Motherwell, North Lanarkshire is an easily recognisable town to point out on the Scottish landscape. A former home to industrial greatness and a steelworks empire, Motherwell sits twenty minutes south-east of Glasgow. Home to a few notable attractions including Strathclyde Park, Motherwell is a close-knit community that was built up quickly through heavy industry and torn down equally as rapid when the work dissipated. The town has recovered, and football has always been huge part of the town’s culture – even when times were tough.
Founded in 1886, Motherwell FC have a rich history in the Scottish game. The club have four major honours: Scottish league champions in 1932, Scottish League Cup winners in 1951 as well as two famous Scottish Cup victories in 1952 and 1991. The latter remains one of the most dramatic and exciting finals in the competition’s history. A crowd of over 57,000 filled the Hampden terraces to watch a since immortalised Motherwell side beat Dundee United 4-3 in extra time to lift the trophy. It is an occasion that will never be forgotten.
Weirdly, the club have also (unofficially) won Spain’s largest domestic cup competition. A second-place finish in the previous league campaign was enough to be invited to Madrid to take part in a prestigious mini-tournament. After dispatching the also invited Swansea City in a semi-final, The Well faced legendary Real Madrid in their home stadium for the trophy. Motherwell won the match 3-1 to become (again, unofficial) Copa Del Ray champions in 1927. A more informative and incredibly interesting article and be found on Motherwell’s website here.
Success in the 2000s is all relative. Back-to-back second places in 2013 and 2014 is an incredible achievement for a club Motherwell’s size, even with the league omission of Rangers. Consistency is the name of the game for the The Steelman. Higher mid-table finishes have been come alongside two cup finals in 2018. Frustratingly, they had to come up against a Celtic side in the middle of a historical quadruple treble.
“I’m not a Motherwell fan but this is class” is a phrase that has been popularised in Scottish football over the last few years. There’s good reason for this. Free season tickets for unemployed or low-income supporters, a wonderfully generous community outreach and a refreshingly transparent social media are just some examples of the excellency Motherwell represent. The sentence “It is in our DNA to improve people’s lives where we can.” speaks volumes of the values the club currently hold. Chief Executive Alan Burrows seems to understand the importance football has on the community and has instilled this mindset throughout the entire club and fanbase. More outfits need to follow the example they set.
After a dramatic fifth placed finish last season, the club have been rewarded with European football in July. A first ever outing in the Europa Conference League awaits Fir Park, with League of Ireland side Sligo Rovers taking the short journey over the Irish Sea. The winner of this two-legged tie will face either Czechia’s Sparta Prague or Norway’s Viking FK in the next round. The Well are favourites to progress, and I am incredibly excited to witness the beginnings of a potentially wonderful expedition.
Fir Park has been Motherwell’s home since 1895. The old ground has seen many ups and downs in its history but has always been a constant in the community. Of the 12 Premiership grounds, Fir Park stands as one of the most unique. All four stands are different, with no two looking the same. Each one adorns the name of a different Motherwell legend. The Davie Cooper Stand houses home supporters behind the north goal. The John Hunter Stand gives the more vocal Motherwell supporters a space, whilst also being remembered for the famous ‘Keep Cigarettes Away From The Match’ Slogan. The Phil O’Donnell Main Stand gives a superb view of proceedings, even if the seating is a bit old and stiff. Finally, The Tommy McLean Stand is the largest of the structures and looks superb. Funnily though, it has only been used to house away supporters. I was sat inside the POD Stand for tonight’s match and stupidly chose to buy a ticket behind a pole. Lessons have been learned.
Fir Park is a great place to watch football with an array of history surrounding the old buildings, the ancient seating, and unique viewpoints. Furthermore, the pitch looked incredible. Huge credit must go to the Fir Park ground staff who have done a superb job to keep the beautiful game looking beautiful. Fir Park has shown itself to be one of my favourite arenas to take in a game thus far. 4/5.
A near sell-out home crowd marched on Fir Park for a rare European match. The bustling, close-contact, exciting chatter amongst supporters was a joy to be a part of. It made me insanely jealous of the Scottish clubs who get to attend experiences like this on a regular basis. Before proceedings on the pitch kicked off, The Well supporters were in full voice, with the majority of noise coming from supporters in the John Hunter stand. This particular group of young fans are famous for regular displays and did not disappoint tonight. A wonderful showcase of claret and gold ran the full way across with the words ‘From the slopes of Fir Park terracing onto its playing field so green, there’s eleven stalwart warriors, the best you’ve ever seen.’ Unbelievable. However, given the result, the positivity deteriorated somewhat over the course of the game. Atmosphere scores 3.5/5 in total.
Quality of the Match
Motherwell came into the match heavy favourites but some supporters were already weary of a potential upset brewing. After all, visiting Sligo Rovers were well into their domestic season and the standard of Irish football has risen over the last few years.
It would take just thirty seconds for the home side to experience a scare. Rovers’ winger Karl O’Sullivan found time and space on the right to whip in a dangerous ball. A mixture of new signing Paul McGinn and Ugandan prince Bevis Mugabi managed to clear the ball against a Sligo striker and over the bar.
Motherwell would hit back with a chance of their own. New addition Josh Morris found time and space to the left of goal. His effort smashed the side netting, yet the Motherwell fans had their first real moment of excitement.
Excitement turned to nerves five minutes later. A Sligo free kick found Garry Buckley unmarked at the back post. His knock-back across goal was met well by Lewis Banks, but ‘Well stopper Liam Kelly reacted well on the goal line to prevent the visitors the lead – for now.
Sligo did take the lead soon after. A horribly judged headed back pass from Bevis Mugabi allowed former Hearts and Falkirk striker Aidan Keena time and space to comfortably lob the ball over Kelly. Sligo were one up, with the Ugandan prince looking like a bit of a jester.
Motherwell responded well. Firstly, a strike on goal by Barry Maguire tested the palms of ‘keeper Luke McNicholas before a cross fired in from the left met the feet of Connor Shields four yards out. The off-balanced striker could not direct his effort on target though, with the visiting support breathing a sigh of relief.
Half Time: Motherwell 0-1 Sligo Rovers
‘Well needed a strong second half. It began with big striker Kevin Van Veen finding himself through on goal. His first touch was poor, leaving him no space to either chip or round the onrushing McNichols.
Motherwell’s supporters were growing increasingly frustrated as Sligo created their second real opportunity. More good work by O’Sullivan allowed him to cross for Keena. The striker met the ball well, but his effort landed on the roof of Liam Kelly’s net.
Exciting prospect Ross Tierney entered the fray for Motherwell and almost made a blistering impact. Josh Morris slipped the youngster through on the left, but his effort could only hit the side-netting once more. Still, more hope for the home support yet.
Hearts were in mouths yet again though. A cross to the back post met Sligo substitute Max Mata, whose header goalward was blocked for a corner. Huge shouts for handball from both players and support fell on deaf ears.
Wells’ final opportunity fell to Josh Morris. A good cross from McGinn found the attacker’s head, but his effort could only be directed straight into McNichol’s hands.
Motherwell threw everything they could into the box with nothing to show for it. Their efforts amounted to little, with boos ringing around the stadium as the full-time whistle blew. An ecstatic away support exploded with joy.
Full Time: Motherwell 0-1 Sligo Rovers
It cannot be said lightly; Motherwell were very, very poor. Their efforts were weak, they failed to break down an astute Sligo defence and substitutions had little to no impact. It is natural to expect a top-flight Scottish team to perform better at home to supposed weaker opposition, with supporters not afraid to show their emotions afterward. They cannot afford to be as poor in Ireland next week.
On a positive note, new signing Paul McGinn looks a decent acquisition. After a slow start, the former Hibs, St Mirren and Dundee defender showed his experience and consistency. I may be a bit biased as a Hibee, but I think he will prove to be a quality signing for Motherwell. I was sad to see him leave Easter Road.
Sligo played to their strengths tonight. They had powerful centre backs ready to put bodies on the line. As a cliché, they proved to be strong, difficult to break down and clever in possession. I thought I had seen my weeks’ worth of shithousery from Greenock Morton at Hibs the night before, but Sligo have shown that the skill of shithousery is an art.
In all, tonight’s affair was a poor watch. A poor Motherwell side struggled to break down weaker opposition, with the only goal of the game coming from a massive defensive mistake. Here’s hoping the away leg proves to be a worthwhile display. I hope to see Motherwell coming out on top. 1.5/5.
Returning to university for a postgraduate degree has its perks. I paid a reasonable £15 for a student ticket for a European game. Food and drink were well priced too. I certainly cannot complain. 5/5.
My first visit to a Premiership ground scores a handy 14/20. Despite another poor result for a Scottish team in Europe, I loved being able to experience Fir Park in all its glory. I hope next time Motherwell get a chance to experience a continental competition at home, it brings a more successful outcome.