Humanity and decency forever exuded from Phil O’Donnell across his tragically short life. Fitting then that he could bring out these qualities, bring out the best in people, as tribute was paid to him at yesterday’s Betfred Cup final.
In the tribal atmosphere of a trophy decider – contested between the two clubs Motherwell and Celtic that might have been his teams, but which have little affinity – it takes a special man to have the rival factions uniting to chant their name.
O’Donnell was all of that. A month short of ten years since he died of a heart attack at the age of 35 while playing for the Fir Park side, yesterday both sets of fans gave him a rousing applause and chanted his name around the ten-minute mark – No 10 the number he wore throughout his career.
A Motherwell strip with the No 10 and his name was draped over the seats at the end housing supporters of Motherwell, who O’Donnell helped to Scottish Cup success in 1991 before becoming a league winner with Celtic in 1998.
The decision to honour O’Donnell, pictured, and raise the profile of Cardiac Risk In The Young (CRY) – a charity of which the family are strong supporters – was agreed between the SPFL and the clubs after a newspaper suggested doing so in the days after both reached the final. The fact it was universally embraced showed football’s ability to harness emotion in the most noble way. So too Luc O’Donnell, only four when his father died, leading the teams out with the trophy before kick-off and holding it aloft to all corners of the stadium.
His elder sister Megan, who was unable to make it in person from her current base in Australia, exhibited the goodness that marked out her dad’s daily existence in reflecting on what yesterday’s show of appreciation for him meant to the family in the cup final matchday programme. “It is so humbling that Scottish football still keeps his memory alive,” she said. “Thank you to both clubs and the SPFL.”