Can Motherwell emulate class of '91?

By Andy BurkeBBC Scotland
Motherwell's 1991 Scottish Cup winning squad
The '91 Cup winning squad are still revered by the Motherwell support

The Motherwell side that won the 1991 Scottish Cup in such thrilling fashion is still held dear in the hearts of the Fir Park faithful.

For a variety of reasons, the team which defeated Dundee United 4-3 in a classic Cup final are remembered fondly by many neutrals and supporters of other clubs also.

As the present-day Motherwell squad prepare for Saturday's Cup final against Celtic, it is only natural to look back to the '91 final, which took place 20 years ago this week.

Every memory of the epic match at Hampden is tinged with sadness for the tragedy which befell some of the key protagonists of that day.

Phil O'Donnell, who scored his first goal for Motherwell in the Cup final as an 18-year-old, died on the pitch at Fir Park in 2007. In a cruel twist of fate, his death came during a match against Dundee United. He had returned to the club following spells at Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday and was aged just 35.

The Rangers and Scotland legend Davie Cooper was also a key component of the 1991 side. He died of a brain haemorrhage just four years later aged 39 having returned to play for Clydebank, his first club, and turning out for the Lanarkshire side only a month before his death.

Jamie Dolan and Paul McGrillen were both in the Cup-winning squad, and they too also died in tragic circumstances.

Despite the heartache associated with this side, it is never forgotten what an exhilarating run they took their supporters on, and the climax is embedded in Scottish football folklore.

The third round draw could not have handed them a much tougher assignment; a trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen.

The Dons were still a mighty force in Scotland, and indeed Alex Smith's men lost out on the Premier Division trophy that season by just two points.

Tommy McLean (left); Jim McLean (right)
The McLean brothers went head-to-head in the '91 cup final

However, Tommy McLean's side shocked Aberdeen with a Stevie Kirk strike and advanced to the fourth round.

A home tie with First Division Falkirk lay in wait and it proved to be a cracker.

The Bairns showed why they were runaway leaders of the second-tier and and twice came from a goal down to equalise, but the Steelmen proved too strong in the end and emerged 4-2 victors.

Motherwell were expected to despatch Morton with the minimum of fuss in the next round, but a 0-0 stalemate at Fir Park meant a tricky trip to Cappielow had to be negotiated to ensure a passage into the semi-finals.

'Well could only manage another draw, this time 1-1, and scraped through to the last four with a 5-4 victory on penalties.

Next up was a Hampden semi-final against Celtic. An uninspiring 0-0 deadlock meant that for the second consecutive round Motherwell faced a replay.

In the rematch, McLean's men fought back from 2-1 to shock the Glasgow giants in a 4-2 win - and Colin O'Neill's long-range wonder strike remains etched on the hearts and minds of every fan who witnessed it.

And so a final date with Dundee United beckoned.

It was dubbed "The Family Final" as McLean went up against his brother, the hugely successful United manager Jim.

The Tannadice outfit had enjoyed some great times in the Eighties, including winning a league championship and two League Cups whilst also reaching a European Cup semi-final in 1983 and a Uefa Cup final in 1987.

So it's fair to say that Motherwell went into the match as underdogs - and not for the first time during their run to the final.

Motherwell survived some early United pressure to go in at half-time 1-0 up courtesy of an Iain Ferguson header.

Early in the second-half, a collision between Ally Maxwell and John Clark left the Motherwell keeper with two broken ribs - and with no substitute keeper on the bench, Maxwell had no option but to play through the pain.

Stevie Kirk
Kirk scored the goal that won the cup for Motherwell

Dave Bowman decided to test the stricken Maxwell with a 25-yard strike, and unfortunately for him and his team, he could not keep the ball out the net.

Motherwell hit back superbly and regained the lead when O'Donnell dived to head the ball past United keeper Alan Main.

The Fir Park side appeared to have one hand on the trophy when midfielder Ian Angus fired into the bottom corner to put his side 3-1 up.

Game over? So you would think - but not quite.

The winning mentality Jim McLean had fostered at United meant they would not go down without a fight.

John O'Neil directed a terrific header beyond Maxwell to bring United back into the match.

Darren Jackson then struck in the dying minutes to make it 3-3 and sent the game into extra-time.

It was now time for a hero to emerge, and the man of the hour proved to be Stevie Kirk, who had scored frequently throughout the Cup run.

A Cooper corner caused panic in the United box, and when Kirk was presented with an open goal just three yards out, he nodded home the winner.

It ended Motherwell 4-3 Dundee United.

Tommy defeated his brother Jim - and it was truly an unforgettable final.

Twenty years on and the memories are still vivid for those who witnessed that glorious finale to the 1990/91 season.

Motherwell fans will be hoping that the current side can muster some of the spirit of the class of '91 and end a long wait to get their hands on the Scottish Cup once more.

The rest of us just hope we can see just a fraction of the drama that unfolded at Hampden in May 1991.

You can follow Andy Burke on Twitterexternal-link.

Top Stories