Since it’s me, and I don’t deal well with the emotional stuff, may I first deflect slightly by pointing out that I LOATHED this Springsteen dirge that John Boyle insisted on putting on before matches back when he first bought Motherwell out? Still, the lyric works for now at least.
It’s sort of sadly gratifying that the MSM has given the column inches and recognition to the tragic death of Phil O’Donnell. I don’t generally like to associate myself publicly with anything that might narrow me down to a concrete geography, but I suppose it shouldn’t matter now that I’ve been away seven years. You see, when I threw everything I could carry into two bags and slipped away on the Virgin train from Euston, the only part of home I missed was the football. Okay, so I have the wall-to-wall coverage of my other team in Liverpool, but I would cancel my own wedding/party/holiday plans to catch the rarity of a live Motherwell game on Setanta.
It’s not the same though – I left my team behind. I grew up three streets from that lodged in the suburbs “stadium”, I had a season ticket as soon as I could afford one, throwing off the family friendliness of the Cooper stand (oh yeah, named for another player who died too soon, just out of Motherwell colours) for the gritty vitriol of the East Stand. I’ve been to Castle Greyskull in Govan, and the displaced Irishmen club in the East End and I’ll be making a pilgrimage to Anfield in a few short days. That’s why I feel sorry for people who’ve only ever supported a ‘big’ club, they’ll never know the sick joy of freezing your arse off on a plastic seat, sipping sludge masquerading as Bovril and watching your injury-ravaged team drawing 0-0 with Dumbarton in the Cup. To scream your throat hoarse on the eight games a year when you’re guaranteed to see your team play its heart out and still be robbed by a dodgy decision and a 93rd minute goal.
Knowing that every time a new player steps up from the youth team and impresses he’ll be off to the Blue or the Green within eighteen months. Phil O’Donnell was one such starlet plucked from us by those bloody Hoops, but how could you begrudge such a genuinely nice guy? It’s all over the press blurb, but were it not for injury he would have been a mainstay at the big clubs and the Scotland national team, and regardless we’d love him forever after he scored in the only Cup we’ve won in most supporters’ lifetimes.
It’s not just the automatic kindness awarded to the dead, there will be a wealth of testimony speaking to the truth of his professional and gentlemanly conduct. Footballers like Phil, Chris McCart and Dougie Arnott never made the megabucks but they were part of the community. Half the team lived over the back from us at one point, before the inevitable migration to footballers enclaves like Bothwell. They came to hospitals and church fêtes and signed every bit of merchandising tat that was thrust at them. No media advisers or PR consultants, just guys doing what they do.
I miss my team, I miss the ‘characters’ who are most likely certifiable but are better off in the stands than the asylum. If nothing else drags me across the border, it might be the thought of shouting “Shove your castle up your arse” at Hearts or Hibs again. I suppose it might even be homesickness, this automatic clamouring for community spirit, because to me the population of Motherwell shrinks from thousands down to the hundreds I know and have known all these years. The girls that I’ve cried with at the gates before now, tying scarves and laying flowers for Davie Cooper and Andy Thomson (credit to ex-Derby manager Billy Davies for remembering him when the media never does); I’ll just have to raise a glass on my own tonight.
If it takes a shock and a tragedy like this to shake us all, to make us realise that more time doing and less time whinging would be the best use of our often limited time, then that’s the only good I can see in it. God bless you Phil, and rest in peace big man.
(And ouch, could my footballing category be less appropriate? More perspective, I suppose)