Former Players’ Club Celebrates 30th Anniversary

It is arguable whether any modern-day footballer will be regularly meeting up with their team-mates six decades from now.

But that’s exactly what the Motherwell FC Former Players’ Club has achieved during its 30-year existence.

The pioneering club has ensured there is a thread running back to the 1940s which ties numerous Motherwell teams together.

The club was the brainchild of 1952 Scottish Cup final goalscorer Wilson Humphries and is still going strong three decades on.

Former Scotland centre-half John Martis was among the founder members and is still heavily involved in organising dinners, regular trips to watch Motherwell and golf outings with players who have graced the claret and amber.

He explains: “Two of the ’52 cup-winning team, Johnny Johnston and Willie Redpath, died around the same time and both of their funerals were held on the same day.

“John Chapman was chairman of Motherwell at the time and he laid on a bus to take people to both funerals. Willie Redpath’s was in Motherwell and Johnny Johnstone’s was in Bo’ness.

“When we were coming back from Bo’ness, Wilson Humphries came up and sat down beside me and said: ‘It’s not been a very nice occasion but we all seem to have had a good day being together again. Could we not see about starting something more regular?’

“We asked Sammy Reid and Willie McCallum if they were interested and the four of us had a meeting a couple of days later, I think it was in Wilson’s house.

“The ex-players asked John Chapman for some help and he said he would help you as much as he could. He gave us 15 season tickets and we still have them to this day.

“Wilson asked me to phone Ian Skelly. I said: ‘Wilson, I’ve not spoken to Ian Skelly for years’. That Saturday morning I phoned his car showroom on Shields Road and asked to speak to him. The guy said he wasn’t available and took my number. I thought ‘that’s one way of putting me off’. But half an hour later Ian phoned and it was like I’d spoken to him the week before. I asked if he would be willing to sponsor us to get us up and running and he said: ‘I’ll give you £1,000 and come back tome when it runs out’.

“But I thought, we’ll not be back, because we want to sort things for ourselves. We organised a sportsman’s dinner and we’ve had one every year since. Every year when the fixtures come out we pick four games and we meet up for a meal beforehand. The local guys use the season tickets on other weeks.

“We made quite a few phone calls in those early days and more or less 85-90% of the guys we phoned were keen on getting involved.

“After a couple of months we got (former commercial manager and club director) John Swinburne to come on the committee to liaise between us and the club.”

Martis has been on the committee ever since and it now contains Davie Whiteford, Davie Main, Dougie Hope, Billy Reid, Bobby Watson, Jim Griffin, Cammy Murray and Tom Forsyth.

The link has stretched from the 1940s. Andy Paton – who was voted Motherwell’s greatest player – joined Motherwell in 1942 and Humphries three years later.

Martis was able to rhyme off some of the famous names who together were known as the Ancell Babes who have all been met up through the club at some stage – Hastie Weir, Willie McSeveney, Pat Holton, Matt Thomson, Charlie Aitken, Bert McCann, Andy Weir, Sammy Reid, Pat Quinn, Andy Weir, Ian St John and Willie Hunter..

“I signed for Motherwell in 1957. If you had told me then I’d be going into Fir Park regularly for meetings 61 years later then I wouldn’t have believed you.

“The club has kept us in contact with players that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I didn’t meet up with any of them beforehand. I would maybe meet Sammy Reid and Billy Reid, Willie McCallum and see some of the guys who still lived in Motherwell and Wishaw. We didn’t socialise, you maybe bumped into them when you went to a game.

“As far as I know we were the first club like this in Scotland. I think one or two other clubs have done it since – Hibs and Hearts I think. Kilmarnock have been out to talk to us about it recently.”

The camaraderie that sustained teams during their playing days remains intact.

“I can only talk about the team I played in and we all get on well together and always did,” John said. “As far as I’m led to believe the teams that followed us all got on well.

“We all kid each other on. That was the same in the dressing room and we still do it.”

Players from the 1970s such as Willie Pettigrew and Bobby Graham are regular attendees along with some of the 1991 Scottish Cup-winning team and Brian Martin, whose Fir Park career almost lasted until the turn of the century.

The transient nature of football careers these days might mean former players’ clubs have a shelf life, but Motherwell’s remains strong. And the bond between former team-mates means the team spirit will outlive many players.

“Unfortunately the team I played with are getting older,” John said. “I haven’t seen Pat Quinn or Ian St John for a while. But there are others like Willie Hunter who I still see.

“Every year we send the widows a £50 cheque for Christmas. It’s the thought that’s important to them.”