Book Review: The Weird & Wonderful World of Motherwell Football Collectables Comprising Old & Modern (vol 1)

by Matthew Johnstone, published by Curtis Sport (2021) £30

Available to buy via Motherwell FC website

By virtue of our shared colours I have always had a soft spot for Motherwell FC although the only time I have ever seen them was a pre-season friendly at Fir Park vs BCAFC many years ago. In truth I can’t pretend to know much about the club other than the fact that it is one of so many in the shadow of the Auld Firm.

There is definitely something about club memorabilia and collectables that provides a unique insight. Having spent an evening reading this book, my knowledge of Motherwell affairs has advanced in leaps and bounds.

I remember buying match programmes in the old shop at the back of the main stand on South Parade and getting a sense of the character of other clubs that was invariably confirmed when I visited for away fixtures. In my opinion surviving examples of club ephemera are as significant in narrating football history as biographies, memoirs or old newspaper features. In fact, in the absence of surviving club documents it tends to be only programmes or handbooks that have survived, ironic given that they were essentially ephemeral in nature. Yet surprisingly there have been few publications that have focused on memorabilia or artefacts, if only to provide a record for posterity and allow private collections to be shared among a wider audience. The reason I suspect is that the effort involved with scanning and artwork doesn’t make it a viable project for mainstream publishers.

Aside from my own book, A History of BCAFC in Objects (Bantamspast, 2014) I am aware only of a couple of others featuring Everton and Burnley that have attempted to narrate the history of a football club through surviving artefacts. Matthew Johnstone’s book does the job for Motherwell in style with impactful design. Published by Curtis Sport – who produce the BCAFC match programme – this is a welcome addition to my library of football books and one that I can recommend to anyone with an interest in football collectables.

Much the same as my own efforts, Matthew has included an extensive selection of football programmes and trade cards. In the former category it is fair to say that Motherwell has had more high profile fixtures than BCAFC in the modern era and there are examples from cup finals, European ties as well as the old Anglo-Scottish Tournament (although one that is notable by its absence is from the occasion that Motherwell visited Valley Parade for a friendly in 1970). The trade cards are generally similar to those featuring BCAFC and on more than one occasion I had a double take when looking at unfamiliar players wearing the familiar colours of claret and amber. Among the club publications in the book are examples of old handbooks that have been published annually by Motherwell FC from 1922, an achievement that has not been matched in Bradford.

There is extensive coverage of Subbuteo with many of the claret and amber examples also attributable to BCAFC (ie the celebrated #23). But what distinguishes the book is the inclusion of old football shirts and a detailed record of all the kits that have been worn by Motherwell. Included in this selection is the classic claret and amber yoke shirt worn by BCAFC in the 1911 FA Cup Final and famously adopted by MFC. However this was not the only example of the two C&A cousins wearing the same shirts – striped shirts in the inter-war period and the Patrick shirt of 1983/84 being the others.

The content of collectables also extends to scooters, claret & amber trainers and even the appearance of oxblood Docs with yellow laces. It contributes to making this book a unique but highly enjoyable read that is likely to appeal to more than Motherwell supporters.

Last month there was talk of possible new club owners at VP who said that they would generate revenue by leveraging interest in BCAFC collectables through NFTs. Whether that ever comes to pass for unfashionable clubs such as BCAFC and Motherwell is highly questionable. For now, if you can’t get tangible ownership via Ebay at least you can access club collectables on the bookshelf.

John Dewhirst

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 You can read my other book reviews from here.

Details of my own most recent book, WOOL CITY RIVALS: A History in Colour (volume 7 in the Bantamspast History Revisited series) in collaboration with George Chilvers: Wool City Rivals: A History in Colour

Fir Park, 1984