The boy Phil speaks
Me And Phil Down By The School Yard
(The interview was conducted at Taylor High School)
WELL, SINCE WE'RE HERE, HOW DID YOU LIKE SCHOOL?
I liked certain subjects, like maths, but some I hated like science and English. A lot of the time I just went down to P.E. and kicked a ball about!!!
EXPLAIN BRIEFLY HOW YOU SIGNED FOR M.F.C. AND WORKED UP TEROUGH THE RANKS.
When I signed schoolboy form I was playing with Hamilton Colts for about eight months. Then Motherwell set up boys clubs from under-12 to under-18. Last year I signed full-time then got a wee break from the reserves to the first team. The boys clubs were a really good experience and a lot of the boys that I played with are still there.
WHAT FACTORS ATTRACTED YOU TO SIGN FOR MOTHERWELL?
I was training with a few other clubs but Motherwell were the first to ask. At that time I was fourteen years of age and desperate to make it known that I'd signed for someone. I enjoyed the training at Fir Park, it was local so there wasn't any hassle travelling.
DID YOU EXPECT TO BE BROUGHT INTO THE FIRST TEAM SO QUICKY?
I didn't expect to make my debut so quickly after only fifteen full reserve games. Then against St. Mirren I didn't play too well and got bombed out again. Another spell in the reserves helped me and when I came back in I was a lot stronger because I had done a lot of weights and I was also a bit pacier. Luckily enough I had a good game, got a wee bit of confidence in myself and the boss kept playing me.
WHAT POSITION WERE YOU PLAYING IN THE RESERVES?
I was playing centre-half for the main reason that they wanted to harden me up a bit. Playing at the back you need to tackle and dig a bit, whereas in midfield it's not so much of a necessity. Even though I was playing at the back, the manager was encouraging me to break forward, so it wasn't as if it was holding me back in any way.
DO YOU ENKOY THE FRANTIC, 10OMPHFOOTBALL IN THE PREMIER DIVISION OR WOULD YOU PREFER THE SLOW, PATIENT BUILD-UP?
I think I'd rather play the way they play on the continent. Germany in pre-season suited me down to a tee, where you got the ball and could go at walking pace up until thirty yards from goal before somebody tried to tackle you. I enjoyed that much better.
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH YOUR GOALS TALLY OR ARE YOU ONLY INTERESTED IN PUITING IN A GOOD, ALL-ROUND DISPLAY?
I don't seem to be buzzing as much in front of goal. I've missed a lot of chances this year that I should have scored and have to work on that because my finishing is poor. It worries me a wee bit but I 'm not going to lose any sleep over it!! As long as I'm putting the work in in midfield and I'm getting up and down the park, it doesn't worry me. But I suppose I'll have to start scoring soon because I should really aim for between 8-12 goals per year and I’ve only scored one this year but I should have scored more. It worries me a wee bit, but nothing drastically.
WHICH SET UP WOULD YOU PREFER - 44 MATCHES OR 36?
Well, I've got a lot to thank the 44 game set-up for, because without it I don't think I would have made my breakthrough to the first team as quickly. My first game put a lot of pressure on me but for the second game it had been decided there was no relegation so there was no pressure on me, so if I had a nightmare it was my fault. I could go out and enjoy myself and relax. I've got a lot to thank it for but I don't like it now. It's beginning to take its toll of the legs, especially the midweek games. It's not too bad for the bigger clubs with 18 of a squad but we're really struggling without depth in our squad. I mean, two or three injuries and you have to worry about who's coming in next. I definitely think there's room for improvement because it's killing the players and it's killing the game. From the spectators point of view it's a lot of money if you go to three games a week - £18 just for you to get in. Add transport costs, programmes and refreshments and it ends up at £30 a week.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CLUB?
I like it! It's a really good bunch of boys in the club and there isn't any animosity between players. There's always a good laugh with great characters like Colin O'Neill, Davie Cooper, Stevie Kirk and Iain Ferguson, so it's a good laugh!!
WE’VE GOT TO ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR CUP FINAL GOAL - AND A HEADER AS WELL! !DID YOU NOT EVEN FLINCH SLIGHTLY WITH BOOTS FLYING EVERYWHERE?
Naw, naw, you never think about that. If you see the chance to score you just lunge at it. I tried to keep it on target and it went in. But I never really thought about it. Even after I'd scored I didn't think of it, it was when I started running I couldn't catch my breath and I went down. It wasn't until after it when I saw pictures and replays on the video when I realised, I could have got hurt there!!'
WERE YOU EVER WORRIED ABOUT BEING SELECTED FOR THE FINAL? SOME PEOPLE FELT IT ALL BE TOO MUCH FOR A YOUNG CHAPPIE LIKE YOURSELF!
I was worried about that up until the boss picked me. But there were rumours going about that Colin O'Neill wouldn't be playing, so that, in a way, boosted my confidence a wee bit. There were a lot of players saying,”You're a certainty to get picked".I thought I had a wee chance. But 1 was still nervous!!!
HOW ARE YOU ENJOYING THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE WITH THE UNDER-21s?
I love it. It's a great experience, a totally different game from what we play here. It takes time to adjust but it's good mixing with other players. The trips are good as well, you get a good laugh, but the football's totally different. You get a lot more time when you play a continental team. When we played in Germany pre-season, we hammered them because we were getting a lot more time and were probably fitter than them. The continentals are a lot better at keeping the ball than us, but you get a lot more time to pick your passes.
WHAT ARE YOUR OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE KATOWICE GAMES?
In Poland, I felt we were really unlucky because we had chances to score and it was just the last thing that we did. The way we played with five across the middle with two wide men caused them trouble. I wouldn't say the return was a football game, more of a "get the ball in the box as often as you can!!" I didn't play too well, but I still enjoyed the occasion. We were disappointed because we felt we threw away chances. We had two or three chances that we would normally have buried. Maybe it was the tension and pressure, but we were unlucky. Even when Kirkie scored the third I thought we could still do it because I thought there was still 5 minutes left as the boss was shouting to us just to play right up, but there was only seconds left. They were walking about and taking time over free kicks, but everybody does that. If there was 2 minutes to go against Rangers and we were in the lead, we would be kicking the ball as far out Fir Park as possible!!!!!
DID YOU TAKE ANY NOTICE OF MEDIA SPECULATION CONCERNING YOUR FUTURE?
That's just paper talk, flannelling, trying to stir up a wee bit of news in the club.I haven't heard anything so I think I'll be here for a while yet. I enjoy it here so there's not really any reason for me to move just now. I've read about some of it but I've never really took any notice of it. I've took a bit of stick at the park off the boys for it, but my family and the boss just bring me back down to earth.
SOME PEOPLE SEE YOU IN THE MOULD OF BRYAN ROBSON- WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT COMPAR I SON?
That's just people making up stupid things. You can't compare yourself to someone whose got so many caps for England and played so many hundred games for Manchester United. The papers might consider me at that level but I don't.
JUST HOW MUCH DO YOU MISS MIDFIELD BATTLERS (SPECIFICALLY COLIN O'NEILL) IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PARK NEXT TO YOU?
You do miss them sometimes. A lot of the time when there's a ball-winner there it gives me a free role and more chances to go forward. But there's players who can come in and do the same job. Sometimes it's good to have someone who's going to work at the rate you work at, like Jim Griffen or Ian Angus, whereas Colin would sit back for you.
HOW MUCH HAS DAVIE COOPER AND BOBBY RUSSELL'S EXPERIENCE HELPED YOU?
They're really good the way they pass the ball to you and you don't expect it. But now I'm getting used to it and I'll keep running because I know Coop's going to put in the reverse pass. They are always encouraging you and if you're struggling, the two of them can get you out of tight areas. The skill they've got is unbelievable. I enjoy playing with them because they can split open a defence and that suits me. I don't think we'll drop when they stop playing. Coop's a great player and does a lot for Motherwell, but somebody else is always coming in. I think he's got another season or two left in him yet so I don't think we have to worry about that just now.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE THE CLUB WILL ACHIEVE IN THE IMEDIATE FUTURE?
I would hope we can stay in the top half of the Premier League. I feel there are a lot of teams in the division that we are better than, although we've not show it this season. We've got to be looking to get into the last 8-16 of both of the cups. Hopefully a good run in the Scottish Cup and finishing fourth in the league or at least in the top six. Of course, we're hoping to get back into Europe through our league position although I'd rather qualify through winning the cup. The cup means you're going through as winners. Saying that, through the league is your overall performance throughout the year, whereas the cup is maybe five games. But I'd say the Cup Winners Cup is the better one to play in because there's a better atmosphere and winning the cup is another bonus; a wee bit of a buzz.
WHAT DO YOU SEE THE REST OF THE CURRENT SEASON HOLDING FOR US?
We could be further up the League. We've had a few games we should have won and didn't. I don't think the European scene is away from us yet. It's only half-way through the season and we're only a few points off the pace. It's only three or four wins and you're up there. It's still within our reach to win that last European place if we get our heads down.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF "FANS" WHO COME ALONG SOLELY TO SHOUT ABUSE?
It's not positive, but they've paid their money and are allowed to shout at you. I’ve not had it too bad, but there are players who get it every week, but you don't take any notice of it. You don't really notice the crowd unless you're taking throw-ins, because your concentrating. You get a lot of stick from people saying you were shocking but nobody realises it more than the player himself. But everybody has their off-days.
DO YOU THINK THE YOUNGER PLAYERS SHOULD BE GIVEN AN EXTENDED RUN?
The young players' time will come. They've all had a wee chance - Paul McGrillen, Brycie and Jim Gardner. Jim's got a wee chance (like I got) just now and hopefully he can take it. There's a lot of strikers at Fir Park - McGrillen, Arnott, Brycie, Kirkie, Fergie, Nick and Joe - there's a lot to choose from!!! I think Paul McGrillen will get his chance because he's a good player but he's only had one or two games on the trot. But you need a run in the team.
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE SCOTTISH CUP?
It 's a totally different gane. It refreshes you and gives you a break from the normal games. in the cup you've to play anybody. It could be a wee team. I'm really looking forward to it as I enjoyed it last year!!!!!
ARE YOU NEVER WARY OF HOW INTERVIEWERS CAN TWIST YOUR WORDS?
They always twist, it. I've read an actual interview when you say to yourself "No, I never said that!!" Then they ask you questions you're not too sure about and you pass on them but they just put an answer in for you. So far, I've not had anything really bad written about me - AND I HOPE IT STAYS THAT WAY!!!!!
Taking that last comment as more than a subtle hint, the interrogation came to an end, as the G.L.F. lawyers were put on stand-by!!!
Many thanks to my old school, Taylor High, for allowing us to use the premises, Mr McGurk for all his assistance, Rab "fae the lab" Stewart photographer extraordinaire, and of course Phil O'Donnell himself. Despite being very modest about his own ability, I am sure that he will be able to class himself in the same league as Bryan Robson - and hopefully in a Claret and Amber jersey!!!
by CM. & M.K.
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