For many Motherwell (and football) fans going to the football on a Saturday to see their heroes is the best feeling in the football world, especially when the team are doing so well under manager Stuart McCall but tomorrow will be not only be about the events on the park, the focus will be on what happens before is even kicked.
Many of us will remember what they were doing the day that the heard the tragic news that Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell died, I was in my place of work, knowing only then that he had collapsed on the pitch and nothing more, by the time I headed for home Phil had sadly passed away.
It was almost too unreal and too sad to take in-this was a young man who was fit and was one of the good guys in the game, no one had a bad word to say about Phil.
He was a skilful player who proved that and he was also a brave young man as he proved when scoring in the famous 4-3 win over Dundee United, he was indeed a decent man who deserved a lot more than he got from his short life.
In his time playing football Phil won the Scottish Cup with Motherwell in 1991 and with Celtic in 1995 and the SPL with Celtic in 1998 as well as the Young Player of the Year in 1992 and 1994, injuries and this cruel twist of fate meant that Phil had lost his battle for life and left an empty space in the lives of his young family and all his friends in the world of football.
It did take many days and weeks afterwards to sink in, indeed for Phil’s family and close friends, it may take forever to get over what had happened to their beloved Phil.
The football community came together united in shock and grief at the loss of a man in his prime. He was only 35 years old and left behind a wife and four children but they would never walk alone.
Times like this football reacted the way that it only knows how and both of Phil’s former clubs came together in a match to celebrate the life of a popular young man indeed and show the family that they had the support they needed in this trying time for the family.
Celtic Park was bathed in sunshine as the legends from the title-winning team from 1998 from Celtic Football Club and the Motherwell Scottish Cup Winning side of
1991, players from yester year came back to Paradise to honour a young man who played for both great teams but who sadly passed away on December 29th 2007.
The players and the fans who turned out for Phil for his tribute match, showed exactly what he meant to everybody the 5-1 score line didn’t matter but the goal which would have had Phil’s approval was the Motherwell goal from his nephew, David Clarkson.
Fans and family watched on as songs and banners were sung and unveiled all around the stadium and one moment left you with a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye as a banner with both Phil and Tommy Burns was unfurled by the Celtic fans to great applause.
Phil’s family and friends will know just how much he was loved by fans of Celtic, Motherwell and Sheffield Wednesday and I just hope that is of some comfort to them as they come to terms with their loss.
Phil may be gone but at Celtic Football Club and Motherwell Football Club, he will never be forgotten.
Motherwell named a stand after their captain and this Saturday, the Motherwell Supporters Trust will pay their own tribute as they unveil the fans’ memorial to Phil O’Donnell at 1.30pm (26 November) at Fir Park.
Along with invited guests from the O’Donnell family, players and staff from Motherwell FC and representatives from Dundee United, the Trust extends an open invitation to Motherwell fans to meet at the Chapman Building where a short ceremony will end with the lighting of the artwork on the North wall of the Phil O’Donnell stand.
It is fitting that Dundee United are the visitors tomorrow as Phil passed away after leading Motherwell in a home game against Dundee United almost four years ago and maybe it was meant to be that they will be the visitors this Saturday.
The club had wanted a lasting memorial should be erected in his honour and to that end A Night for Phil was held in the Civic Centre and later a fundraising dinner took place.
The process is now complete and it is hoped that this token of the fans’ remembrance of Uncle Phil will become a treasured part of the club’s history.
If anyone is thinking of going to a match this weekend, please make your way to Fir Park to pay tribute to Phil O’Donnell.