Maurice Malpas, Mark McGhee, Jim Gannon, Craig Brown and our next boss will all have spent time in the Fir Park hot seat by summer 2011 meaning there will have been five incumbents in five years. Even by modern standards this is a ridiculous turnover and it is hard to believe that Motherwell FC were once known for stability and prudence.
From 1911 to 1973 we had only four managers and, with the very odd exception, faced triumph and calamity with our feet firmly on the ground. It helped that our first real manager, the legendary Sailor Hunter, turned the team into a major force in Scottish football after he took the reins before the First World War. Gradual progress was made in the Scottish Cup and then the league before the peak was reached in 1932 with the club’s only championship. A further seven years of close calls followed but after the Second World War the team emerged with a new leader – George Stevenson.
Stevenson had been a mainstay in Hunter’s glorious teams and was one of the finest forwards in the country. The transition to the manager’s office was a fraction bumpy but again patience was rewarded with cup triumphs in both 1950 and 1952. Things went wrong the season after our Scottish Cup win but 1953 saw problems and the club were relegated. Not only was Stevenson not removed from his position during the dismal campaign, he was given the opportunity to make things right in Division B. He did just that by earning an immediate promotion and it was only at the end of another poor top flight year he offered his resignation.
The departure of Stevenson created the start of a new famous at era at Fir Park as the board made the wise move of appointing Bobby Ancell. He cultivated a wonderful young team which played brilliant football but came up just short of claiming titles. Semi final defeats in the early 1960s hurt badly but were not nearly as painful as throwing away the championship in 1959 with a horrific run in January and February when the side had dominated the season until Christmas.
Ancell departed after nine years to join Dundee and Bobby Hewitt became the last of the enduring Motherwell managers. He actually started with success, winning the 1964 Summer Cup – admittedly with Ancell’s players – but there were problems ahead as this team broke up and relegation arrived near the end of the decade. Again the club showed patience with the man in charge though and Howitt successfully led the team back to Division One at the first attempt. Howitt eventually resigned in 1973 though a run of mid-table finishes was hardly a real firing offence.
This was the end of an era of four managers in 62 years and it was followed by seven in 11. It was only the arrival of Tommy McLean which finally settled things down again in 1984 and since his departure, in 1994, only one Motherwell manager – Terry Butcher – has completed four seasons in charge. However, with the last three years under three different managers, producing a third place finish and three trips to Europe, it is hard to argue we have suffered greatly from a lack of continuity. Indeed, with budgets in the SPL barely stretching beyond the end of the current season, the question can be asked if stability remains a virtue to be cherished in modern football?