GLF76: Eddie records the huge contribution made by this 'Well legend.
True Steelmen, Legends of our Club: George Stevenson
George Stevenson, aged 18, was prised away from his local junior outfit, Kilbirnie Ladeside in May 1923 to Fir Park as “Sailor” Hunter tried to arrest an apparent downturn in league fortunes for the Steelmen. The Manager had seen something in the slightly built young man’s ability to “pick a pass” and “link the play” that maybe could be developed into something worthwhile.
The “one for the future” tag given to the Ayrshire lad was soon forgotten on December 8th that same year, when he made his Motherwell entrance at Cathkin Park, the home of Third Lanark. The 4,000 punters in attendance that misty, dank, afternoon could not have envisaged the part this young man would play in shaping Motherwell Football Club over the coming thirty two years.
A further nine first team appearances would come the Inside Left’s way that season, with the highlight his “winner” in March against an Hibernian side defeated 2-1 at Fir Park. The following 1924/25 season would be a bitter disappointment to all at Motherwell, with the club embroiled in a relegation battle which ended with both Ayr United and Third Lanark going down on Goal Difference, to the relief of Motherwell in third bottom. Despite the Club’s troubles that campaign, our hero George amassed a terrific 33 league appearances, yielding 5 goals. The only other bright note in what was a grey season was the installation of the first telephone line within the Main Stand as the Club moved with the technology of the day !!!.
That relegation scare galvanised everybody at Fir Park, who were determined never to be in that position ever again……………and, boy, did it work !!! The next 13 seasons would see the Club finish only once outside the top five in the Division. Four times the Steelmen would be Runners Up, and of course, although I shouldn’t have to remind anyone reading this, 1932 saw the Championship flag being unfurled at Fir Park to the acclaim of everybody in the Town. As has been mentioned before, this period produced a style of football we could only dream about these days, and Motherwell in particular had a side the whole world wanted to see. Everywhere the Steelmen went, the crowds would roll up to see the likes of Stevenson and his left wing sidekick Bobby Ferrier, another true Motherwell legend (more about him in another Issue I hope !!).
George was a mainstay in the Motherwell touring sides of this era that visited the continents of Europe, South America and Africa. Such was the influence of our hero within Fir Park, that only six years into his Motherwell career and at the age of 24 George “Stevie“ Stevenson was award a benefit game by the Club, and a fixture was arranged against Huddersfield Town in September 1929. This was the first official “Testimonial” given by the Club, although the gate receipts for a league game against Celtic in March 1926, was given to Bobby Ferrier as a mark of his service to Motherwell FC.
Stevenson had been the subject of many bids from the rich Clubs in England, the biggest of which came from the legendary Arsenal Manager Herbert Chapman, who slapped a cheque for £11,000 (a World record !!!) on the Fir Park Boardroom table in a bid to tempt a transfer, but for one reason or another the time was never right for both him and the Club.
To the Motherwell fans who idolised him, George become known as “The Prince of Inside Forwards”, not the most smoothest of titles I’ll grant you, but nevertheless well earned. The Press admired his abilities too, with one famous “hack” gushing, “George Stevenson is a magnificent close dribbler, a perceptive finisher and, above all, a man totally integrated with his Wing partner (Ferrier).”
Stevie played his final game for the Club, 16 years after arriving in Lanarkshire, on August 26th 1939, in a 3-2 away defeat to Alloa Athletic, a week before the outbreak of the Second World War. When the Germans invaded Poland, the SFA suspended League football and declared all football player contracts as void, as the Clubs would have no income to pay the players and it would allow the players to be called up for war duty if required.
George Stevenson played 511 league games for Motherwell, scoring 170 goals (not bad for a midfielder!!). In his cabinet he displayed three Scottish Cup Runners Up medals, and a Scottish League Winners Badge. He’d earned 10 League Caps and 12 Full International Caps (a record which still stands for Scots at Fir Park today). For his services to the Club, he was rewarded with a life membership of Motherwell FC, and awarded the gift of 100 Savings Certificates (who says we’re tight !!!)
The re-introduction of “official” League football after the War kicked off in Season 1946/7. Like most other Clubs, Motherwell FC began with a completely new playing squad, bossed by the new Manager George Stevenson following John Hunter‘s decision to step down to secretarial duties. The first few games although inconsistent, saw the debuts of five players who would go on to lay claim to the term, Motherwell legend. Johnny Johnstone, Willie Kilmarnock, Archie Shaw, Andy Paton and Willie Redpath would all go on to help the Club lift the Scottish and League Cups in the coming years. League-wise though, the truth was the Club were “suffering” (if that’s the right word) from mid-table mediocrity. Six years on the bounce produced league finishes between 12th and 7th. It would be Cup competitions however, which would define this era for the Steelmen.
Season 1950/51 saw us kick off the league cup with five wins out of six as we rattled through our Section containing Hearts, Airdrie and Partick Thistle. A two -legged Quarter Final tie against Celtic proved no obstacle to the Fir Parkers, as we pumped them 4-2 on aggregate. When Ayr United appeared for the Semi Final at Hampden Park, they were rolled over by the Claret and Amber machine 4-1, as Motherwell booked their place in the showpiece final against Hibernian. Kelly, Forrest and Watters all scored to secure the trophy for the first (and only) time in a convincing 3-0 win. Sadly the triumph at Hampden did little to fire up the displays/results in the league, but when the Scottish Cup kicked off three months later, the team would be transformed back into (almost) world-beaters.
An away win at Peterhead saw us through to a home tie with the Accies. 18,000 fans turned up to Fir Park to watch the Steelmen rifle four past our neighbours as the Club breezed into the Quarters, where Ayr United again lay in wait. Almost fifty thousand people combined took in the first game (2-2) and the replay at Fir Park, as Motherwell edged through in Extra Time, winning by the odd goal in five. The Semi-Final saw the troops head to Tynecastle to face Hibs for the fourth time that season. As usual the Leith side proved a tough nut to crack. Despite our opponents going down to ten men after only 15 minutes due to injury, Hibs ran us close in a five goal thriller which saw the Steelmen clinch a place in their second Cup Final of the season, where Celtic lay in wait. 132,000 fans turned up at Hampden that day, and saw a game totally dominated by the Lanarkshire outfit. The amount of goal-scoring chances created by the men in Claret and Amber was sadly matched by the profligacy of actually taking them. A single goal from the Glasgow side sent Motherwell to a defeat that simply wasn’t deserved.
Motherwell FC’s time in the Hampden Park sun though, would only be 12 months away.
The following pre-season saw the Chairman Alex McNay quoted as saying “we will spare no effort to see if we can get what we know you all want to see on the Fir Park sideboard……the Scottish Cup.” Did he really know something ?!?
The League Cup, and the 1st Division had run it’s, by now, normal course for Motherwell, a Hampden Semi-Final defeat against Dundee, and unspectacular form in the League. But come the new year of 1952, the “Cup Fighters” were reborn under the Manager, Stevenson. Given four “away” draws on the bounce against Forfar, St. Mirren, Dunfermline and Rangers, this didn’t prevent the Steelmen reaching yet another Semi-Final, albeit, replays were required to dispose of the latter two sides. Our old chums, The Jambos would be stand between Motherwell and yet another Scottish Cup Final. Three games(2 replays) played in front of a total of almost a quarter of a million punters, were needed to edge our way to the final showdown with Dundee. History will tell you, Motherwell blasted the Dark Blues with an impeccable display, and the Scottish Cup was heading to “God’s Country” for the first time.
The following season would start with more silverware in the shape of the Lord’s Provost Charity Cup, which saw the League Champions Hibs scudded by the Cup Winners Motherwell 5-1. Sadly it was all downhill from then on. Early exits from both Cups, and major injury problems in defence culminated in Motherwell being relegated despite averaging almost two goals scored per game. The word was that George Stevenson had considered his resignation, but he’d decided he didn’t want to the leave the Club he’d grown to love in such a situation. 1953/54 saw Motherwell romp to the Division B Title (and to another Semi of the Scottish Cup) scoring over 100 goals in thirty matches, although worryingly, the defence still seemed apt at losing goals, almost 1.5 per game.
Determined to succeed in the top division playing football the “Sailor” Hunter way, Stevenson stayed largely faithful to his Division B squad, only bringing in Goalkeeper Hastie Weir to take over from Cup Hero, Johnny Johnstone. Despite reaching the League Cup Final, the “bread and butter games”, although entertaining, didn’t bring the rewards it could’ve. Thirty games played, 42 goals scored, 62 lost, second bottom. Only League reconstruction saved us from a second demotion in three years. It became too much for Stevie, and after a family holiday he returned to Fir Park and tendered his resignation. It was a sad way for a true Motherwell legend to end his time with us.
George Stevenson‘s time as our Manager saw the Club reach three Cup Semi Finals and four Cup Finals, winning two, in his nine years in charge. A record he could be proud of.
When coupled with his achievements as a player in Claret and Amber, George Stevenson is without doubt the most “decorated” Steelman of all time. Furthermore his thirty-two years service he gave to this Football Club is something we should all celebrate and never, ever forget.
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