The Scottish club Motherwell were first formed in 1886, from the merger of two clubs which were Glencairn and Alpha F.C.. Glencairn were founded in 1877 and were named after Lord John Glencairn Carter Hamilton. Alpha were formed in 1881 by the employees of the George Russell Alpha Steam Crane and Engineering Works. Russell’s company manufactured engines and locomotive’s, as well as producing other industrial equipment. That whole area of Lanarkshire had a thriving steel industry, this is why Motherwell’s nickname became the Steelmen.
The idea behind the merger was if the two teams could amalgamate then they could compete much better on a national level, rather than a regional one in Lanarkshire. It was an ambitious and bold move. The latter quarter of the 19th century saw a change in the working week for the working class, for many professions. Saturdays became a half day, so now people were now working five and a half days a week rather than six.
People now had more time on their hands for recreational pursuits, as a result a number of amateur football teams were formed. This is how Glencairn and Alpha and other amateur teams in the Lanarkshire area, such as Dalziel Rovers and Milton Rovers, came into being. The initial meeting between the two clubs to discuss the merger took place at the Ballie’s Pub in Merry Street, which is only a couple of miles or so north from where Mothewell’s stadium Fir Park is situated. Motherwell’s first match was played against Hamilton Academical, a fellow Lanarkshire club. Motherwell came out on top thanks to a 3 – 2 victory. As with most newly established teams back then, Motherwell’s home fixtures were played at a number of different venues including Roman Road and Dalziel Park. It was whilst Motherwell were at Dalziel Park that the club were looking for a better venue for home games, Dalziel Park was fine to an extent but for the young and ambitious club it was deemed too small and quite frankly, too muddy.
Luckily for the club, in stepped the aforementioned Lord John to offer the club a place to play on his estate. Motherwell’s new ground was named Fir Park, and they’ve been there ever since. The merger of Glencairn and Alpha wasn’t a concept that was born overnight, it was slow burner but a slow burner that people knew back then was inevitable. Just before the football club was formed the Motherwell Charity Cup was established, its aim was to improve the lives of the less privileged in society. Alpha and Glencairn would put a side together that would play against a team by the name of Glasgow Ancients, which was a team made up of older players from Glasgow. The Alpha/Glencairn side emerged the victors in that fixture, the final score 2 – 1. So it seemed a good idea to merge the teams for the betterment of Motherwell.
Motherwell entered the Scottish Cup competition as soon as they were formed, sadly though their first foray in that tournament came to a swift end as they lost their first round match 6 – 1 to Cambuslang. Motherwell wouldn’t lift their first Scottish Cup until 1952 and they would have to wait nearly forty years for their second in ’91. 1890 saw the founding of the Scottish Football League, it would be another three years before Motherwell were admitted into the league, albeit in the newly formed Division Two. Their first season wasn’t a bad one for the Steelmen; they finished in 4th place on twenty three points, winning eleven matches from a campaign of eighteen matches.
The Lanarkshire Cup has given Motherwell fans something to smile about many times. It’s a tournament that was first set up in 1879, the first winners being a team by the name of Stonelaw. Since the tournament’s lifespan Motherwell have won it a total of forty times, the last time in 2014. The Lanarkshire Cup gave Motherwell its first final in the clubs history; sadly they were beaten in the final by the defending champions Airdrie. It was in 1911 that Motherwell appointed its first team manager, up until then the club was managed by the club’s committee. The manager in question was a gentleman by the name of John Hunter. Hunter was a former player who played for a number of Scottish clubs. He was part of the Hearts team that were runners up in the Scottish Cup final of 1903. Hunter even had a spell playing south of the border playing for Liverpool and Arsenal. Motherwell was Hunter’s first and only manager’s job.
During the May of 1928, Motherwell began a thirteen game tour of South America. Their first three games took place in Buenos Aires which consisted of a couple of matches against Combinado Capital, and the other against Combinado Provincia. The Steelmen lost all three games. On that tour Motherwell would go on to play some of the great teams of South America. On the 2nd of June, Argentina hosted the Lanarkshire club in Buenos Aires. The Steelmen went into that game in confident mood as they had just beaten Liga Rosarina 4 – 3, in nearby Avellaneda. Thanks to two goals from Willie MacFadyen and an own goal scored by Recanatini, Motherwell beat their hosts 3 – 0. A week later the Steelmen lined up against Boca Juniors, Motherwell were beaten 2 – 0. The Scottish club would go on to play a couple of matches with Peñarol of Uruguay, winning one and losing the other. Motherwell’s final game of that tour was against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil thrashed Motherwell 5 – 0.
Remarkably Hunter was Motherwell team manager for a total of thirty years, until 1946. John Hunter was only thirty two when he landed the Motherwell job. His official job title was Secretary Manager. It was under the managership of Hunter that Motherwell won its first and as yet only Scottish League title in 1932. After the Second World War, Motherwell named George Stevenson team manager at Fir Park. Like Hunter, Stevenson is one of the great names of Motherwell football club. A former Motherwell inside forward, Stevenson was part of John Hunter’s Motherwell side that lifted the Scottish title. George Stevenson he was a one club man, spending his entire sixteen year professional career at Fir Park making 510 appearances and scoring over a hundred and sixty goals. The Scottish title would not be the only piece of silverware that Stevenson would play a major part in bringing to Motherwell. Under Stevenson, Motherwell lifted the Scottish F.A. Cup in 1950 and 1952. In 1954 following a surprising relegation the season before, they won the Division Two title after finishing three points ahead of Kilmarnock on forty five points.
As far as football kit is concerned, Motherwell began life playing in a first choice blue and white kit. The shorts, or knickerbockers as they were called, were dark blue with matching socks, the shirt consisted of vertical blue and white stripes. Three years later in 1888 they changed their shirt to an all-white one, the shorts and socks remaining dark blue. The following season they reverted back to their blue and white striped shirt albeit with slightly thicker vertical stripes. In 1891 they changed the shirt colours to black and yellow vertical stripes, again the shorts and socks remained dark blue. 1893 saw a complete change in team colours, a maroon shirt was used with white shorts and maroon socks. In 1894 it was all change once more, when they changed to a light blue shirt with black shorts and socks. It was all change again, a season later they changed to white shorts and blue socks. The team colours would stay that way until 1913 when Motherwell changed its club colours to what they are known for today, the amber and claret. The shorts and socks would see little change in design, the colours remaining in an amber, claret and sometimes black colour scheme.
For the ’75 – ’76 season the powers that be in Scottish football changed the format of the divisions. In came the ten team Premier Division as the top league in Scottish football. Division One was stream lined from eighteen teams to 14 teams, the lower leagues also saw similar change in numbers. Motherwell finished the ’75 – ’76 season in 4th place in the Premier Division, three points behind Hibernian with Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic occupying the top two positions. At the end of the ’78 – ’79 season the Steelmen suffered a rare relegation, finishing rock bottom of the Scottish Premier Division on seventeen points. Hearts were also relegated that season from the Premier Division, finishing in ninth position.
The following season they finished in 6th place in the fourteen team Scottish Division One. The season after that they finished in fifth, that promotion place back to the Premier Division was proving elusive for Ally MacLeod’s Motherwell. Motherwell began the 1980’s still trying to find a way back into the Scottish Premier Division, a change of manager saw former Glasgow Celtic midfielder David Hay try his hand in the Motherwell hot seat.
It paid off as Motherwell won the Division One title at the end of the ’81 – ’82 season, winning the league ten points ahead of second placed Kilmarnock. Motherwell had a few notable players back in the early ’80’s such as Brian McClair and Gary McAllister. McAllister would go on and win the Division One title with Leeds United whilst Brian McClair would later join Manchester United, winning himself a clutch of silverware including four Premierships, three F.A. Cups, the U.E.F.A. Cup Winner’s Cup, the League Cup and the U.E.F.A. Super Cup.