With all due respect to Morton, Clydebank and Airdrieonians, it is fair to say that we were the first high profile Scottish club to take the administration route. Morton were being run down by ownership problems while the latter pair were running out of funds and fans having sold their grounds with nowhere to go. On the other hand, Motherwell had been chasing riches and glory thanks to the funds of John Boyle and in 2000 had finished fourth, missing out on Europe by a narrow margin.
It was suspected at the time when we were handing out massive contracts to average players that the model would not be sustainable. Our income was not increasing as Boyle had projected but we were not the only ones spending way beyond our means – Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Dunfermline and Dundee United are still millions in debt as a result of this period - and it was just assumed it would all work out in the end. It didn't.
When John Boyle pulled the plug, we had already given up on the dream. We had shipped the big names but plenty of regular professionals were still earning way more than regular payments for producing less than regular performances. It couldn't go on but when we plunged into administration, we were not greeted with accusations and finger pointing but sympathy and good wishes. Fans of other teams contributed to our fighting fund and the common attitude was that we were part of a tragedy and not a scam.
It is obviously not fair to use Rangers as an indicator of current emotions but Portsmouth's blatant financial doping and Port Vale's less successful attempts to spend beyond their means are viewed with open hostility by many. If (when?) Hearts tip themselves over the edge people will feel they had it coming while even Dundee United, Killie and Dunfermline – clubs who cut their budgets brutally to meet their obligations – are beaten with the debt stick on various football forums. There is almost no argument against further increasing the sanctions against clubs now going into administration.
Essentially the reason Motherwell entered administration was to save a rich man from losing £12m rather than merely £9m from following through on contracts he had agreed to pay. When those who lost out most were the likes of Strong, Twaddle and Ready – players who had been paid way beyond what their ability should ever have earned – there was little sympathy on offer. But we did hurt, in a much smaller way, a host of minor creditors and 'normal people' lost their jobs too – something which should lie heavily on the conscience of the multi-millionaire who made the decision to put them at risk.
Did we cheat, were we guilty of financial doping? The simplistic view is yes, we used money from an outside source to attract players we couldn't normally afford and then welched on paying them. However, when you consider the details, had John Boyle written off the extra investment needed to avoid administration we would soon have been able to outbid Partick Thistle for the likes of Burns and Craigan regardless. We took a short cut but when we wouldn't have paid out from our limited budget to service a loan or interest payments, what advantage did we gain? We were lucky to avoid relegation in 2003 that could have made life completely different and it is also worth remembering John Boyle could easily have arranged to regain some of his investment and leave other creditors with next to nothing had he been so inclined.
In conclusion, we have no need for guilt about our actions on a sporting level. But there is still no denying that ripping up contracts and walking away from our debts was a morally dubious action which has left a stain on our history which can never be cleansed.