When Motherwell host Hibernian on Sunday, there will be around 6,500 supporters inside Fir Park, the biggest crowd since before the pandemic. Among their number will be many enjoying free season tickets thanks to the generosity of their fellow supporters.
Motherwell launched the Well In scheme this summer with the aim of giving unemployed and low-income families the opportunity to go to games. The response has been overwhelming with £70,000 raised by fans’ donations – a figure now matched by the club.
The hope is that as many as 1,000 additional supporters could be inside the ground at Motherwell for each game this season, paid for with the help of the community. For chief executive Alan Burrows, it is a testament to the sense of togetherness within the town.
“I have been delighted by the response but I have to say I am not surprised by it,” Burrows tells Sky Sports. “Our supporters at Motherwell are not massive in number but they are extremely loyal to the club, they are protective and they are supportive.
“In an area where, unfortunately, unemployment is high, historically and more recently through the pandemic, it gives me great heart that people still want to help each other out and are prepared to do that through the medium of the football club.
“The result of that generosity is that families who would not have come to Fir Park are now able to come on every second Saturday and have that release and that enjoyment, that community togetherness that we really strive for at the club.”
Motherwell are fan-owned – fan-run too given that Burrows himself was one long before taking this job. It is the epitome of what a community club should be about. This is not just another business. “The onus is really on us to influence people’s lives,” he says.
“The very nature of a fan-owned club means that the fans are hopefully engaged with the club. We have tried to put the supporters at the heart of every decision we make. We try to act responsibly as a club and a business in what is an area of high deprivation.
“It started off by asking ourselves what type of club we wanted to be. What was important? Listen, winning matches goes without saying. But if you are a club in an area like this, in my eyes, there is almost a responsibility to use the platform for good.”
This particular gesture is a big one. Others are smaller but resonate within the community. Just before Christmas, a family of season-ticket holders suffered a house fire. The club was there to help, providing a significant five-figure sum to get them back on their feet.
When the council was struggling to fund the Christmas lights, Motherwell stepped in. Fir Park has a pop-up clinic for the vaccination centre, a Dementia café too. There are food parcels and phone calls for the elderly. Little stories that can make a big difference.
Many clubs do such work, quietly and without fuss. Not many will have their team’s shirt sleeves sponsored by the suicide prevention hotline throughout the 2021/22 season, a recognition that suicide is one of the biggest causes of death for young people in Scotland.
“We are absolutely cognisant of the really difficult mental health challenges right now,” says Burrows. “A big responsibility for this football club is shining a light on that and we have been vociferous about it. We try to use the platform that we have to help people.”
It might have been different. Motherwell’s success on the pitch has helped to facilitate their approach off it. A third-place finish in the 2019/20 season brought European football and additional revenue. The club record sale of David Turnbull last summer helped too.
“We went into the pandemic in a good spot due to that. If those things had not happened, we would have had to be going to the supporters and explaining we needed their help. But I genuinely believe that when you look after supporters, supporters will look after you.”
The hope at Motherwell is that this close bond could have far-reaching consequences, creating a new generation of fans – and that means sustainability for the club. “From our point of view, it is also about getting people engaged and growing the supporter base.”
The WELLevate scheme could make a real difference. There was a time when younger fans would be helped over the turnstiles. Motherwell want to replicate that. “They cannot do that now for health and safety reasons but they can come for free with a fee-paying adult.”
This season, of course, they will not be alone in that. Every fan who bought a season ticket last season will have a free one this time around. “It was the right thing to do that. We made that promise at the beginning of the pandemic. It was important to fulfil that promise.”
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As crowds return in the wake of the pandemic, some clubs in this era of proposed Super Leagues have risked fraying the bonds that tie, bonds that Burrows describes as “precious and to be nurtured and protected.” At Motherwell, it seems that has not been forgotten.
“I was once a supporter in the stands. I have not done that for 15 years because I have been involved with the club for so long. But when the whistle blows, ask anyone who sits next to me, I revert into fan mode, I just cannot help it. That side comes out.
“It is a side I don’t ever want to lose. I live and breathe the club. But at the same time I don’t want to come across as a mad fanboy. I have to make professional decisions. But having someone who understands the supporters probably is not a bad thing.”
On Sunday at Fir Park, he will hope to feel that connection again.
“With away fans, with increased numbers, real skin in the game, live on Sky Sports, it has got that big game feel to it again. The butterflies will be going in the stomach, that nervous tension again. I am so looking forward to Sunday, raw Scottish football at its best.
“It will feel like a step back to normality.”
Normality, perhaps. But the message here is that there is something special happening at Motherwell.
Watch Motherwell vs Hibernian live on Sky Sports Football from 4pm this Sunday (kick-off 4.30pm)
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