After the joy of a Cup final victory came the equally exciting prospect of watching Motherwell in Europe for the very first time. The mid-summer draw did not however send us to visit one of Europe’s top footballing shrines with ‘Well being pulled out of the hat to face the rather unglamorous GKS Katowice, granted they were probably saying the same thing about us!
Had it not been for Europe to look forward to it wouldn’t have been the best of summers otherwise. With skipper Tom Boyd already committed to a move to Chelsea in England the situation wasn’t helped by the contractual disputes of Ally Maxwell and Craig Paterson both of whom who would also eventually move on. When the season kicked off we were already a trio short of the Cup winning side.
Replacements came in the shape of Billy Thomson, a £60,000 signing from brother Tommy McLean’s brother Jim at Tannadice, Bob Maaskant, a huge Dutch defender who ironically was absolutely dire in the air, Tony Shepherd from Carlisle for £40,000 and Bart Verheul an apparent Dutch superkid. Hardly signings to set the pulses racing or as we had all desperately hoped to help us make the great leap forward.
While the excitement grew as the Katowice tie approached the regular season was well under way. It was clear from the start that Motherwell were going to struggle to build on their achievements of the season before. Early season results included a thumping 4-1 defeat to First Division Raith Rovers in the League Cup and league victories were only secured against St Mirren and Airdrie by two second half penalties. The victory over the Diamonds was a bright spot with the victory at Broomfield ensuring the Dossers won the first ever Premier League Lanarkshire derby against Airdrieonians. In fact it would be the only memorable derby for the club that year.
Motherwell’s form was still indifferent and the team was struggling with Maxwell, Boyd and Paterson all moving on and Arnott and O’Neill both long term injury victims.
At last Cup Winners Cup time came around and as per usual with Motherwell it proved to be so near but yet so far. ‘Well had performed pretty well over in Poland holding Katowice to a single goal lead before slackness late on allowed the home side to score a second. Back at Fir Park Kirkie pulled it back to 2-1 on aggregate before ‘Well missed chance after chance and were punished when the Poles equalised. Two late goals made it 3-1 to ‘Well on the night but it wasn’t enough and the Eastern European side went through on the away goals rule.
By Christmas it was clear that if we failed to defend the Cup, our season would be over in January. With a 12 team Premier League there was no way we would go down and likewise with 12 teams and the way we couldn’t string two results together, there was no way we would make any impact on the chase for a European place.
Frustrations were further heightened by the board’s refusal to stump up the cash throughout the course of the season with players such as John Colquhoun, future Scotland star John McGinlay, Liam Robinson and Ally Mauchlen all turning down offers from ‘Well. We did though make 2 significant signings in Brian Martin and Rab McKinnon who would have a major effect in the future.
The Scottish Cup provided a glimmer of hope when we were paired with Ayr Utd at Somerset Park, then under the charge of former ‘Well defender George Burley. With over 4000 travelling Dossers behind them ‘Well took the lead through Buff Balderson, or Brian Martin if you prefer, only to lose a late equaliser at the death. Back at Fir Park, ‘Well really went to town going in 4-0 up at the interval and eventually running out 4-1 winners. The 4th round tie was as difficult as it could get – Rangers away, but Motherwell put up one of their best performances of the season. The holders lead, thanks to a Phil O’Donnell screamer, for over an hour but Rangers fought back and stole it 2-1 through a Alexei Mikhailichenko double.
And there the season pretty much ended. With almost four months of the season left ‘Well fans found themselves in a quite unfamiliar situation. For so long in our recent past we had become accustomed to either fighting for promotion, enjoying a long run in the cup, or for the majority of the time fighting against the drop. This mid-table respectability – with the resultant glut of meaningless fixtures, was something many ‘Well fans struggled to come to terms with.
In the end, the side plodded along finishing 10th and even enduring the ignominy of seeing county rivals Airdrie finish above us for the first time in a decade and watching them make the Cup final. The season ended as it had done in 1991 with us back at Fir Park after a match against Dundee Utd – but this time the only delight was that this nightmare of a season was finally over.