GLF78 - Eddie give a fitting tribute to a genius of a centre half
True Steelmen, Legends of our Club
Sadly, not many Motherwell FC Captains have ever lifted silverware at Scottish football`s premier arena, Hampden Park. And no normal family in the sleepy Ayrshire village of Dreghorn on the second of January 1923 could've guessed that their latest new-born baby would be lifting the Scottish League Cup, adorned with claret and amber ribbons, in front of 64,000 fans almost 28 years later, but then, the Paton family was most definitely not a normal one. With three of Andy's Uncles having had already played football at a high level in both Scotland and England, turning out for Clubs like Motherwell, St. Mirren, Newcastle United, Portsmouth, Derby County, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford and Swansea City, the chances were young Andrew would always have one eye on a leather ball and some dubbin !!!
It became apparent at an early age that Andy, although lacking a little in stature, was a special footballer, even within the rich seam of talent that was Ayrshire Junior football at that time. Indeed, in 1937 at the ripe old age of 14, the future Steelman had the local scribes waxing lyrical following his debut in the blue and white of Irvine Meadow. Five years later, aged 19 and a little and into the 1942/3 season, Andy decided to take the plunge and leave Kello Rovers, accepting an invitation from Motherwell manager, John 'Sailor' Hunter of a trial in deepest Lanarkshire in an attempt to secure a football career at the top level. By November, Andy had convinced Mr Hunter that he was worth a punt, a punt that would reap the Football Club the dividend of over 500 first team appearances over fifteen seasons.
The first four seasons at Motherwell would see Andy settle into the Fir Park defence performing admirably in the war time Southern District League, which yielded successive top half finishes. Indeed, so well had Andy played during this period, he was called up to the Scottish national team for the third game in a row, putting in a sterling performance against Belgium in a 2-2 friendly (unofficial) match in January 1946. One newspaper at this time described our hero as, "a Centre-half with skills not always possessed by pivots, ball control and dribbling ability for instance. His tackling and fine passes along with his superior anticipation, which could aptly be described as bordering on clairvoyant, must give this young man a chance to become afootballing Prince amongst men". Season 1946/47 saw Scottish football return to normality after the World War, although down Fir Park way the new set up signalled changes. Mr Hunter stood down as manager after an incredible 35 years leaving the way for Club hero George Stevenson to take over. The football squad itself had seen a complete overhaul over the war years, with the new manager himself being the only link between the pre-war Motherwell side and the post-war outfit.
Andy's first 'official' appearance in claret and amber (given that his previous 100 or so outings were in unofficial competitions during the war) was at Fir Park against Rangers in August 1946 which, sadly, didn't go the hosts way (what's new!!!) in a 4-2 reverse. The Steelmen would go on to perform inconsistently in the new-look league, finishing a respectable 8th out of 16 clubs, with Andy playing in 38 games out of a possible 41 in all competitions. 1947/48 season saw the Firparkers open in terrific style winning 7 of their first 8 league matches, encouraging better crowds along to the stadium than had been seen for some time. Sadly though, injuries took hold and an already small squad (sounds familiar???) was stretched to a degree which saw the Club finished yet again mid-table. There were however a couple of notable firsts to celebrate. Motherwell wore numbers on the back of their jerseys for the first time on the 9th of August, in a thumping 4-0 League Cup win against the only football club mentioned in the Bible, Queen of the South, and Andy Paton scored his first ever Motherwell goal against Partick Thistle in a 2-0 home success in February. Oh, and Celtic put us out of the Scottish Cup with a hotly disputed off-side goal at Parkhead. See it went on even back then!!! Around this time, Andy was head-butted by a Partick Thistle player in an incident which would leave the future Motherwell Captain dubious about shaking hands with an opponent after a game, an act which he very rarely did.
The following two seasons would see the Club perform unspectacularly in all competitions, indeed being perilously close to being relegated to Division B both years. Although generally being inconsistent and poor, 'Well were seen as a 'dangerous' team by opponents given the sides ability to 'put it all together' on any given day. Pumping Hibernian 5-1, St. Mirren 4-1, Albion Rovers 8-3, Clyde 5-2, the Champions Rangers 4-0 and Aberdeen 5-1 should have given 'Well fans an indication of what was to follow in the Cup competitions over the following seasons.
Season 1950/51 saw the League Cup kick-off the campaign, with the Steelmen bagging 5 wins out of 6 against Airdrie, Hearts and Partick Thistle, booking the Club a 2-legged Quarter-Final against Celtic. The Hoops were pumped at Fir Park 4-1 allowing Motherwell to stroll through the 2nd leg, leaving Second Division Ayr United as the last obstacle before a possible national final. Being Motherwell however, we were struggling and left it late to make our move. The 'Well were 3-2 down with six minutes to play before Aitkenhead and Watson secured Motherwell a place against the Champions elect Hibernian at the end of October.
Come the day of the Final, it would be Motherwell who held all the aces against a Hibs side that were sweeping all before them. By half time with the game in deadlock, the Easter Road side appeared to be running out of ideas as Motherwell went for the kill. With two goals in two minutes from Kelly and Forrest, the Lanarkshire side had one hand on the Cup, before a late Watters strike sent the Claret and Amber hordes into delirium. Andy Paton, who'd played in all ten League Cup ties, and had been part of the 1945 beaten finalists (war time), beamed with pride as he lifted the silverware high into the grey Glasgow sky, moments before he himself was lifted, shoulder high by his jubilant team mates, displaying the gleaming trophy to the adoring fans who'd travelled through from Lanarkshire, and were screaming their delight.
After the success in Mount Florida, the league campaign became a little flat, petering out yet again to a mid-table finish, not before though another incredible Cup run, this time in the Scottish. Peterhead and Hamilton Accies were dismissed with ease by the Firparkers before Ayr United yet again caused problems before Motherwell edged a replay 2-1 in front of 27,000 at Fir Park. Hibernian, despite having put six goals by Motherwell in Lanarkshire earlier in the season, were defeated in Cup competition for the second time, 3-2 with Kelly (2) and McLeod being the heroes. Celtic awaited Motherwell in the Scottish Cup Final, and in front 140,000 fans the Steelmen gave a terrific display, dominating for long spells without putting their opponents to the sword. In a scenario with which we are, I'm sure, all familiar, the green and White Hoops snatched a winner leaving all from Lanarkshire thinking of what might have been.
The following season would become indelibly etched in the memory of every Fir Park fan of that era and beyond. Yet again the league form would be mediocre. The League Cup again may have proved fruitful, losing to Dundee in the Semi, but all else would pale into insignificance when on 19th of April, Motherwell , having disposed of Forfar, St. Mirren, Dunfermline, Rangers and Hearts, took their place opposite Dundee in the Scottish Cup Final. With the weather blustery and overcast the Taysiders, with the wind at their backs, dominated proceedings with 'Well Captain Willie Kilmarnock forced to clear off his own goal line no less than 3 times!! After the teams changed round it was Motherwell who took advantage of the conditions, scoring four without reply to secure the Scottish Cup for the first time in the Clubs history.
Less than a month later Andy Paton was rightly rewarded for his football style, (even if it did leave Motherwell fans agog at times with the chances he took whilst dribbling the ball out of defence!!!!) when at last he achieved two (official) Scotland caps, away to Denmark and Sweden, to add to his previous three War time caps. Sadly the world wasn't ready for such skills in the heart of the defence and Andy wouldn't pull on the dark blue again. I reckon that says more about international football, even in that era, than it says about Andrew Paton.
The following season would see Andy start with a bang, scoring his first ever League Cup goal (his 2nd and final goal in 'Well colours) against Rangers in a thrilling 3-3 Fir Park draw, and end in the ignominy of relegation following a 2-1 defeat at Brockville. The summer of ˜53 saw a lot of soul-searching at Fir Park, with the Manager Mr Stevenson, along with several players, considering their positions. Happily for 'Well everybody reported fit and well for the opening home League Cup tie against Kilmarnock which saw a fine 3-0 win. Eight months later the Steelmen were celebrating a championship victory, and promotion back to the top flight.
1954/55 season should have seen Andy Paton come into his prime, but sadly injuries, for the first time in his career, took hold and he made only 11 league appearances as Motherwell for the second time in three years finished in a relegation slot. Happily league reconstruction came along, meaning the 'Well along with Stirling Albion retained their top flight status. George 'Stevie' Stevenson wrapped it as manager and a new era dawned over Fir Park with the appointment of Bobby Ancell. The new manager found it almost impossible to leave out the now legendary Andy, as Paton blossomed with the football philosophy being preached at Fir Park, only missing two from 46 games. The summer of 1956 saw Motherwell decide on a change of signing policy. Driven by Mr Ancell, the Club would return to its roots and search for young, promising local talent, rather than buying seasoned pros. A decision that would have a profound and wonderful effect on the Club over the next few years. Despite this change in direction, Andy remained a stalwart, and retained his place in the increasingly young side, continuing to perform to a level that delighted the Motherwell fans.
Shortly before his 35th birthday Andy, having been laid low with flu, became the latest victim of the Ancell Babes when young Centre Half, John Martis made his Motherwell debut, and immediately became a cornerstone in the managers plans. Andy made one last appearance for the 'Well, a 1-0 win at Fir Park against Dundee, and as he trooped off the pitch, he must have known his time was almost up. Come the Summer of 1958 Andy Paton bade a fond farewell to Fir Park on a free transfer.
With over 500 (official and unofficial) appearances over 15 seasons for Motherwell Football Club, there can be little doubt the impact this Ayrshire man had on our history. Speak to fans of a certain generation, and Andy will be spoken of in almost reverential terms. The kind of player who had you on the edge of your seat, the kind of player you would pay money to watch. You've got to wonder if we'll ever see a Centre Half like Andy ever again. Some say that Andy Paton may well have been the original Motherwell Maverick, but, I'm sure everyone will agree that, Andy Paton is a true, true Motherwell legend.