Administration: The two years that shaped the modern-day Motherwell Football Club
A look back to 2002, the year Motherwell FC were plunged into financial crisis
While events at Rangers Football Club have dominated the news this week, the placing of the Govan club in administration has resonated with fans east along the M74.
Motherwell Football Club looks in pole position to benefit from the troubles of the Ibrox side, with a ten point penalty moving them closer to Well in the SPL table, as the prospect of a European ban boosting the Stuart McCall’s men’s aim of competing in the Europa League next term.
But the situation is in stark contrast to the scenes at Fir Park a decade ago when the Steelmen were thrust into administration themselves.
In April 2002, chairman John Boyle took the decision to call in administrator PKF to sort out the club, which was losing £2m a year under a huge wage bill which Boyle had sanctioned in the hope of competing against the big two of Rangers and Celtic.
It was a time of turmoil for fans and players as 19 of the on-field staff were laid off while administrator Bryan Jackson got to work on restoring the finances of the historic Lanarkshire club. Chief executive Pat Nevin and manager Eric Black left Well of their own volition and suddenly the side was faced with a future under rookie boss Terry Butcher and a crop of untested kids.
Fan Andrew Moir recalls the period vividly, and believes it has shaped the fans' relationship with the club forever.
Andrew said: “When something has been there your whole life, it's so easy to take it for granted. Motherwell FC is one of those things.
“Administration changed the way I saw the club and what it meant to me in my life. A club is more than a stadium and players, it represents a connection to something. My father took me to see Motherwell, just as his father had taken him. Football support is a tie that always reminds you where you come from.
“From being pretty a pretty uninterested casual fan, from the day administration was announced I attended every match and my dad bought us both season tickets which we have held ever since.”
A benefit game against Italian side Chievo was arranged, with more than 4000 turning out at Fir Park to boost the coffers as Well fought off the danger of extinction.
A 19-year-old winger by the name of James McFadden would hit Well’s deserved equaliser that day. McFadden would go on to become a hero for the fans, and the catalyst for lifting the club out of the financial abyss.
Andrew said: “Players were let go but that was the least of fans worries. There would be enough kids to field a team and being the first team in the country to enter administration meant there were no sanctions from the league.
“The combination of good young players, the generosity of diehard fans and a truly inspirational manager brought us to a much better place.”
The fans quickly came to an understanding with the administrators, who regularly kept them abreast of developments from inside the club.
An insider from Motherwell’s administration period said that once the initial task of reducing costs was done, getting the team’s fanbase on their side was a big concern.
This week, asource close to the administrators in 2002 told STV: “The initial feeling was that someone would come in and buy the club. Motherwell was cheap and a good club with good supporters so for an outsider it was a good bet for investment.
“Unfortunately it transpired that this was the beginning of the end for ‘sugar daddies’ in the Scottish game and nothing came to pass on that front.
“The administrators met with the heads of the supporter groups to explain the process. Transparency is a huge thing in this situation, even if the fans don’t agree with the decisions.
“With season tickets already sold there was limited income. Stuart Elliott was sold to Hull for £150,000 quite early to get money in but, even cutting everything they could they were struggling to break even.
“The options available were to liquidate the club – meaning Motherwell would be no more – or create a much-reduced club across the board.
“That’s how it was explained to the fans and I think they understood the options in front of them. The administrators went about trimming every department and brought costs down. But there were still no buyers coming forward and concerns were raised about who could take control in the long term.”
After two years at the helm, PKF got Motherwell to break even. Key youngsters Stephen Pearson and James McFadden – who got their chance in the first team because of the reduction in staff – were sold for £350,000 and £1.25m respectively, and the administrators were able to offer Well’s creditors a deal to pay off debts.
Bryan Jackson proposed that Motherwell would pay 25p in the pound in an official Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) – the deal which brokers the end of administration for a business – which was accepted, handing control back to John Boyle almost exactly two years on.
A source who was inside Fir Park at that time said: “The rescue didn’t go exactly as they had expected but they did get there in the end.
“There is a model of sustaining a premier league football club that works and Motherwell are now approaching it.
“Wages should never be more than 60% of turnover and if you can unearth enough quality young guys to keep you in the league that is job done.
“You cannot stray from pound-in-pound-out economics. If you cannot pay the wages one week then there’s no option but to fall back into administration – that’s just the reality at clubs like Motherwell.
“Pay only what you can afford and hope you find a few gems like McFadden and Pearson. With a bit of luck you can be successful on the field and, in turn, grow the club off it too.”
In the years since Motherwell emerged from administration, more gems’have moved on to keep the cash flowing into Fir Park, with the likes of Paul Quinn and David Clarkson attracting sizeable fees from teams in the English leagues.
Now, with the club under the guidance of chief executive Leeann Dempster, Motherwell are debt-free and have posted profits of more than £500,000 in their latest accounts. John Boyle has announced his retirement and the process of entrusting his majority shareholding to the Motherwell fans has begun.
By the end of March this year, it is hoped that the final instalment of shares will be transferred to The Well Society, and industrial and provident body owned equally by the supporters who buy annual memberships to have a say in the running of the club.
It is a fairytale turnaround for the Steelmen, and the significance is not lost on the fans who stood squarely behind their team from day one.
Andrew Moir added: “It's curious now that John Boyle's legacy of community ownership will hopefully be a great one. While he made all the mistakes he stayed to fix them.
“He must be applauded for that but it should never have got to that stage.
“Things could have worked out so differently. We're lucky to have a club. Most fans appreciate that, and that means a situation like that must never happen again. Too bad others didn't pay attention."