SPL runners-up for the second successive season in 2013-14, Motherwell suffered a miserable start to the 2014-15 campaign, picking themselves up to beat Rangers in both legs of the subsequent relegation play-off. The Steelmen then managed to hold their own in 2015-16.
Nearly going out of business a decade or so ago, until recently Motherwell benefitted from Rangers’ demise and claimed European qualifying places on a regular basis. In terms of silverware, though, the club’s only honour in modern times came in 1991.
The late, great Davie Cooper and Phil O’Donnell, who also died young in the service of Motherwell FC, helped the Steelmen to a 4-3 win after extra-time over Dundee United in the Scottish Cup. Each have a stand named after them at Fir Park. Its history dates back to 1895, a decade after the club was formed in this industrial, later steel, hub 25mins south-east of Glasgow by train.
Historic rivals of nearby Hamilton Academical, the club’s first opponents, Motherwell changed to their now familiar amber and claret shirts in honour of Bradford City, cup winners south of the border in 1911. That year John ‘Sailor’ Hunter joined the club as manager, a position he would hold until 1946.
With goals from Hughie Ferguson and his replacement Willie MacFadyen, Motherwell established themselves as the third power in Scottish football after Celtic and Rangers. After a successful summer tour of Spain in 1927, beating Real Madrid and drawing with Barcelona, the Steelmen put in consistently serious title challenges before the one and only championship victory of 1931-32. George Stevenson, who later replaced Hunter as manager, joined MacFadyen in the forward line for the high-scoring campaign, MacFadyen notching 52 goals, a Scottish record to this day. It was also the first time that the title hadn’t gone to the Old Firm since 1904.
Thrice league runners-up, thrice cup finalists that decade, Stevenson’s Motherwell picked up more silverware after the war with a 4-0 cup win over Dundee in 1952. After Stevenson, Bobby Ancell came in as manager for the next decade, bringing through youngsters such as Ian St John and Willie Hunter. St John would later become one of a string of big-name coaches in the modern era, followed by Ally MacLeod and Alex McLeish.
The most successful was Willie McLean and, later, his brother Tommy, who faced each other at the 1991 Scottish Cup Final. An extra-time goal from Steve Kirk settled this 4-3 thriller, an away-goals defeat by Katowice the only tie of Motherwell’s subsequent debut European campaign.
A third place in 1995 again opened the door to Europe. Paul Lambert’s performance against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Cup saw the Motherwell star move to Germany the following season. Another prodigy, James McFadden, was sold on when bankruptcy threatened, the Scots international returning to Fir Park in 2013.
The Steelmen got through two early rounds of the Europa League in 2009-10 and 2010-11, when a cup final appearance put the Steelmen back in the domestic spotlight. Quality performances by Estonian Henrik Ojemaa and Michael Higdon kept Motherwell at the top of the chasing pack in 2012-13 – although both were sold before 2013-14.
The players who then came to the fore were both English: Lionel Ainsworth, and a returning John Sutton, brother of former Celtic star Chris, and best known for his thumping volley in the cup semi-final of 2011. Going into the last day of 2013-14 season needing to beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie for second place, the Steelmen grabbed a late, late winner thanks to defender Craig Reid.
Sadly Motherwell’s luck was out in 2014-15, a late penalty by little-known Stjarnan helping push the Icelandic side through in the Europa League, and a shoot-out defeat to rivals Hamilton ending interest in the League Cup.
Motherwell’s home since 1895, 13,700-capacity Fir Park has two stands named after much-loved Steelmen who passed away in the cause of duty: Davie Cooper and Phil O’Donnell.
The first modern-day stand, though, was financed through the sale of another Motherwell legend, Ian St.John, to Liverpool. Up until 1961, Fir Park had been a reasonably basic ground, at the mercy of the elements but capable of squeezing in 30,000-plus crowds when cup runs or title challenges demanded.
Gradually becoming all-seater as legislation tightened in the early 1990s, Fir Park assumed something like its current appearance, protected from strong winds, with the building of the Davie Cooper North Stand, the home end, in 1995. The Main Stand is named after Phil O’Donnell.
Visiting supporters are usually housed in the lower tier of the South Stand, the upper one too if required.
The quickest way to get to Motherwell from Glasgow is the train to Airbles from Glasgow Central (lower platforms, usually No.16; every 30mins, journey time 30mins). If you’ve just missed one, you can also change at Motherwell. The stadium is signposted from Airbles station – bear right from the rail footbridge on Airbles Road, over the first roundabout, then turn right at the second, by the Vauxhall Garage. You’ll see the stadium floodlights diagonally left. Allow 10min walking time.
Alternatively, bus X11 runs from Glasgow’s Buchanan Street to Airbles Road, around 30min journey time.
The ticket office (Mon-Fri 9.15am-4.30pm, match-day Sat 10am-kick-off) is set between the Davie Cooper and Phil O’Donnell Stands, where Edward Street meets Fir Park Road.
Prices are set at £22/£25 for standard/Celtic matches, £15/£17 for under-16s, £26/£32 for one adult and one under-16. Entry is about £2 cheaper across the board in the East Stand. The club also runs an online service.
The ‘Well Shop (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm, Sat 9.30am-1pm, home-match Sat 9.30am-5pm) is behind the Davie Cooper Stand on Knowetop Avenue. Goodies include posters of the 1991 cup-winning side, match scarves from the 2013 game with Krasnodar and books such as ‘It’s Not Just The Old Firm’. Oh, and plenty of golfing paraphernalia, too.
The first bar you come to at Airbles station is The Electric Box overlooking the footbridge, with pub grub, TV football and seats outside. By the Airbles Road roundabout, on the other side of the road from the Vauxhall Garage, JDs (Glencairn Street) welcomes both sets of fans in different bars.
By the ground, the Fir Park Club (13 Edward Street) actually refers to the acronym of Friends In Retirement, and is not run by the club. The venue opens according to the many events it schedules.