A PITCH invasion greeted the final whistle of Motherwell’s last SPL fixture of the season yesterday, an expression of emotion from a support big enough to suggest football will survive in this corner of Lanarkshire at least.
In scenes more normally associated with clinching a title or European qualification, Terry Butcher and his players were feted by fans after a victory which, in basic terms, still saw them finish the season second bottom of the table.
The wider perspective, however, may be that would-be new owners of the financially stricken outfit will have been persuaded that they are a worthwhile investment. On the pitch, Butcher fielded four of his under-18 squad in an eye-catching performance while off the field the punters proved there is enough interest to sustain top level football in Motherwell.
"You don’t know what to say or do when you see scenes like that," said Butcher, "and you’d have thought we’d won the league. They want the club to survive and if we can put a winning team on the park, it will bring more of them back to the ground."
The pecuniary crisis at Fir Park even reached as far as the press box where the normal complimentary match programmes were unavailable.
Still, such hardships endured by the media pack are nothing compared to those of the 19 players who found themselves without employment in the immediate aftermath of Motherwell’s sudden slide into administration.
The club’s PA announcer, who happily has kept his job thus far, could not resist making an ironic observation when he announced the match sponsor as the Motherwell Former Players’ Club, adding the rider: "although obviously not all of them".
Kevin Twaddle, one of those made redundant, was in the main stand to lend his backing to his former team-mates as was former director of football Pat Nevin. Needless to say, the pair sat some distance away from chairman John Boyle and administrator Bryan Jackson.
Even as hard-nosed an accountant as Jackson was moved by the after-match scenes, observing: "Any normal person would be swayed by that and even I felt emotional today. There have been no developments as regards buyers for the club but today gives you a very positive feeling about the club’s future."
Support came from far and wide, one banner displayed by a Motherwell supporters club from Herne Bay in Kent of all places.
Eric Deloumeaux, who has rejected the offer of a new contract on reduced pay, was handed the captain’s armband for what may be his last game for Motherwell. The polished French player would be a major loss and he gave a typically assured performance, chaperoning young debutant Willie Kinniburgh through the action in central defence.
Although it was Dundee who threatened first, Khaled Kemas almost celebrating his call-up to the Algerian under-21 squad this week with a goal when he forced a smart save from Stevie Woods, Motherwell were good value for the 2-0 lead they earned by half-time.
Scotland coach Berti Vogts was in attendance to watch James McFadden but the young Motherwell forward, who will be on the plane for South Korea today, would not have impressed the German when he failed from the penalty spot in ten minutes.
McFadden’s pace and control took him away from Dave Mackay into the box, although his tumble to the turf after the Dundee full-back had challenged him appeared both delayed and exaggerated. Referee Willie Young was convinced, however, and pointed to the spot. Justice was done in Dundee eyes when Julian Speroni plunged to his right to keep out McFadden’s poorly-struck kick.
Motherwell needed just four minutes to get over the disappointment as they took the lead with a goal which was a defensive disaster from Dundee’s viewpoint. Derek Adams was allowed all the time he wanted to deliver a cross from the right, picking out the unmarked Dirk Lehmann whose header appeared to squirm through Speroni’s grasp into the net.
Dundee, lacking cohesion and conviction, were forced into an early change when Kiko Torres limped off and was replaced by Beto Carranza. Motherwell then emphasised their control of the match by doubling their advantage a minute before half-time.
Steven Hammell’s long ball saw Stuart Elliott involved in a chase with Mackay which the Dundee defender was clear favourite to win. However, Mackay’s panicky pass back to Speroni was woefully short, allowing the Northern Ireland international to nip in and drill a low first-time shot beyond Speroni from a difficult angle.
Dundee were thrown a lifeline in 65 minutes when ref Young ruled that substitute Gavin Beith was illegally halted by Dougie Ramsay’s challenge. Fabian Cabellero scored from the spot kick.
Dundee pushed hard for an equaliser but, having committed three substitutes, were reduced to ten men for the final 15 minutes when Carranza limped off.
It was Motherwell’s day and no-one could begrudge them the win.
Motherwell: Woods, Ramsay, Deloumeaux, Kinniburgh, Hammell, Lasley (Fagan 60), Adams, Pearson, McFadden (MacDonald 86), Elliott, Lehmann (Clarke 79). Subs not used: Dubourdeau, Quinn.
Dundee: Speroni, Mackay, Smith, Wilkie, Marrocco (Del Rio 74), Rae, Torres (Carranza 29), Nemsadze, Forbes (Beith 46), Caballero, Kemas. Subs not used: Langfield, Milne.