And so we drag ourselves on to the end of Season 1997-98, so much has happened during the past 3 never mind 12 months that it’s difficult to know exactly where to begin!! We have a new manager, and a good one at that, a team which at long last looks like it believes in it’s own ability, and genuine hope for the future and that long sought after Great Leap Forward. There is much work to be done but the signs are good.
Harri Kampman in has, I feel, been an absolute breath of fresh air about Fir Park. Players are taking responsibility, the defence talking to each other like they have known each other more than five minutes, and, most importantly for me, a fighting spirit to come from a goal down. The best example of that was against Rangers, but in three league matches in-a-row we went behind and managed to level. Only twice under McLeish did we manage to come back from a goal down, and that was in three years. I was a McLeish fan, I made no secret of that, but I was big enough to admit he made mistakes, and the way he left the club destroyed any respect I had for the man. I do believe that Kampman is a better man manager and clearly a better motivator of players than McLeish. He has also kept to his word of ensuring everyone gets their chance.
It is next season that the full benefit of Harri’s management will be felt, the signing of Stefan Lindqvist a masterstroke and there are as lot more to come. He is highly respected all over Europe, spotted talent the likes of Jari Litmanen (who, despite all the changes at Ajax has kept his place in such a talented, competitive squad), and has a track record of improving a side going nowhere (MyPa-47) from Second Division no-hopers to challenging for the honours in Finland. May not be right to compare Finnish football with Scottish Football, but the principles are the same, and Harri has already proven to me he has what it takes. Having been in charge for 8 matches now we have stopped leaking goals (up to the Kilmarnock match less than a goal-a-game, compared with the average up to then of almost 1.7) and we carry a constant goal threat. With three games to go nothing is certain yet, but I do trust that Harri will keep us up and take us into the new Premiership (thankfully, I hope, Hibs-less and McLeish-less). The Celtic and Dunfermline (away) results apart, he has picked the team up for sure.
One aspect of recent weeks which has pleased me rather a lot is the emergence of Eliphas Shivute who has exploded back on the scene. I know he joined way back in September of last year, and after an explosive start to his career with us it tailed off somewhat, but he has found self-belief installed somewhat I think by Harri Kampman. Safa’s performances against Hearts and Kilmarnock showed a great improvement on his form earlier in the season, the way he eased past the Killie defender and despite giving Marshall yards of a start still managed to get to the ball though it unfortunately fell inches past. I said away back when we signed Eliphas that we had signed someone who was going to become a major star, he was rated one of the best players at the recent African Nations Cup and was so feared by other teams he regularly had three defenders watching his every move.
Teams like Marseille pursued him in Burkina Faso, yet Safa showed his loyalty to Motherwell by refusing to speak to the Agents and making it clear he was a Motherwell player and wanted to remain so. And it was Shivute who told the Namibian FA that he wanted to remain at Motherwell rather than go to play for Namibia in the COSAFA Cup tie, a crucial match, with Zimbabwe, so that he could cement his place in the squad and thank Motherwell for giving him the opportunity to play for us. In Namibia Safa is rated as highly as Frankie Fredericks, he is a major star over there, and Motherwell are mentioned regularly on TV and in the press, giving us exposure. It is one of the few good things McLeish ever did for us, so I guess he did something right!!
I heard a disturbing rumour that there were several attempts on the go to save Hibernian from relegation, including one absurd story of increasing the league to 11 teams for next season. That in itself would be unworkable, but believable in that Gold is going to look pretty stupid being the Spokesman for the Premiership with his club in Division One where they belong.
Other clubs are pointing to the fact we have been saved many a time; correct me if I am wrong, but 13 years ago wasn’t it the case that change was more or less a certainty before ourselves and Clydebank were in trouble? Back in the fifties it was to save us, it also happened to save Celtic so I am told. A sixteen team league is the answer, only 30 league matches a season, and with the current top ten (add to that the top six from Division One) and it would be more than competitive. The other option I thought of was the 12-team league playing each other twice up to Christmas. After that, the top six fight for the title playing each other once, as with the bottom six fighting relegation - 32 games and the guarantee of competition the whole season through. It could be Dunfermline go down, but they needn’t have to. No-one ever thinks of consulting the fans and taking their opinions on board, why should they, after all we only fund the game.
I feel a certain sympathy for the likes of Falkirk and Raith Rovers that they are denied the opportunity to take on a Premier side with the prize at stake a place in next Season’s Premiership, I can imagine if it were us in their position, battling their way through most of the season knowing that even though Dundee were running away with the title at least there would be the play-off……..then having that taken away and a prize around only an eighth of the value given as a “consolation” effort. As Eliphas Shivute said to me in the Interview I did with him, football is very much a money sport and anyone with any doubts on that has surely now been completely educated.
I hear we are to have a new strip next season, made not by Pony (I am as relieved as anyone, at least we might get the strip before next season kicks-off now). I have seen the home strip, very impressive indeed and a must to buy, much more traditional and what a Motherwell strip is all about. The away strip is also a cracker, though I am very annoyed that we have to shell out another £80-odd if, like me, you want to be bang up-to-date. I know I don’t need to go and buy it, but there are loads of young ‘Well fans who will moan the ears off their parents to get them. Hopefully there is a clause in the contract saying absolutely no new strips, third strips, strips exclusively for friendlies etc. etc. until season 2000-2001 at the earliest. Gone are those days when a new strip was a real event, it’s almost as regular an occurrence as a certain obese Geordie receiving a booking.
And to end this rant with, an Advert!! If you want quality service and good petrol prices, and the guarantee of being served by a true Motherwell Legend, go to the newly-opened Esso Petrol Station which is at the top of the Bogs Brae (the Dual-Carriageway between Hamilton and Coatbridge) near Bellshill. None other than the great Oh, Willie Willie, Willie Willie Willie Willie Pettigrew runs the joint. Spoke to him the other night, this man definitely has Motherwell blood coursing through his veins. Doesn’t look a lot different from the days when he scored virtually at will, I managed to catch a goal he got in the 3-2 win over Celtic at Parkhead in the mid-seventies on video the other week. I really wish Willie and Tommy Coyne could have played together at the heights of their careers at Fir Park - no amount of money could have bought talent such as that. Brings to mind what your favourite Well team could have been, I only regret never having seen Willie play for the ‘Well, though in some way I can show my appreciation of what he did for the ‘Well by getting my petrol at his Garage!!
Have a good Summer everyone - I’m off to Tenerife, armed with the home and the away strip. After all, you must dress your best on your Holibags!! Cheers, and here’s to life in the New Premiership - goodbye, Hibee losers!!
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