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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 December 2007, 18:20 GMT
Phil O'Donnell: 1972-2007

By Clive Lindsay

Phil O'Donnell celebrates a goal for Motherwell
O'Donnell had helped Motherwell to third top in the SPL
Phil O'Donnell was born and died in the shadow of Fir Park, the home of Motherwell Football Club.

It was where he made his name in the professional game.

It was where he was enjoying an indian summer to his injury-plagued career before it was so cruelly ended by his tragic death on Saturday, aged 35.

It is also where a sea of tributes in claret and amber now grow under the Davie Cooper Stand.

Like former team-mate Cooper, who died aged 39 in 1995 after suffering a brain haemorrhage while filming a training video for young players, O'Donnell's life met an untimely conclusion in pursuit of the game he loved.

Like former Clydebank, Rangers and Scotland winger Cooper, he will be remembered at Motherwell as a club legend.

Both men were part of the team that lifted the Scottish Cup in 1991 after a 4-3 victory over Dundee United.

It not only remains the club's greatest triumph in modern times but was one of the competition's most enthralling finals.

O'Donnell, born a couple of miles away in Bellshill, had made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old and was still a teenager when he scored in that famous cup final triumph.

Sixteen years on, O'Donnell died of what is thought to have been a seizure during an equally exciting 5-3 win over the same opponents in the Scottish Premier League.

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Between those years, the impact on team-mates of someone generally regarded as one of the nice guys and a consummate professional was significantly greater than his football achievements during a career that never quite fulfilled that early promise.

In the wake of his death, former Scotland manager Craig Brown compared O'Donnell's style of play in his prime to that of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and suggested that, at that time, he was perhaps the best box-to-box midfielder in Britain.

Like Derby County's Stephen Pearson, his promise at Fir Park won him a move to Celtic then to the top flight in England.

O'Donnell, given his one and only Scotland cap by Brown against Switzerland in 1993, moved to Parkhead for 1.75m a year later for what remains Motherwell's record transfer.

More Scotland honours were expected, but his career became a constant struggle to stay fit.

And, while helping the club he supported as a boy lift the title in 1998, O'Donnell's contributions were increasingly sporadic before he joined Sheffield Wednesday a year later.

Phil O'Donnell in his Scotland gear
O'Donnell won his only Scotland cap against Switzerland in 1993

Once again troubled by injuries, he made just one Premiership appearance, playing the second half of a home defeat by Everton, followed by a handful of games after Wednesday's relegation.

When the Owls offloaded O'Donnell in 2003, the 1992 Scottish PFA young player of the year had become a virtually forgotten man.

But former England and Rangers defender Terry Butcher, then Motherwell manager, gave him a second chance at Fir Park.

And, although injuries once more limited his appearances, he became an established and well-loved figure at the club.

Under new manager Mark McGhee, the player-coach, who had been club captain for the past 18 months, helped Motherwell surprise many by rising to third place in the league.

And, speaking just last month, O'Donnell told The Times: "I will be 36 in March and I am just trying to play as long as I can and enjoy it.

"Honestly, each game is special to me. I have missed too many games in the middle of my career to stop playing at the age of 35, so I will play as long as I can.

"I can definitely play another two, three, or even four years."

That dream of playing on into his late thirties will now never be fulfilled and he leaves a wife, Eileen, and four children.

But the memory of the man who gained the nickname "Uncle Phil" - striker David Clarkson is his nephew - will live on for many both within and without the Motherwell family.

SEE ALSO
Player's father speaks of shock
30 Dec 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Motherwell postpone Celtic match
30 Dec 07 |  Motherwell
Tributes flood in for O'Donnell
29 Dec 07 |  Motherwell
Motherwell captain O'Donnell dies
29 Dec 07 |  Motherwell
Motherwell 5-3 Dundee United
29 Dec 07 |  Scottish Premier
New Motherwell role for O'Donnell
01 May 07 |  Motherwell
O'Donnell wins Well deal
02 Jan 04 |  Motherwell


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