1990/91 Season Review

Not quite sure why but for some reason this particular season sticks in the head for many Motherwell fans. Hmmm..Just what could it be?

1991 was of course the year the club won the Cup and will forever be etched in the mind of every ‘Well lucky enough to be around at that time. Giving the Steelmen their first Cup win for 39 years and with that their first taste of European competition, the summer of ’91 really was a fantastic time to be a ‘Well fan.

The season started in dramatic circumstances with an extra-time League Cup victory over Morton and a fantastic opening day league victory over Celtic at Fir Park. Memorable too that sunny afternoon was seeing ‘Psycho’ Colin O’Neill tussle with Peter Grant, an elbow in the face that, Celtic fans apart, was met with almost universal delight in Scottish football.

Dundee Utd soon dampened down everyone’s enthusiasm with wins against the side in both the league and League Cup but the Steelmen would get revenge for those later.

Motherwell were playing some good stuff but injuries and suspensions struck and the team were very inconsistent (some things never change). Such was the injury crisis that when Phil O’Donnell made his Motherwell debut at the age of 17 against St Mirren in a 1-1 draw in November, he did so at the unfamiliar position of left back.

Things picked up at the turn of the year including a 1-1 draw against Celtic but there was still little hope when ‘Well were drawn away to holders Aberdeen in the 3rd round of the Scottish Cup. As with just about every match we played in that year’s competition it was fairy tale stuff. With about 12 minutes left on came subby Stevie Kirk and with his first touch of the ball blasted the ball home from about 20 yards out and sent Motherwell into the 4th round.

It took a while but as the confidence improved as the side progressed through the Cup so did Motherwell’s league fortunes and the team started putting a fairly decent run together. Soon came the next round of the Cup and while Dossers weren’t exactly over the moon at drawing First Division pace setters Falkirk, who had gone something like 17 games without defeat, at least it was a home tie at Fir Park. With BBC’s cameras again featuring it as their main game it proved to be a classic ding-dong battle with the outcome only settled late on. Nicky Cusack put well ahead after a fantastic Davie Cooper pass early on but Falkirk fought back to equalise. Amazingly it was the much maligned Joe McLeod who restored ‘Well’s lead but again the visitors battled back to make it 2-2. With tempers becoming frayed it was Motherwell who held their nerve and again it was Stevie Kirk who would score the vital goal, this time with his 2nd touch of the ball. Nicky Cusack made it 4-2 late on and ‘Well were through to the Quarter Finals.

Motherwell received a massive stroke of good fortune when Celtic were drawn at home to Rangers and were even more fortunate to draw another First Division side at home in the shape of Morton. Despite our scare in the League Cup earlier in the season it still seemed the best the side could have hoped for. Perhaps many of the ‘Well faithful were already thinking of the semi’s, the players included maybe, but in front of over 9000, Morton, inspired by ex-Well legend Johnny Gahagan gave the Steelmen the fright of their lives and ‘Well were fortunate to take the game to a replay.

Down at Cappielow it was just as difficult a task and even when skipper Tom Boyd put the side in front the Ton never gave in and equalised in the second half through none other than, you guessed it Johnny Gahagan. The tension was unbearable as the match ended all square and required to be settled by penalties. With the likes Cooper, Russell and Ferguson in the side, ‘Well handled the pressure better and made it through sparking a pitch invasion from the ‘Well support.

All was going well at the club and with relegation no longer a concern all eyes were focused on the Cup. Motherwell were drawn against Celtic in the semi-finals and as a little appetiser faced them in the league at Parkhead where goals from Boyd and Ferguson gave us a psychological advantage over them going into the semi.

At Hampden Park over 41,000 turned up to witness a tight, tousy affair. Twice near the end Motherwell could have won it when Iain Ferguson rattled the bar from outside the box then wee Dougie Arnott was hauled to the ground by Derek Whyte only for the referee to frustratingly wave play on.

Colin O'Neill vs Celtic 1991
Colin O’Neill celebrates his wonder goal

Having the benefit of hindsight every ‘Well fan will have been only too glad it went to a replay. When the teams met again seven days later they produced a match that many a ‘Well supporter treasures to look back upon with even more pride and fondness than even the final itself. The Bhoys had an early goal disallowed but it hardly phased them as they soon went ahead for real. Out of the blue Dougie Arnott equalised but once more Celtic pressed and went 2-1 ahead through Anton Rogan. The crucial moment for many was seconds before half time, when future Motherwell hero Tommy Coyne, made a pig’s ear of chance right in front of goal when it would have been easier to score. Had it gone in, it’s unlikely one of the most celebrated chapters in Motherwell’s history would have been written.

As the rain poured down in the second half it was the stuff dreams are made of as a Dougie Arnott header looped past Bonner to make it 2-2. Then amazingly from about 35 yards Psycho thundered the ball into the postage stamp corner to spark absolute bedlam amongst the ‘Well support in the terracing behind the goals. The Steelmen weren’t done yet and to rub salt into Celtic’s wounds, Stevie Kirk curled a shot into the top right hand corner to make the final score 4-2. It was an epic and one which Motherwell fans will have undoubtedly watched on their videos time and time again.

With the team flying they were on a run with only one defeat in 13 games, that coming against title chasing Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Speaking of title chasers even before the Cup final ‘Well produced another classic for us when Rangers came to Fir Park knowing a win would seal the title for them. They hadn’t banked on the Mighty ‘Well of course and soon John Philliben fired us ahead. A typically soft penalty decision gave Rangers the opportunity to get back on terms but one of the most amusing moments of the season saw the usually reliable Mark Walters blast the ball high and wide. Two late goals from Dougie Arnott as the Gers pushed forward for an equaliser was the icing on the cake as Motherwell ran out deserved 3-0 winners, a perfect way to see off the shed which was to be seated during the summer in the start of a Fir Park renovation project.

Two days later the Cup final tickets went on sale and queues stretched for over a mile as fans made sure they got their tickets. The demand was so high that the SFA had to specially open Park Gardens to give ‘Well more tickets when it looked the club would run out.

It was a whole new experience for the vast majority of fans and all ‘Well fans lapped up every minute of it. From buying Cup final memorabilia, to seeing the town decked in claret and amber the general feeling of goodwill and excitement was all around. The big day dawned and over 30,000 were cheering on the Dossers at Hampden (where are they now??). The match, in keeping with everything else about our cup run was straight from Roy of the Rovers. ‘Well first bid when Iain Ferguson put us head through a header around the half hour mark. That’s the way it stayed until Dave Bowman equalised in the second half. By then of course John Clark had almost crippled Ally Maxwell who carried on in unbelievable circumstances, only later was it known he suffered a ruptured spleen.

Dave Bowmans shot beats Maxwell
Dave Bowmans shot beats Maxwell

Amazingly though Motherwell hit back and scored not once but twice through the unlikely duo of Phil O’Donnell, only recently turned 18 and Ian Angus a bargain buy from Dundee for £40,000. As the match wore United piled on the pressure and got one back through John O’Neil. As time ticked it on the whole of the ‘Well support were crying for full time. You could have heard a pin drop however as the last few seconds ran out when Darren Jackson managed to get onto the end of a long hopeful ball and just beat Ally Maxwell to it which made it three all and took the game to extra time.

With Maxwell desperately struggling and the initiative clearly with the Arabs it seemed only a matter of time before they would complete their epic comeback. Not so. How they did it we’ll never know but somehow Motherwell dragged themselves back into the game and if anyone looked as if they’d win it, it was us. And win it we did! When super sub Stevie Kirk headed past Alan Main in the first period of extra-time there was no way back for United and ‘Well took the Cup back to Fir Park for the first time in 39 years.

Stevie Kirk nods home the winner - 1991 scottish cup final
Steve Kirk nods home the winner

The players and fans celebrated in Hampden before slowly everybody made their way back to Fir Park to await the arrival of the team and the trophy. Thousands were in Fir Park as the team came home and took the acclaim of the supporters. The scene was repeated the following day when the team took a tour of Motherwell and Wishaw in an open top bus. Estimates of around 150,000 people lined the streets to cheer and applaud and rejoice that Motherwell had won the Cup.


It was truly a day/weekend/summer to savour and the match itself will live long in the memory of everyone who saw it. It has gone down as one of the best Cup finals ever, and Motherwell won it!