MOTHERWELL seem like one of those bands preparing for their farewell tour, the first date of which comes against St Johnstone in Perth this afternoon.
The ending of an era has been signalled by the departure of a long-standing member, Jamie Murphy, and the rest appear resigned to the impending break-up. Yet they are also fearful of snapping bonds they may struggle to replicate elsewhere.
Two years ago this month, Stuart McCall pitched up as manager at Fir Park. His first team selection featured Darren Randolph, Keith Lasley, Steven Hammell, Tom Hateley, Chris Humphrey and Murphy, a bedrock of players only now chipped away at with Murphy’s departure to Sheffield United a fortnight ago. McCall’s men, then, have been the most stable side in the Scottish Premier League these past two years and, in their budgetary bracket, the most consistent. All that is expected to change with Randolph, Hateley and Humphrey as well Shaun Hutchinson, Nicky Law, Michael Higdon, Simon Ramsden and Omar Daley all out of contract in the summer. McCall has already stated he has given up on persuading Republic of Ireland internationalist Randolph to extend his stay beyond four years in Scotland.
Yet the man himself is firmly in the undecided category. He knows what he would be giving up if he moved on. Having bounced around a number of clubs on loan, he knows the camaraderie and the capabilities that have made Motherwell a model for Scottish top-flight clubs also ensure they are a rare football phenomenon.
Peter Houston may be leaving Dundee United in the summer because he feels that, with a reducing budget, he cannot sustain the Tannadice club at the upper end of the game in this country, but Motherwell have achieved exactly that on a much lower budget than United. They are on course for European football for the fifth season out of the past six, and firmly in contention to do so as SPL runners-up. If it wasn’t for the fact any player could probably quadruple his wages by leaving Motherwell for even the third tier in England, new contracts would surely have been agreed aplenty by now.
Randolph recognises that fact but disputes the perception of him having his heart set on a return to England. “No [that’s not the case]. It depends what offer comes in,” he says. I’ll see what my options are in the summer. If it’s the right move or the right deal up here then I’ll stay put. I am happy up here, I have been here for three years and I’m settled so, if the club come to me with a good deal, there would be no reason not to. I have been playing for the last three seasons.
“I don’t want to go back and just sit on the bench and be travelling because there’s a helluva lot more travelling down south than there is up here. I can’t be bothered travelling on buses every Friday to sit on the bench and then having to travel back. I got into the Irish set-up and got recognition through playing – within two months of not playing, I’ll be forgotten again.”
Randolph is likely to be the Republic’s fourth-choice keeper when the country face Poland in a friendly on 6 February. He has one full cap, earned in the summer following a season in which he racked up 19 clean sheets. That takes a bit of understanding with the defence in a team that are geared to attack and willing to leave gaps. Everything Motherwell do is about teamwork and home truths that only come through being successful and staying together. He didn’t experience that sort of environment in loan spells at Welling United, Accrington Stanley, Gillingham, Bury and Hereford United across four years from 2004.
“I think the big difference between here and down south is there’s a lot more cliques down there,” Randolph says. “You might have four or five little groups. Up here, we’ve a small changing room and we have fun, we have a laugh. I think everyone being close helps because sometimes people might be afraid to be critical about another player. But we haven’t got that kind of dressing room. You can say what you want and it isn’t taken to heart.
“We know that considering the size of the club compared to the other clubs that we’re achieving more than people think. It’s brilliant to be able to prove people wrong.”
McCall has been central to fostering that atmosphere and Randolph admits he is surprised his name has not been linked with jobs down south, as seems to have become de rigueur with any SPL manager who has made any sort of impact in recent years. The fact that has not happened has perhaps allowed the club not to become destabilised by talk of losing an entire first team.
McCall’s position will impact on Randolph’s thoughts on his future, the keeper says, but the prospect of so many players being in their final five months at Motherwell will not adversely affect the club’s second half of the season. “Everybody will want to play, whether it’s for the club or to get a move for themselves,” he says. “We’ve a good dressing room and there’s nobody who would sack off a game or think ‘we’ll just see out the season’.” It is not the Motherwell way.