finish two places lower than the previous season, as they came in fifth. There was one major change at the start of the 1960/61 season, with the upgrading of the floodlighting system which saw pylons sprout from the four corners of the ground, replacing the lamps that were on top of the stand and enclosure roofs.
One significant change in the playing squad was the arrival of left back Matt Thomson who signed up from Ardeer Thistle. He was to prove a valuable asset to Ancell’s side but as a centre half rather than a full back in the coming years.
League results were inconsistent, with no real run of form established with the side struggling to string more than a couple of results together at a time. It was left to the Scottish Cup to provide the season’s major highlight.
One of the most lauded results in the club's history was a cup replay at Ibrox in which the Steelmen won 5-2. Well took the lead after 10 minutes when a Quinn pass released McPhee to score. Rangers responded and goals from McMillan and Wilson had the home side in front by two goals to one.
Motherwell then took charge of the game and turned on the style to over power the Ibrox men. Pat Delaney scored the equaliser with a great free kick from just outside the Rangers penalty area. In the 59th minute, Motherwell took the lead when Roberts prodded a Hunter pass past keeper Niven.
The massive Rangers crowd were stunned as Motherwell went on to score two more goals through St. John and Roberts to complete a 5-2 thrashing of the league champions. It was therefore a massive disappointment when the club crashed out at the quarter final stage to local rivals Airdrie.
At the beginning of May, the club accepted a bid of £37,500 for Ian St John from Bill Shankly’s Liverpool. St. John had been keen to move to England for some time and had submitted a transfer request in the middle of the season but withdrew this when Andy Weir suffered a serious injury.
The money received would be used to help complete the building of the new main stand, although the club stressed that these plans had been well in hand before the transfer of their prized asset.
The league season was to prove immensely disappointing with points being dropped on a regular basis. As in the previous season, the side found it difficult to string a run of victories together apart from a four match spell in December, including a first round cup win over Dundee United.
Indeed, the cup run was to prove the highlight of the season once again. The semi final was against old rivals Rangers at Hampden Park, and Motherwell’s chances disappeared when Bert McCann was injured in the first half and, with no substitutes, he was a virtual passenger on the right wing. Rangers capitalised on Motherwell’s misfortune scoring two quick goals through Murray as half time approached.
Motherwell did pull one back through Roberts in the 70th minute of the second half through Bobby Roberts but despite a brave performance, Rangers added a third late on to book their place in the final.
The major talking point at the start of 1962/63 season was the magnificent newly extended main stand running along the western side of the ground, with its capacity of 3,500 providing greater comfort and capacity for supporters. The original plans were for 5,000 seats but the residents of Fir Park Street complained about the lack of light they would have if the stand ran its full course to the southern end of the ground. This meant that a proportion of the stand was never built and the steel frame left exposed, still to this day.
The first competitive game in front of the new stand seemed to inspire the players as they took on Falkirk in the League Cup qualifying section in the season opener. Well made a whirlwind start and were unbelievably 9-0 up by half time.
The scoring started in the fifth minute when Russell scored and by half time he had added another four to his tally and Pat Quinn had also helped himself to personal haul of four, all in the first 32 minutes. Being 9-0 down at half-time, Falkirk fought a brave rear guard action in the second 45 minutes and conceded no further goals, in fact grabbing a consolation themselves to make the final score 9-1 to Motherwell.
Early league results failed to live up to this opening result, with only one win in the first 13 games seeing the side in the relegation zone. To help bolster the forward line ,Bobby Ancell was forced into the transfer market for the first time in six years, when he paid Partick Thistle £5,000 for their centre forward Joe McBride. McBride was originally brought to Fir Park to solve a centre forward problem, but with the departure of Quinn he was moved to inside forward, where his enthusiasm brought a bit of life back into the team.
The 1963/64 campaign was nothing to write home about, with no threat of relegation and no chance of pushing for the title. This was mainly down to a poor start after the defeat in the League Cup. Early in the season, the side suffered the loss of another player to the lure of English football when centre forward Bobby Roberts left to join Leicester City.
With the league challenge going nowhere, it was once again left to the Scottish Cup to lift the gloom. Motherwell made it to the quarter finals, and their biggest crowd of the season took in the replay against Dundee, with 26,280 in attendance to see the visitors run out 4-2 winners. Motherwell had taken the lead through Murray, and despite McBride scoring his 32nd goal of the season to break Ian St John’s record, Dundee held on.
1964/65 was a season of change, with many players moving on, it was hardly surprising that the league form dipped and the final position of 14th reflected this. This also led to transfer requests coming in from Joe McBride and Willie Hunter.
The end of the season saw the second Summer Cup competition and this time Motherwell made it through to the semi finals where they were drawn to play Hibs. The Edinburgh side won the first leg 2-0 and it looked as though the Well would crash out, but they stormed back at Fir Park to win the tie 6-4 on aggregate after extra time.
The final was also a two legged affair against Dundee United and Motherwell’s 13 year run without a trophy was brought to an end with a 3-2 aggregate win. All the goals had been scored in the first leg at Fir Park and a 0-0 draw at Tannadice clinched the trophy. Almost immediately after this victory, Joe McBride was transferred to Celtic.
That trophy brought an end to an era, as Ancell also decided to move on. He will always be fondly remembered for the style of football that he brought to Motherwell as he tried to attack at all times while at the same time encouraging local talent rather than plundering the transfer market.
It was also that the end of a real spell of stability at the club. After only having had three managers in 54 years, the next 20 years were to see eight men fill the hot seat, as the club struggled to hold on to its top flight status on a consistent basis.
1966 - 1975
Following the success of the Summer Cup win in 1965, the future looked good for Motherwell once again, but the following seasons were to prove disappointing.
With the departure of Bobby Ancell, the club turned to Bobby Howitt to push the club forward and he was left with the task of having to rebuild the side with many of the Ancell Babes nearing the end of their playing days.
This saw the career of one of the club’s greatest players come to an end, with Charlie Aitken playing his last game after 17 years at the club. Coming in to the club was John 'Dixie' Deans from junior side Neilston, whom Howitt signed to replace the departed Joe McBride.
Results were inconsistent throughout the league campaign and it took until three games to go before safety was secured with a 2-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie. The last game of the season brought a visit from Celtic and a goal from Lennox in the final minute clinched their first championship under Jock Stein. Motherwell finally finished in 13th place, with a points total of 28 from 34 games played.
The 1966/67 season brought little in the way of glory, with only a 10th placed finish ensuring that there was no threat of relegation. Results were inconsistent throughout the season once again and there was no real run of form established at all. The longest winning sequence of three came in the last three games of the season, when there was nothing at stake in the table.
There was one positive however, with youngster Davie Whiteford emerging into the team. Whiteford had joined in 1965 from Jordanhill College with an eye to eventually replacing Matt Thomson in the right back position.
1967/68 was to prove to be a tumultuous season for the club as they ended up relegated for the first time since 1952/53, dropping into the Second Division at the end of what was one of the worst seasons in the club’s history. The frustrating thing throughout the season was that most of the games that were lost were lost by one goal, and very often after taking the lead.
Even the Scottish Cup provided little cheer as the Steelmen stumbled out of the competition after two games against Lanarkshire rivals Airdrie in the third round.
As Howitt looked to get his side out of the Second Division at the first attempt, he made one of the most significant signings in the club's history when he brought in Joe Wark from Irvine Meadow.
Motherwell stormed through the season and did return at the first attempt, and when Stirling Albion were beaten 3-0 in the last home game of the season it meant that they had gone the whole season without losing at Fir Park, with only two points dropped to Queen of the South and Dumbarton.
There was great relief that the stay in the Second Division was a short one with an immediate return to the top flight secured, although it was felt that the side that was promoted would not be strong enough to stay up.
That first season back up saw Motherwell make a run to the League Cup semi finals. After seeing off Montrose, East Fife and Albion Rovers in the group stages, they had to negotiate a tricky quarter final tie against Morton. It took three games to separate the sides with Motherwell winning 1-0 at neutral Ibrox, with keeper Keith MacRae playing at right back.
The semi final ended in disappointment though, as St Johnstone eased to a 2-0 victory and went through to face Celtic in the final.
In the Scottish Cup, another titanic match saw the club lose out when Kilmarnock triumphed at Fir Park, thanks to a winner from local lad Ross Mathie. League form slumped after the game with only four wins in the last 13 games, but the 11th place finish was higher than expected at the start of the season and it made sure that Motherwell had qualified to play in the inaugural Texaco Cup the following season.
Stoke City were first to visit Fir Park, with legendary keeper Gordon Banks in their ranks, and then Tottenham Hotspur came to town. Stoke were beaten 1-0 but the English side won 2-1 in the second leg, before Keith MacRae became a hero in the penalty shoot out. This set up the tie with Tottenham, who included a clutch of internationals in their ranks - Mullery, Chivers, Peters, Gilzean and Jennings to name but a few.
Spurs won the first leg at White Hart Lane 3-2,and at Fir Park they went a further goal up early on. This sparked a fantastic comeback with goals from Heron, Watson and Donnelly seeing off the English giants 5-4 on aggregate and setting up a semi final clash with Hearts.
The two legs were as tight and dramatic as you could have asked for, with the first leg at Tynecaslte tied 1-1. The second was also tied at 1-1 and looking as though it would be heading for extra time, but sadly Hearts scored deep into injury time to make it through to the final of the tournament against Wolves.
The early stages of 1971/72 were extremely disappointing, with a string of league defeats seeing the Well once again in relegation trouble. To make matters worse, there was to be no repeat of the Texaco Cup heroics of the previous season, with Stoke winning 5-1 over two legs.
It took a run of victories around the New Year period to haul the side out of the relegation trouble, before they reached the Scottish Cup quarter finals. A 2-2 draw with Rangers set up a replay at Ibrox in which they crashed out 4-2.
After being knocked out of the cup, the season stuttered to a close with only one more win in the remaining six games - a 2-1 victory over Partick Thistle, which at least gained a little revenge for an earlier hammering. Once again a 10th place finish had been secured, respectable given the early season troubles.
At the start of the following year it was hard for Motherwell to string any kind of consistency in the league, with the early stages being littered with both League Cup and Texaco Cup ties. The fans were increasingly becoming impatient and were starting to chant for the head of manager Bobby Howitt, with the club forced to acknowledge a petition from supporters in early February.
The claret and amber faithful were even more upset following a poor run in the Scottish Cup. After seeing off Raith Rovers at Fir Park in the third round, they were comprehensively beaten 5-0 by Celtic in the next round, with two of the Celts goals coming from former 'Well man Dixie Deans. And after losing 2-0 in the first leg of the Texaco Cup semi final to Norwich City at Carrow Road, Howitt advised the board of his intention to resign. Their managerial appointment proved to be a popular one, with former centre forward Ian St. John given the job.
The start of his first season saw the club make the League Cup quarter finals to take on Celtic. After losing the first leg 2-1 at Fir Park, it was thought they could not progress knowing they had to travel to Celtic Park for the second leg. The second leg in mid-October was to prove to be a historic one though, as the 'Well secured their first win at Celtic Park for 23 years, as well as the first win of any sort against the Celts in 14 years.
Amidst all the cup football, Motherwell were going through a terrible league run, losing five games in a row which finally ended with a 1-1 draw at home to Hibs. This then sparked a run of only two defeats in 10 games which ensured safety for another season.
During the summer of 1974, the authorities in charge of the Scottish game at the SFA and the SFL finally agreed, after severe lobbying from a number of top clubs, that change was needed to reinvigorate interest in the game. In recent years, attendances had continued to fall for a number of reasons - one being the uncompetitive nature of the league, with Celtic having run away with the last nine titles.
It was finally decided by the member clubs that there was to be a radical shake-up of the league structure. They proposed a Premier Division of 10 teams and two further leagues of 14 should be formed for the start of season 1975/76.
Therefore during season 1974/75, the clubs found themselves competing to enter one of these leagues for the forthcoming seasons. At the end of season 1974/75, the top ten teams in the old First Division would make up the Premier Division, the remaining eight and the top six from the old Second Division would make up the new First Division, and the remaining 14 clubs in the old Second Division would make up the new Second Division.
During the latter half of the season the side had progressed to another Scottish Cup semi final. The draw brought out a Lanarkshire derby, when Motherwell were drawn to play old rivals Airdrie at Hampden Park. The first game looked to heading in Motherwell’s favour when Willie Pettigrew opened the scoring with only 20 minutes remaining. Sadly disaster struck with 10 minutes to go, when Stuart McLaren headed through his own goal past keeper Stuart Rennie and take the game to replay.
This mirrored the incident when Alan Craig headed past his own keeper Alan McClory in the 1931 final, and the goal also forced a replay. It was said at the time that Motherwell should never again field a team where the centre half and goalkeeper have the same first name to avoid any confusion in the box.
The replay was to prove an even bigger disaster for Motherwell. It was a poor affair with neither side looking dangerous and, with time running out, Rennie was adjudged to have broken the four step rule as he cleared the ball. From the resultant free kick, Airdrie tapped the ball to John Lapsley, who drilled a low shot past the goalkeeper to take the Diamonds through to the final against Celtic.
Motherwell's league form remained as inconsistent as ever and for long spells it looked as though Premier Division football would be beyond them. Going into the last game of the season at home to Dumbarton, the Steelmen needed to take one point to be assured of a place in the top 10 for the following season. But they did so 3-1, with goals from Graham, Miller and McIlwraith sealing their place in the new-look Premier Division.
1975 - 1983
The Premier Division format started with a home game against Ayr United and it was the Honest Men’s Johnny Graham who scored the first ever goal in the new league. The first Motherwell goal was the equaliser scored in the same game, through defender Gregor Stevens.
The opening five games in the competition were all draws. It took until 11 October for the Well to register their first win, when Hibs were the victims at Fir Park in a 2-1 win for the home side, with goals from Willie Pettigrew and Stevens as they were forced to fight back from 1-0 down.
This was followed by a rich vein of form that saw new manager Willie McLean’s side push up the table. This run included a 6-3 win at Dens Park, with four of the goals scored by Pettigrew. It also saw the Steelmen climb up to third in the table and into a European place.
Yet they almost sealed a European place through the Scottish Cup in a fantastic run which ended in controversial fashion. Celtic visited Fir Park in the third round and led 2-0 at half time, but goals from Bobby Graham, Ian Taylor and Willie Pettigrew sealed a great comeback.
A 2-0 win at Cowdenbeath in the next round saw Hibs visit Fir Park in the quarter finals and the two teams couldn’t be separated after two games, with a 2-2 draw in Edinburgh and a 1-1 draw at Fir Park. The third game was to take place at Ibrox, and despite missing several players through illness, the Steelmen progressed 2-1 winners.
But their luck changed in the semi finals against Rangers. Motherwell were 2-0 up at half time thanks to goals from Stewart McLaren and Willie Pettigrew, when referee JRP Gordon controversially awarded a penalty to the Gers. Derek Johnstone scored from the spot and inspired a Rangers fightback to help them win 3-2.
The season ended in disappointment for the Steelmen as defeats to rivals Hibs, Rangers and Dundee saw the team drop to fourth in the table - out of the European places.
During the close season the club under took a trip to Mexico, Haiti and Columbia. The tour started in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, where Ian Taylor scored in a 2-1 defeat to Toluca. In the second game in Haiti, Isaac Farrell scored the winner in a victory over Violette. In the third game against Racing of Haiti, Ian Kennedy was the scorer in a 2-1 defeat. The final game saw Willie Pettigrew score in 2-1 loss to Santa Fe of Columbia.
This set up a poor start to the season, which meant Motherwell never looked like hitting the high spots of the year before. Once again, the excitement was left to the Scottish Cup. Kilmarnock were beaten 3-0 in the third round, before they saw off Alex Ferguson’s St Mirren 2-1 at Fir Park in front of 25,000 fans. Rangers provided the opposition in the quarter finals and they proved too strong once again, winning 2-0 at Ibrox.
The cup run, along with a number of postponements earlier in the season, meant the team had to play eight games in just one month. After finishing eighth in the league, the campaign was closed with a glamour friendly against Dutch giants Ajax, and much to everyone’s surprise, Motherwell ran out 4-2 winners.
A run of poor results in both the league and League Cup the following season saw manager Willie McLean leave the club with the team in relegation trouble. He was replaced on Boxing Day by former Rangers defender Rodger Hynd.
One of his first games was a Scottish Cup defeat to Queen's Park. He also had to contend with a controversial fixture against Rangers, when the visiting fans invaded the pitch with Motherwell 2-0 up. After the players returned, Rangers stormed back and won 5-2. Despite a protest to the league and the SFA, the result was allowed to stand and the Gers went on to win the title.
Motherwell had to settle for a sixth place finish in the league, but there was renewed optimism for the following season with a new young side that included the likes of Steve Mungall, Jimmy Lindsay, Ian Sommerville and Ian McLeod. Things didn’t quite work out as planned though and after a disastrous start there was a change of manager and almost a complete turnover in the playing staff.
The season started with only one win in the opening eight games and that set the tone for the year ahead. Motherwell also crashed out of the League Cup to Celtic, suffering a 4-2 defeat at Fir Park after winning the first leg 1-0 away.
Following a poor run of league results in November, Hynd resigned was eventually replaced by former Scotland manager Ally McLeod, who was prised away from Ayr United in an attempt to steer the club away from relegation.
But it took until 20 January before they secured their first home win of the season, when Hearts were the visitors to Fir Park. A Pettigrew goal had Motherwell level at 1-1 at half time, then goals from Steven and Clinging were enough to ensure a narrow 3-2 win.
It wasn't enough though and relegation was finally confirmed on 7 April following a 3-0 defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle.
There were high hopes that the Steelmen would bounce straight back into the Premier Division the following season but McLeod’s side could barely string two results together. By Christmas, they were sitting in sixth place. A 15-game unbeaten run did push the team up the table but only by one place. They had to settle for fifth - and another season in the second tier.
The cups provided little relief either with Dundee United knocking the Steelmen out of both competitions. They won over two legs in the League Cup in front of 3,000 Well fans at Tannadice, and then 6-1 in the Scottish Cup. This was enough for the board to consider a change of manager once again and McLeod was relieved of his position to be replaced by his assistant Davie Hay.
The early stages of the 1981/82 season looked as though it was going to be a repeat of the previous two, with only one win in the opening three games. Thankfully things turned round after that, and the side didn’t lose another league game until February, playing an attacking style of football that saw them win by more than five goals on numerous occasions.
Given this run in the league there was a great deal of confidence when they were drawn against high-flying Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup. But the Dons scored inside 12 seconds through John Hewitt - a record in the competition - and that was enough to seal the tie.
Promotion was clinched on 17 April with a 3-1 win at Brockville over Falkirk, with Forbes scoring two and McClair the other. The season had been a triumph for Davie Hay as he saw his side romp away with the title, scoring 92 goals to create a First Division record for the number of goals scored. Three players had scored 56 goals between them, with McLaughlin and Irvine scoring 20 each and Clelland chipping in with 16.
However, Hay subsequently announced that he would not take the side into the Premier Division as he had accepted a coaching role in the United States and planned to move his family out there in the summer.
So at the start of the following season, Motherwell were left looking for another new manager - their fifth in as many years. The board finally decided that their choice would be former Rangers manager Jock Wallace, who was in charge of Leicester City at the time.
Wallace brought fresh ideas and players, with many of the team who had secured the First Division title the season before being moved on. But these changes saw the side in relegation trouble and they sat bottom of the table at Christmas.
Andy Harrow and Andy Dornan joined from Aberdeen in January and they immediately gave the side a lift, starring in wins over both halves of the Old Firm. Results continued to improve and safety was eventually confirmed after a 2-0 win over Hibs late in the season.
The following year started with another string of inconsistent results which put the team in relegation trouble once again. The first win was a long time coming but it was worth the wait - a 2-1 victory over Rangers at Ibrox thanks to goals from Andy Ritchie and Junior Burns.
John Greig left Rangers shortly afterwards, only to be replaced by Wallace. This meant the club had to appoint their sixth manager in as many years, with former captain Bobby Watson given the job.
Things didn't quite work out and the team continued to struggle at the wrong end of the table. Watson introduced a number of new players ahead of their Scottish Cup quarter final against Celtic but the game came too soon as the Celts hammered in six goals without reply.
Two consecutive league defeats followed and the Steelmen were relegated with seven games still to play. Watson resigned at the end of the season and the board decided upon the partnership of Tommy McLean and Tom Forsyth to take the club forward.
1984 - 1994
As the club looked to get back out of the First Division at the first attempt, the board turned to the management duo of Tommy McLean and Tom Forsyth.
Their first game in charge was a 2-0 win over Kilmarnock at Fir Park and this had the fans dreaming of a swift return to the Premier Division, only for them to suffer a 2-0 defeat at local rivals Hamilton Accies the following week.
But apart from a couple of blips, which included a 4-2 defeat to Meadowbank Thistle, the new management duo steered a steady course back to the Premier League. The title was clinched with a 1-0 win at Firhill with four games still to play.
The season was also spiced up with a run to the Scottish Cup sem finals, where they faced Celtic at Hampden. Gary McAllister put Motherwell ahead early in the first half before Tommy Burns equalised in the second. A late header from Graeme Forbes almost secured a winner for the Well but the ball rebounded of the post and bounced clear.
In the replay the following Tuesday, the old cliché of not giving an Old Firm side a second chance proved to be true, as Celtic ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
Back in the Premier Division for the 1985/86 season, Motherwell opened with a 0-0 draw against Clydebank. Fans were to be stunned shortly after the game when they heard that Gary McAllister and Ally Mauchlen were to be sold to Leicester City for a combined fee of £350,000.
This helped restore the club to a sound financial footing but made life difficult for Tommy McLean as he took the club back to the top flight. Indeed, the season was a frustrating one as the team stayed in the bottom two for the whole campaign and set the unenviable record of failing to win away from home.
The manager was forced to rely on a number of home grown youngsters breaking through into the squad, with the likes of Tom Boyd, Chris McCart, Jim Griffin and Fraser Wishart all appearing on a regular basis.
As the year dragged to an end it was pretty clear that the Steelmen were destined to finish in the bottom two places and face the prospect of returning to the First Division after only one season in the top flight.
However, there was a mood for change in the Scottish game and league reconstruction was on the cards, with a proposal in place by the top flight clubs to move to a one up, one down promotion and relegation system to ease the tension provided by 20% of the league being relegated each season.
Not surprisingly. the Motherwell board at the time jumped on this suggestion as they sensed an escape route to ensure Premier Division survival for another year. Although there was a lot of ill feeling from other SFL clubs at the time, as they felt that the proposed changes were mainly being put together to ensure that Motherwell were not relegated, particularly because they had been saved from a similar fate by a similar reorganisation back in 1955.
It was finally agreed by the member clubs that the no club would be relegated at the end of the season and that two clubs would be promoted from the First Division to give a top league of 12. With Motherwell ending the season in ninth and relegation looming, this latest restructuring of the Scottish leagues secured top flight football for another year.
The next again was a topsy turvy season, as the club strived for consistency of performance, but at least this time there was no need for league reconstruction to help keep the club in the top league as they finished a comfortable eighth in the table. The fans didn't have too much to shout about, although there was a terrific 1-0 victory over Rangers at Ibrox.
Tommy McLean’s side had been regularly criticised for defending deeply and in numbers when travelling to play the Old Firm in Glasgow. The game at Ibrox in November 1986 proved to be one of those days when the visitors couldn’t break out of their own half against Graeme Souness’ all-conquering Rangers side. That was until the 87th minute, when a well placed diving header from Ray Farningham flew past Chris Woods to give the 'Well a famous victory.
The Steelmen also reached the League Cup semi finals, where they came up against Celtic at Hampden. The Hoops went 2-0 up through goals from former Fir Park favourite Brian McClair but Motherwell fought back, with goals from Andy Walker and Paul Smith bringing the sides level. Penalties were required and it was Celtic who edged it 5-4 when John Philliben’s effort struck the crossbar.
Another highlight of the 1986/87 campaign was the visit of Liverpool to Fir Park in a match held to celebrate the club's centenary. Over 10,000 turned up to watch household names such as Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Ian Rush and Jan Molby in action during a 1-1 draw.
Despite the capture of Rangers forward Bobby Russell in the summer, the team still found goals difficult to come by throughout the following season, scoring only 37 in 44 league games. They did finish eighth though, mainly due to a solid defence that only lost 56 goals.
For the second season in a row there was a visit to Hampden for a League Cup semi final against one half of the Old Firm - this time Rangers. An early goal from Paul Smith gave Motherwell an unlikely lead but a mad two minutes, in which Stevie Kirk headed a Davie Copper free kick into his own net and a poor passback allowed Robert Fleck in to score, turned things round for Rangers, and they went on to clinch victory with another goal in the dying minutes from Mark Falco.
Season 1988/89 kicked off with a degree of optimism but the Steelmen had to settle for a ninth place finish. Scoring proved to be a problem once again, with only 35 goals scored in 36 games, and again it was the goals against, only 44, that kept the team up.
As a result, a major rebuilding process took effect the following year. In came striker Nick Cusack from Peterborough and experienced full back George Burley from Ipswich. Out went Fraser Wishart, who moved on to St Mirren, and veteran defender Tom McAdam, who joined rivals Airdrie as a player/coach.
However, the most notable transfer of all was Davie Cooper, who moved to Fir Park from Rangers for just £50,000. The winger made a big impression in his first season and helped the team to sixth in the table - the highest finish for ten years.
The cup competitions were disappointments though, with the only highlight being a record 7-0 victory over Clyde in the third round of the Scottish Cup. There were seven different scorers on the night: McCart, Cooper, Arnott, Russell, Bryce, Kirk and Gahagan.
But the following season, McLean took the team and the fans on cup run that will never be forgotten. It all started at Pittodrie when the Well were drawn to play holders Aberdeen in the third round. A spectacular late strike from sub Stevie Kirk secured a terrific win away from home.
This was followed by wins over two First Division sides - Falkirk and Morton. The former were beaten 4-2 at Fir Park, thanks to goals from Cusack (2), McLeod and Kirk. The quarter final with Morton took two games, the first a 0-0 draw at Fir Park and the second a 1-1 draw at Cappielow. This led to a penalty shoot out which Motherwell won 5-4.
This set up a semi final with Celtic and once again this took two games, as the first ended goalless. Despite going behind twice in the tie, the Steelmen fought back to secure a memorable 4-2 win thanks to goals from Arnott (2), O’Neill and Kirk.
The final was a family affair, with Tommy McLean coming up against his big brother Jim’s Dundee United on 18 May 1991. Motherwell stormed into a 3-1 lead in the second half thanks to goals from Ferguson, Angus and O’Donnell, only for United to hit back and force extra time.
But the Steelmen weren't to be denied. Super sub Stevie Kirk stooped to head home a Davie Cooper corner to seal a dramatic 4-3 victory in one of the most exciting cup finals of the modern era.
There were changes both on and off the pitch in the months that followed, as building work began on turning Fir Park into an all-seater stadium to comply with the Taylor Report that was published in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster a few years earlier.
But the main focus of the new season was the European Cup Winners' Cup draw, which paired Motherwell with GKS Katowice of Poland. Katowice were experienced campaigners, who had lost narrowly to Bayer Leverkeusen the previous season, and had qualified for the competition by beating Legia Warsaw 1-0 in the Polish Cup.
Just over 500 Well fans travelled to Eastern Europe to see the Steelmen make their debut in European competition. The game itself was a disappointing one, with the home side running out 2-0 winners. The scoreline may have been worse had it not been for man-of-the-match Billy Thomson in the visitors' goal.
The home tie was played two weeks later at Fir Park with over 10,000 expectant Well fans getting behind the team in their efforts to overturn the two-goal deficit. And McLean's men were deservedly ahead in the first half when Kirk scored following a pass from Cooper. Katowice looked to have put the tie out of reach early in the second half when Rzezniczek equalised but two late goals from Cusack and Kirk gave the home side hope. Unfortunately it wasn't enough, and the Poles advanced on the away goals rule.
Domestically, Motherwell's defence of the Scottish Cup only lasted two rounds. After beating Ayr United in the third, Rangers proved too strong and ended any hopes of a return to Hampden. League form remained solid rather than spectacular, until a disastrous run of seven straight defeats in the last seven games saw the team drop to 10th in the table.
Season 1992/93 saw the completion of the next phase of development at Fir Park when the terracing at the south end of the ground was flattened to make way for the construction of a new two-tiered stand, the opening of which was marked with a challenge match against Coventry City.
This was also the year that McLean almost guided the team to the league title finishing third, just four points behind Rangers and Aberdeen. But after a defeat against Dundee United in May, which effectively handed the title to the Gers, stories started to appear that McLean was unsettled at Fir Park. However, the manager was quick to play down the reports and told the local press that he was happy to remain.
It was therefore a surprise in June, when the news broke that McLean had resigned following a disagreement with the board. Within a matter of weeks he was announced as the new manager of Hearts, replacing the sacked Sandy Clark.
Away from Fir Park, Tommy Coyne became the first ever Motherwell player to appear in a World Cup finals tournament when he played for the Republic of Ireland against Italy at USA '94. He also featured in games against Mexico and Holland, helping him surpass George Stevenson as the club’s most capped player.
1995 - 2000
Following Tommy McLean's shock decision to join Hearts in the summer of 1994, the board surprised everyone with their choice as manager when they selected Alex McLeish for the job.
McLeish had won every domestic trophy as a player and was also part of Aberdeen’s Cup Winners' Cup winning side that beat Real Madrid in Gothenburg, before lifting the European Super Cup the following year. But he had no experience as a coach and many fans were concerned ahead of the forthcoming UEFA Cup campaign.
His first competitive match in charge was a preliminary round tie at home to Faroese side Havnar Boltfelag, which the Steelmen comfortably won 3-0. The second leg finished 4-1, and so Motherwell progressed to the first round proper to face German giants Borussia Dortmund.
McLeish was dealt a major blow ahead of the game as star man Phil O’Donnell left to join Celtic in a £1.75m deal - a club record transfer fee.
It was widely believed that Dortmund, who fielded internationals such as Karl-Heinz Riedle, Steffen Freund, Jurgen Kohler, Andreas Moller and Stephane Chapuisat, would prove too strong for Motherwell and ease to victory in the first leg in Germany. But they were kept at bay by excellent defending from the back three of Chris McCart, John Philliben and Brian Martin, with some fine saves from Stevie Woods.
They did show their quality in the second half though, when a well-created move allowed Moller to net the winner and give the Germans a slender advantage going into the second leg at Fir Park.
The second leg kicked off on a Wednesday afternoon to accommodate live television coverage in Germany and it turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. Hopes were high following the impressive first leg performance but Dortmund raised their game and won 2-0 to progress 3-0 on aggregate. Motherwell finished the match with just nine men, after Rab Shannon and Dougie Arnott were sent off.
Despite the disappointment of the Euro exit, the fact that the Steelmen had competed with such an illustrious club over two legs provided a huge confidence boost to the team and that was evident from their league form. Results improved and they continued to climb up the table into second place. This was a position they maintained to the end of the season, although they were some distance behind runaway leaders Rangers. Nevertheless, the second place finish was Motherwell’s highest since the 1930s.
1995 was also the year that Fir Park celebrated its centenary. It was therefore fitting that the redevelopment work had been concluded and the old ground transformed into a modern 13,500 all-seater stadium.
The exploits of the previous campaign had largely been achieved with the same team as Tommy McLean had built. But for the start of season 1995/96, Alex McLeish started to stamp his own authority on the side, with Andy Roddie, Shaun McSkimming and John Hendry added to the squad.
The draw for the UEFA Cup preliminary round paired Motherwell with the relatively unknown Finnish side Mypa-47. Expectations were high and the first leg started well with Shaun McSkimming heading home a Coyne cross in only the ninth minute. The Well fans sat back waiting on a deluge of goals that would secure their passage to the first round proper and they soon followed, but unfortunately at the wrong end, as the Finns capitalised on some sloppy defending to score three times and take a 3-1 lead home with them.
Only 100 or so fans travelled to Finland for the second leg as Motherwell looked to overturn the first leg deficit. Andy Roddie had the ball in the net early in the first half, only to be ruled offside, but the opener was only delayed to the 28th minute when Roddie’s cross allowed Burns to score. The Steelmen continued to push forward and a second half goal from Dougie Arnott pulled the scores level on aggregate, although Mypa held on to progress on the away goals rule. McLeish's side may have performed well on the night but the damage was done in the first leg at Fir Park.
Domestically, the season was just as disappointing, with the team struggling to match the heights of the previous campaign. Goals were a problem, not helped by a serious injury to Tommy Coyne, and their inability to turn draws into wins meant they had to settle for a sixth place finish.
Season 1996/97 saw the first major impact of the Bosman ruling, which allowed players to move between clubs for free when their contract expired. This had repercussions for Motherwell, as Paul Lambert, Rob McKinnon and Alex Burns left Fir Park for nothing. Lambert joined Borussia Dortmund, whose coach Ottmar Hitzfeld had remembered his performance in the European tie 18 months earlier.
The loss of Lambert and co had an effect on the team and they struggled for much of the campaign at the wrong end of the table. McLeish bolstered his squad in January, with the capture of much travelled striker Owen Coyle from Dundee Utd in a £350,000 deal which also saw Jamie Dolan head the other way.
But the team continued to struggle and with just two games to go against Rangers and Dunfermline, they occupied ninth in the table and faced a play off against the runners up from the First Division.
The Rangers game had been moved to the May Day bank holiday for live TV coverage of what was meant to be the home side’s celebration party for clinching their ninth successive league title. But Motherwell upset the odds and spoiled the party atmosphere with a terrific 2-0 win.
This moved the Steelmen up to seventh spot ahead of the final game of the season. Dunfermline were the visitors to Fir Park in what turned out to be a very nervous afternoon for the claret and amber faithful. Motherwell took the lead through a Tommy Coyne penalty but two goals from the visitors had the 'Well fans sweating, as other results at that stage meant that a play off spot was on the cards.
However, Mitchell Van Der Gaag wrote his name into folklore with a thunderbolt of a free kick to earn a draw and an eighth place finish - much to the relief of everyone inside the ground. The eighth place finish was only achieved on goal difference though, and it was thanks mainly to heavy victories over relegated Raith Rovers that Premier Division survival was achieved.
Season 1997/98 was one of change for the club, with manager Alex McLeish taking over at Hibs, ironically only days after his Motherwell side had beaten them 6-2 at Fir Park. His successor was Harri Kampman, who masterminded Mypa-47’s UEFA Cup victory over the Steelmen a couple of seasons earlier. While he failed to set the world alight in his first few games, the Finn did at least secure safety for another season - finishing ninth in the table.
There were further changes off the field during the summer, as local businessman John Boyle completed his takeover of the club from John Chapman. Boyle arrived with ambitious plans to attract fans back to Fir Park and his first initiative was to introduce a 'Football for a Fiver' scheme for the first two home games. It proved to be a terrific success as 9,858 turned up for a 0-0 draw with Dunfermline and then 11,201 for a 1-0 victory over Dundee United the following Sunday.
Two draws in the next two games - 1-1 at Aberdeen and 0-0 at home to Kilmarnock - looked to have got the season off to a good start and the team were third in the table. But the results and league position weren't enough to save Kampman his job and after three consecutive defeats he was sacked.
Former player Billy Davies, who was in charge of the youth team at the team, was appointed manager. His first game was a 5-0 defeat away to St Johnstone. Following that game, the squad was strengthened by the addition of Derek Adams from Ross County, Ged Brannan from Tranmere, John Spencer from Everton and former Rangers keeper Andy Goram.
As April approached, Premier League football had still not been assured, but a 3-0 win over Dundee United at Tannadice helped ease the worries in a game that marked the debut of another new signing - Don Goodman. Relegation was finally put out of everybody’s mind with four games to go though, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
The following season appeared to be heading the same way until a freak result helped galvanise the squad. In October, Motherwell lost 6-5 to Aberdeen in a remarkable game that could have ended 12-11, given the number of chances created at both ends.
The Steelmen then embarked on a nine-game unbeaten league run which saw them climb up to fourth in the table and narrowly miss out on a place in Europe - a terrific achievement given their poor start to the campaign.
2001 - 2007
Results were once again inconsistent throughout the 2000/01 season and Motherwell found themselves sitting ninth in the table by January. A whole host of players then left Fir Park as John Boyle sought money for new investment.
Ged Brannan was sold to Wigan for a reported £175,000 fee and he was followed by Stephen McMillan and Lee McCulloch to the English club. The exodus continued with Andy Goram joining Manchester United on loan, John Spencer heading to America and Don Goodman to Wallsall.
As a result, youngsters such as Keith Lasley, James McFadden, Dougie Ramsay, Brian Dempsie and Stephen Pearson were given an extended opportunity in the first team. The team was lacking in experience though, and so Billy Davies signed no fewer than seven players in the summer as he built a squad that he hoped would compete in the SPL.
Those coming in were goalkeeper Mark Brown from Rangers, defenders Karl Ready from QPR and Eddie Forrest from Airdrie, midfielders Andy Dow from Aberdeen, Steven Cosgrove from Manchester United and Roberto Martinez from Wigan, alongside striker David Kelly from Sheffield United.
But the new additions made little impact and seven games into the season, the Steelmen only had three points and were in trouble at the foot of the table. This brought an end to the reign of Davies as manager.
There was a complete overhaul in the management team with former Aberdeen striker Eric Black brought in alongside ex-Rangers defender Terry Butcher. Former Fir Park favourite Chris McCart also returned to the club to oversee youth development with George Adams.
They then set about rebuilding the squad and their first signing was French defender Eric Deloumeaux, who was bought from second tier French club Le Havre for a fee of £100,000. Francois Dubordeau, Yann Soloy and David Ferrere were next to arrive but it was emerging youngster McFadden who made the biggest impact, scoring five goals in seven games to ease Motherwell's relegation worries.
Safety was confirmed when St Johnstone were beaten at the start of March and another point taken from them at the start of April. One other positive at this time was Stuart Elliot becoming the most capped player for the club when he picked up his 14th cap for Northern Ireland in a defeat to Spain.
But this was to be the last piece of good news for some time as John Boyle announced on 24 April that he would put the club up for sale - and at the same time seek a court order to put the club into interim administration. The announcement secured the short term future of the club and ensured they could continue to trade on a day to day basis and fulfil its SPL fixtures for the remainder of the season.
The initial announcement also advised that there would be a financial restructuring of the club and that redundancies would be necessary in both playing and non-playing staff. Boyle decided on this course of action as the club was effectively trading insolvently and was haemorrhaging money. If they were to continue in this way they would continue to pile up heavy losses for the foreseeable future.
Reasons for the financial position were complex but in his press release at the time John Boyle said "dwindling gates, loss of sponsorship, reduced corporate support and the continuing uncertainty over TV income mean that, on its present cost base, the club is not financially viable. The issue of television rights has been particularly difficult for us. The failure to agree a deal with Sky TV last year and the collapse of plans for SPL TV, which we wholeheartedly supported, were bitterly disappointing and extremely bad news for us financially. That said, even with the most optimistic estimates of any television income indicate we will receive less from TV rights than before."
Chief executive Pat Nevin and manager Eric Black did not agree with the course of action and announced that they would resign from their posts, although they would help the administrator until the end of the season. Both felt that with more cash injected, the corner could be turned and that the original aims of becoming the third force could be achieved - but they were outvoted by the rest of the board. As a result, Terry Butcher was handed the position of manager until the end of the season.
Following the announcement a joint venture between club and fans was established to help raise funds to help the club’s plight to be known as "Well Worth Saving." The initial drive was to mobilise the fan base to turn up for a fundraising match against Serie A side Chievo and the final league game at Fir Park against Dundee.
Before any of this could take place, Butcher had to take the side down to Rugby Park for an SPL fixture against Kilmarnock. This was a very emotional occasion as the players were uncertain of their futures as the announcement of redundancies was planned for the early part of the next week. Supporters turned out in large numbers and gave the players a rousing welcome which helped inspire the team to a 4-1 victory.
On the Monday after the game the announcement came confirming the names of the players being made redundant and another list who were being released from their contracts with immediate effect. The announcement was made by the recently court appointed administrator Brian Jackson of financial consultants PKF.
The nine players made redundant were Mark Brown, Stephen Cosgrove, Andy Dow, Eddie Forrest, Roberto Martinez, Brian MacDonald, Karl Ready, Greg Strong and Kevin Twaddle. The 10 players released were Franck Bernhard, Billy Brawley, John Fallon, David Ferrere, Liam Fleming, Steven Nicholas, Ange Oueifio, Yaan Soloy, Scott Wilson and Martin Wood.
This meant a young and inexperienced squad for the 2002/03 campaign, with only 11 of the 35 registered players being over 21. The age of the squad meant there was a great deal of inconsistency in results and performances throughout the season and the Steelmen finished bottom of the table.
In normal circumstances this would have meant relegation but First Division champions Falkirk were denied entry to the SPL as their Brockville ground failed to meet requirements. Their application to ground share at Airdrie was turned down - and so Motherwell were handed a reprieve.
To help bolster the club's finances ahead of the new season, prized asset James McFadden was sold to Everton in a £1.25m deal. Then in January, Stephen Pearson joined Celtic for £350,000. This allowed Butcher to add to his squad, signing former player Phil O’Donnell, ex-Dundee United midfielder Gary Bollan and Australian striker Scott McDonald. They proved to be a success and helped the team achieve its first top six finish since the league introduced the split.
Throughout the campaign, administrator Bryan Jackson had been working to come with a deal to off a dividend to the creditors that would bring the club out of interim administration. And at a press conference at Fir Park on 17 September, he said that improved financial stability and the sale of James McFadden to Everton were the primary reasons the club could now begin the process of coming out of administration.
It was also made possible by chairman John Boyle being prepared to write off the debt that he was owed. He also announced at the same time that he would be standing down from his position, and that his shareholding was still up for sale and that if a credible buyer came forward with the interests of Motherwell at heart he would be happy to sell.
This brought fresh optimism ahead of the start of the 2004/05 season and it turned out to be one of the most memorable in the club’s history. A famous League Cup run started with wins over Morton, Inverness and Livingston - setting up a semi-final clash with Hearts at Easter Road.
The Steelmen went 2-0 up and had one foot in the final, only to concede two late goals and move into extra time. It looked as though penalties would be required until Marc Fitzpatrick popped up to score with virtually the last kick of the game, sparking wild celebrations both on and off the pitch.
The final was to be played against Rangers and was billed as 'the Davie Cooper final', with both his most prominent teams meeting 10 years after his tragic death. Unfortunately for Motherwell it wasn’t to be the gala occasion it was hoped for as the Gers romped to a 5-1 victory in front of 50,182 fans.
However, all was not lost as the team qualified for the top six for second successive season and were to play a major role in the destination of the title. On a dramatic final day at Fir Park, Scott McDonald scored two late goals to shatter Celtic and virtually hand the title to Rangers.
2005/06 was to prove a disappointing season as Terry Butcher’s side struggled to put together a run of consistent results or performances. Once again though they did reach the semi finals of the League Cup, where they were drawn to play Celtic.
The Steelmen produced a courageous display and looked set to force extra time with the scores level at 1-1 with only a few minutes to go. But there was a sting in the tail as Shaun Maloney netted a late free kick following a passback by Martyn Corrigan, denying Motherwell in the cruelest of circumstances.
This seemed to burst the bubble in terms of the league campaign and even a great run through March meant a top six slot could not be secured. Then as the season neared an end, stories started to circulate that Terry Butcher may be about to leave the club.
After the last game of the season the news came out that he was indeed heading for the A-League in Australia to take over as manager at Sydney City. The board moved quickly to appoint his assistant, Maurice Malpas, as manager for the start of 2006/07 season.
But just one win in the opening seven games set the tone for the campaign and after the Christmas period, a string of disastrous results saw Motherwell dragged into a relegation dogfight with Dunfermline and St Mirren.
It took until the penultimate week of the season before safety was secured, although even that was to prove a struggle. The Steelmen surrendered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at home to St Mirren, leaving everyone to sweat over Dunfermline’s result that afternoon.
As it turned out, the Pars lost to Inverness and Motherwell were safe for another season. But there was little cause for celebration and the board acted quickly to relieve Malpas of his duties, replacing him with former Reading, Wolves and Brighton manager Mark McGhee.
Born just a few miles from Fir Park on 25 March 1972, Phil O’Donnell would go on to start his incredible career with Motherwell Football Club, making more than 200 appearances over two spells.
At just 18 years of age, the youngster quickly became a regular in the first team following his debut in 1990.
And in one of the finest seasons in the club’s recent history, O’Donnell went on to be a part of the historic Scottish Cup winning side of ’91, scoring in the 4-3 win over Dundee United.
Ally McCoist’s commentary that day would go on to live with O’Donnell, with the former Rangers man describing the ‘Well youngster as being “brave as a lion”.
The victory at Hampden Park saw Motherwell enter European competition for the first time, and O’Donnell continued to impress in claret and amber over the course of the next three seasons.
Picking up multiple young player of the year awards, the 'Well starlet was quickly targeted by other clubs, and in 1994 was signed by Celtic for £1.75 million, a club record which still stands today.
At Celtic, O'Donnell spent five seasons with the Parkhead club, making 90 appearances and scoring 15 goals.
In the green and white of the Glasgow side, the Scot earned himself a league winners medal and another Scottish Cup, as Celtic lifted the old trophy in 1995, beating Airdrie 1-0.
A move to England saw Phil take his game to the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday, but things didn't kick on due to injury, which resulted in just one appearance in his debut season with the Owls.
But an opportunity to return to Motherwell presented itself to O'Donnell, and the star returned to Fir Park in January 2004.
A certain nephew of O'Donnell's happened to be on the books with the Steelmen at that time, and as a result, the nickname "Uncle Phil" was soon given to Phil now he was playing alongside David Clarkson.
Motherwell's number 10 was soon part of another terrific cup run, as the club reached the League Cup final, where Rangers ran out 5-1 winners.
In season 2005/06, Phil was awarded the captaincy, and there have been few leaders like him around the club, before or since.
On the park, he led by example, and off it, he was a gentleman, described by Steven Hammell as a man who could help you with any problem, or you could talk to about anything.
Tragically, Phil collapsed on the pitch at Fir Park on 29 December 2007, just as he was about to be substituted. He was rushed to Wishaw General Hospital after being treated on the pitch but was pronounced dead at the age of 35.
Phil’s death was felt across the world, and on 30 December, players in numerous matches in the Premier League showed their respects with either a minute's silence or a minute's applause.
‘Well favourite James McFadden, whilst playing for Everton, dedicated his goal to O'Donnell in their 2–0 win at Middlesbrough by pointing to his black armband and then towards the sky.
O'Donnell's incredible career came to an end far too young, but his legacy lives on around the club he grew up just a few miles away from.
Motherwell FC received hundreds of written tributes from fans as far as Korea, and soon the club announced the Fir Park Main Stand would be renamed The Phil O'Donnell Stand as a permanent tribute. For the remainder of the 2007/08 season, Phil’s signature was embroidered on the players shirts.
Since O’Donnell’s tragic passing, David Clarkson is the only player to have worn the number 10 shirt, which he had up until his departure in 2009. Since then the number has not been issued to any other player.
2008 - 2018
Mark McGhee’s first season with the Steelmen was a memorable one for the club, in more ways than one.
‘Well picked up three wins in their first four games, which strangely included an away victory at home, due to the club groundsharing Fir Park with newly promoted Gretna.
Heading in to the turn of the year on the back of a thrilling 5-3 victory over Dundee United saw McGhee’s men start the new year in fine fashion, registering three wins from four as they continued to push for a strong finish in the top flight.
One of the standout results of the 2007/08 campaign was the stunning 1-0 victory at Celtic Park, when 10-man ‘Well left Glasgow with all three points thanks to Simon Lappin’s 33rd minute winner.
An impressive seven points from nine in the final three games of the season against Aberdeen, Rangers and Hibernian saw the Fir Parkers return to Europe for the first time in 13 years after securing third in the table.
Much of ‘Well’s success in the league was down to the fine partnership formed by Chris Porter and David Clarkson up front, who combined to bag 31 goals between them in all competitions.
A run to the quarter final of the League Cup was cut short by eventual winners Rangers, as Mark McGhee enjoyed a fine first campaign at the helm.
The 2008/09 campaign didn’t bring with it the same domestic success, but it did bring European football to Fir Park thanks to the teams exploits the season before.
More than 11,000 packed in to Fir Park to watch AS Nancy take on the Steelmen in UEFA Cup qualification, but witnessed a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the French outfit.
A comfortable spot in seventh saw yet another year of securing top flight status, but McGhee departed for Aberdeen in the summer to be replaced by Jim Gannon.
Despite suffering just five defeats in 17 league games, Gannon was relieved of his duties before the turn of the year and replaced by Craig Brown, who went on a staggering 12-game unbeaten run as ‘Well secured yet another top-half finish in the top flight.
The Fir Parkers ended the league campaign with two draws but scored an incredible nine goals in those games.
The final fixture at Fir Park was a 6-6 draw with Hibernian, which broke the league record for most goals scored in a game.
Trailing 6-2 to the Edinburgh outfit, the Steelmen surged to a near-impossible comeback. The last-minute equaliser will be discussed for years to come, with Lukas Jutkiewicz thundering an unstoppable strike in to the far corner, on the bounce, from a tight angle.
European football was again secured for 2010/11, and Motherwell went on to enjoy yet another memorable campaign domestically.
For the second season in a row, however, the new campaign saw another change in management just before the turn of the calendar year.
Craig Brown stepped down from his position and was replaced by Stuart McCall, and in the months that followed Motherwell went from strength to strength under the former Bradford City boss.
McCall guided ‘Well to the Scottish Cup final, where the club fell short against Celtic – losing 3-0 at Hampden Park. In the league though, the Steelmen picked up a 2-0 victory over the Parkhead side and went on to finish in the top half of the table.
McCall’s first full season in charge saw the club enjoy a stunning season in the top flight in Scotland.
Michael Higdon, Nicky Law and Henrik Ojamaa were among the arrivals throughout the 2011/12 season, with the former finishing as the club’s top scorer on 16 goals.
Two manager of the month awards were collected by McCall, whilst Keith Lasley collected a player of the month award for October after his impressive performances in claret and amber.
Second-placed Rangers endured problems off the pitch which meant third-placed ‘Well qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club’s history for season 2012/13.
Being placed in the non-champions section of the draw saw McCall’s side paired with Greek giants Panathinaikos. A 2-0 first leg defeat at Fir Park was followed up by a 3-0 loss at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, but it didn’t mean European football was finished for the season.
Elimination from the Champions League saw the club parachuted into the Europa League play-off round, where Spanish side Levante lay in wait.
A 2-0 home loss was followed up by a 1-0 defeat away in Valencia. And despite the results, Motherwell managed to equal the longest participation in European competition in a rich 127-year history.
Domestically, and without Rangers for competition, the club finished second in the league – 16 points behind champions Celtic but again, making sure the club were set to compete in Europe.
Michael Higdon’s stunning goal haul of 27, of which 26 arrived in the league, meant the Englishman picked up the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award in the same season that McCall collected the manager’s award following an incredible season in charge.
2013/14 was McCall’s final full season as ‘Well boss and he put in another superb shift as manager, guiding the club to second place for the second consecutive season, before leaving early in 2014/15.
Another notable departure was made less damaging by the form of John Sutton, who stood up to the task of replacing Higdon, who left Lanarkshire for NEC Nijmegen.
However, the club went on to experience the highs and lows of football in the space of twelve months, finishing second top one year and then second bottom the following.
Coming in to replace the departing McCall in December, Ian Baraclough couldn’t turn around the club’s fortunes as they slid in to 11th spot in the table.
A play-off clash with Rangers presented itself as two of the most important matches in the club’s history, and it saw former boss McCall return to Fir Park with his Rangers side looking to turn around a 3-1 first leg defeat.
As it happened, Baraclough guided the ‘Well to safety in style, putting in an emphatic display in the second leg and registering another fine victory to win 6-1 on aggregate.
The performances secured Premiership status for a 31st consecutive season, and thwarted Rangers from reaching the top flight in back-to-back campaigns.
Baraclough remained in charge at the club until late September of 2015, before Mark McGhee returned to Fir Park for a second stint at the helm after Stephen Craigan’s short spell as interim boss.
Louis Moult was one of Baraclough’s summer recruits, and he formed a strong partnership with Scott McDonald as Motherwell returned to the top half of the table. Club legend James McFadden also came back to Lanarkshire for another spell at his boyhood club in the same season.
2016/17 didn’t bring the same success domestically, as the club returned to a basement battle for long spells of the season.
It led to the relieving of Mark McGhee as manager in February with the club flirting around the play-off spot for a second season in three.
However, Stephen Robinson took control as caretaker manager and turned the club’s fortunes around, before being appointed on a permanent basis in March 2017.
The former Northern Ireland assistant manager, and ‘Well assistant to both Mark McGhee and Ian Baraclough, enjoyed an incredible first full season in charge as he guided the club to two cup finals. However, the presence of Brendan Rodgers treble winning Celtic side meant the Fir Parkers were subjected to collecting two runners-up medals in just six months.
Semi-final victories over Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen and Pedro Caixinha’s Rangers were some of the highlights of the 2017/18 season, as the Lanarkshire side built some momentum under Robinson. And it was no mean feat for the manager, who engineered a mass turnaround in his playing squad and made them gel as a unit immediately.
Then came the departure of then-leading goalscorer Moult in January 2018, but Robinson’s shrewd recruitment continued as Curtis Main and Nadir Çiftçi came through the door, before the club went on to produce a fine Scottish Cup run, as well as finishing seventh in the Premiership.