GLF79 - Eddie pays tribute to of our our greats
When Stephen Kirk was born it would have been a bleak mid-winters day in a town in deepest darkest Fife, still coming to terms with the hangover from the Hogmanay party which took us into 1963. The boy who would become the darling of the Motherwell faithful was always seen as gifted individual who had a good presence about him, although lacking perhaps a yard of pace.
Despite being on the radar of a variety of top clubs, it would be his local team, East Fife, who would take the chance on Stevie in the Summer of 1979 at the age of 16. It wouldn’t take him long to make his mark in the pro ranks. Two seasons in the Black and Gold would yield a terrific eight goals in 25 appearances, alerting bigger clubs from both sides of the border. It was Stoke City manager, Alan Durban, who would take the chance on the blonde haired youngster, persuading him to leave home and make a go of it in the Potteries. Stevie would make 12 appearances down south and although Stoke didn’t want him to leave, Kirkie felt he wasn’t making fast enough progress, and took the opportunity to move back up the road to Firhill. Life with Partick Thistle didn’t sit well with Kirkie, and he returned home to East Fife as he continued his nomadic period. Despite dropping back into the lower leagues, he did keep his profile high continuing his happy knack of notching goals and keeping injury-free. Stevie spent eighteen good months in Methil , with the club narrowly missing out on promotion.
Meanwhile, something was stirring in ML1 as Tommy McLean had begun weaving his magic at Fir Park. Two years earlier following a turbulent period in Motherwell’s history Tommy, along with assistant Tom Forsyth, had given up the opportunity to lead Morton into the Premier League to take the reigns at Fir Park. A year later the new management team led MFC back to the Premier League at the first attempt. The first year back in the promised land almost ended in tears when only League reconstruction saved the club from immediate relegation. Determined to take advantage of our good fortune, the club invested in the summer of 1986. Paul Smith, Gordon Mair, John Philliben, Ray Farningham, Dougie Arnott, Tom McAdam and Craig Paterson all arrived in Lanarkshire. Of course Stevie Kirk also made his way up Airbles Road with Raymond Blair and £35,000 heading to East Fife.
The would-be legend made his debut at Easter Road in August in an uninspiring 0-0 draw. Seven days later he was celebrating scoring his first goals in Claret and Amber at Douglas Park, a double in a fine 3-0 win. A little over two months later Stevie would etch his first, but not the last, little piece of legend onto the fabric of the history of our club, by scoring in the Motherwell centenary match against a famous Liverpool side, pouncing on a rebound to hit an equaliser high into the net. Stevie would go on to make 44 appearances in his debut season both at Motherwell and at the top level, scoring eleven goals, a great return in any language.
The goal in that first season which stands out came at Tynecastle one cold February night. Our hero picked up a throw out from the normally erratic John Gardiner, sped by the dug outs on the right hand side, before unleashing a terrific 25 yard shot past Henry Smith to secure a good 1-1 draw at what was a daunting venue to play at that time. The following 1987/88 season saw Stevie enjoy a four goal haul in an August friendly at Gayfield, and most likely grimaced as his OG at Hampden helped Rangers beat the Steelmen 2-1 in a League Cup Semi Final. An eighth-place finish for the club and 45 appearances / six goals was a good return for both the big Fifer and his club. 1988/89 would see the midfield schemer seriously develop his habit of ghosting in at the back post to notch goals. a superb eighteen goals from 38 appearances had convinced even the most hard to please ‘Well fan, that the “White Pele” could make a significant contribution to our club. Kirkie’s goal against Rangers at Fir Park in January helped secure a great 2-1 win was memorable, but the 2,700 fans who witnessed his four goal tally at home to St. Mirren in April would surely never forget it. Although this would be Stevie’s best seasonal scoring return, strangely it was a display at Tynecastle on a cold October afternoon between the sticks which would enhance the legend of Stevie Kirk a little bit more.
Motherwell’s number one Cammy Duncan was the victim of a tackle by Wayne Foster, a little wretch detested by all in Claret and Amber to a man, and had to hobble off giving his gloves to our hero as he went. For the next 80 minutes the midfielder became “Kirky the Kat”. A terrific penalty save from the aforementioned little Jambo nugget would inspire his team-mates to come from two down to salvage a fine draw with strikes from Farningham and Paterson. The following season would see Motherwell Football Club transformed with the arrival for £50,000 from Rangers of David Cooper. Stevie was only one of a squad of players who would benefit from the “Coop” vision and passing ability. Cooper’s debut down at Rugby Park has been recalled by many a ‘Well fan purring at not only the “new boys” display, but the different attitude in and around the stadium that night. Although Stevie would score ten goals this season, his 39 appearances would be more and more made up as a substitute. I know that his increasing familiarity with the No. 12 shirt didn’t sit too well with him, but strangely enough it did seem to give not only to him but also the club and it’s fans fresh imputeus. A 6th place finish (behind Celtic on goal difference) in the Premier League could not have hinted at the roller-coaster ride on which the club and Stevie Kirk were about to embark on over to coming years. Sadly, Kirkie only scored one league goal in season 1990/91, the third in a 3-0 win over the Perth Saints. Happily though in the Scottish Cup of 1991, he along with the rest of that legendary squad were always at the top of their game.
Without going too deeply yet again into the Cup run, our hero hit three goals in three ties against Aberdeen, Falkirk and Celtic, netting in the penalty shoot out against Morton before appearing at the back post in the Final to knock home the winner to become the club greatest modern day “God”
With the Scottish Cup safely lock away in the Fir Park trophy cabinet, the legend of “Kid” Kirk would continue apace, with the scoring of the clubs first ever European goal against GKS Katowice. Stevie netted the first and third goals in a 3-1 first round, second leg European Cup Winners Cup tie at Fir Park. Sadly it wouldn’t be enough as the Steelman lost out on away goals after a 3-3 draw on aggregate. Almost a year to the day after at Dens Park, referee Jim McCluskey controversially sent off Motherwell ‘keeper Billy Thomson, and Stevie Kirk was once again put between the sticks. With the clock ticking towards the 90 minute mark, the ten men, sitting at 1-1 (Uncle Phil having equalised) , Dougie Arnott broke free and pulled down for a penalty by the Dundee No.1. McCluskey merely waving a yellow card at the ‘keeper infuriated the watching ‘Well fans. That fury would turn to disbelief as Luc Nijholts penalty bounced off the ‘keepers knee, leading directly to a Dark Blues winner. All in Claret and Amber were left devastated, and no one more so than the heroic stand-in Motherwell ‘keeper. The big Fifer would be back doing what he did best the following April, when he and David Cooper netted to beat Celtic 2-0 at Fir Park. 1993/4 would see Motherwell go very, very close to winning the Premier League Title, finishing four points adrift. Stevie yet again made a significant contribution, netting another eight goals from midfield. The season finished with Tommy McLean resigning and Alex McLeish taking over.
February 1995 would see Stevie Kirk’s last appearance in Claret and Amber in a Scottish Cup tie at Easter Road. Sadly there was to be no fairy-tale ending as Hibs ran out comfortable winners. The new manager saw fit to sign Eddie May from Falkirk, in return for Stevie Kirk, Paul McGrillen and £100,000. A breathtaking bit of business…………..for Falkirk !!!!!! A couple of weeks later, the Bairns rolled into Fir Park, guess who scores? Yep, Kirky boy (the goal incredibly applauded in parts of the East Stand). To be fair, Eddie May also scored in what was an entertaining 2-2 draw. The love affair between our favourite Fifer and our club was over for the time being.
289 appearances, yielding 74 goals from midfield are stats which are unlikely to be bettered in the modern game, and I’m sure everyone was delighted when he was welcomed back to Fir Park firstly doing a bit of corporate work on match days, and now augmenting that with some coaching of young Steelmen. I’ve been around Fir Park for a right few years now, and I’ve seen a few Motherwell legends, but I haven’t seen many written before my very own eyes. The story of Stephen Kirk from Windygates is one that will surely be handed down from generation to generation in Motherwell FC households until the end of time.
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