The Champions League returns tonight, where the stars of the footballing world play for the biggest prize in club football.
Nobody from Scotland has ever won the competition since Celtic lifted the cup in 1967. In the 2012/13 season though, there was technically a chance one of the Premiership’s smaller sides could have lifted the trophy.
After a successful 2011/12 season, Motherwell found themselves in a respectable third place, with European football becoming a normality at Fir Park at the turn of the decade.
It was a golden period in the league for Motherwell, and it brought about something that most likely will never be reached again, Champions League football.
Stuart McCall’s men achieved this following Rangers demotion down the footballing ladder. The Steelmen profited, and a glamour tie against Greek giants Panathinaikos was the prize.
A valiant effort
Motherwell had a decent squad at the time. Darren Randolph in between the sticks, a solid partnership of Shaun Hutchinson and Simon Ramsden at the back. Going forward you had the likes of Estonian international Henrik Ojamma and prolific hitman Michael Higdon. There was a sense of optimism around the tie.
It was the talk of the town for weeks, fans far and wide flocking to Fir Park to see this perhaps once in a lifetime game, the chance to see their team play on the biggest stage. Sure it was only the third round qualifiers, and the iconic theme song wasn’t there, but that mattered little to the Motherwell players and staff.
It was always going to be an uphill task, playing against former French international Jean-Alain Boumsong, former Atletico Madrid striker Toché and countless Greek internationals. Their squad was on another level, but Motherwell still gave it a good go.
A crowd of 9,035 attended the Well’s elite European debut in the first-leg at Fir Park. Enthusiasm was dampened after 13 minutes though when
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos found Randolph’s far post. Chants of ‘Champions League, we’re having a laugh’ rang out as Panathinaikos emerged 2-0 winners.
Despite dominating possession in Greece, the Greek giants still ran away with it in Athens, coming out 3-0 winners. It was two games and out for Motherwell, but for those two weeks, they were amongst Europe’s elite.
Motherwell can only dream of European football now, having became so accustomed to it earlier this decade. For fans to see club hero’s like Steven Hammell and Keith Lasley playing in Europe was a dream that seemed so unrealistic, even during the build-up to these fixtures.
It was a surreal experience for the Well and their fans, something that should be remembered with fondness.