Motherwell’s Lanarkshire derby with Hamilton will mark 11 years since the tragic passing of former club captain Phil O’Donnell.
O’Donnell collapsed on the pitch at Fir Park during a game against Dundee United due to heart failure. He died a short while afterwards at Wishaw General Hospital. His death was grieved for across the footballing landscape.
As the days have turned into weeks and the weeks into years, stories of O’Donnell outside of football have emerged, adding to the heartbreak the community felt for his family. He had a wife and kids, it all seemed so unjust.
The memories of those that were there on that day will be as fresh in the mind today as they were on that black and mournful afternoon. It’s hard to think it happened 11 years ago.
He was only 35 with a young family, and playing some of the best football of his illustrious career. He was the model professional with humble roots, who reached great heights during his playing career with the likes of Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday and Motherwell.
There were many tributes to the great midfielder, but similar things resonated throughout them. It was that O’Donnell was a loving, bigger than life character, who lived for football and his family.
Motherwell will never forget Uncle Phil
O’Donnell was born in Bellshill in 1972, four miles away from Fir Park. He signed with the Steelmen in 1990 at the age of 17, and the next year, he became one of Motherwell’s most famous son’s, netting a header in the heroic 1991 Scottish cup final victory over Dundee United.
After four seasons in Motherwell, he transferred to Celtic in 1994 for a fee of £1.75m – which remains the Steelmen’s biggest ever transfer. He collected medals in his time in Hoops before a move down south to the Owls. He returned to Fir Park in 2004, playing alongside his nephew David Clarkson, where he gained the nickname ‘Uncle Phil.’
It wasn’t just the town that felt O’Donnell’s loss, it was the entire football community. Tributes poured in from around the globe, as the footballing world united, in support of the small team from Lanarkshire.
Gradually, life carried on and got back to normality. For Well fans, it could never be the same. The club have managed to deal with Uncle Phil’s passing with respect and thoughtfulness, year after year.
When the ‘Brave as a Lion’ tribute tile inside the Fir Park tunnel was engraved, and the Main Stand was renamed after O’Donnell, fans slowly but surely began to move on, and remembered the legacy he had left.
Well fans young and old will once again unite on Saturday to honour the late captain who gave so much to the club.