Twenty-five years ago, Terry Butcher was climbing up those famous steps at Wembley to lift the FA Cup after swatting aside Arsenal. Now he is contemplating a perilous descent.
That glorious day with Ipswich Town is a mere memory for Butcher, who has been dealing with harsh reality for the last 12 months since Motherwell's financial troubles saw him inherit the manager's job. The cull of 19 players who were made redundant when the £9m debt prompted a slide into administration finally caught up with the Fir Park club yesterday, as defeat in their penultimate Scottish Premier League game of the season condemned them to six days of purgatory. Their fate now rests upon a vote of the SPL's 12 clubs on whether the First Division champions, Falkirk, should be promoted despite failing to fulfil stadium criteria.
If Friday's decision goes with Falkirk, Butcher's young side will be relegated, even though they have claimed victories over Celtic and Rangers in this campaign. "It's out of our hands now, we just have to wait and see what happens," Butcher said.
Yet the day had started so promisingly for Motherwell, who knew they required victory to keep alive the faint hope of clawing back the gap on Dundee United. They went in front after 16 minutes when David Clarkson's vigour won the ball in midfield. He supplied his fellow teenager James McFadden on the right. The Scotland player whipped in a low cross that was cleverly hooked past goalkeeper Peter Kjaer by Clarkson.
However, inside two minutes Leigh Hinds equalised for Aberdeen with a sumptuous right-foot shot on the turn from 25 yards, after a cross from Eric Deloumeaux had picked him out. Deloumeaux was a Motherwell player until the financial crisis saw him move to Pittodrie last summer.
The French defender, who netted the winner at Fir Park earlier in the season, came back to haunt his old club again, scoring in the 27th minute with a 35-yard shot whose flight was misjudged by goalkeeper François Dubourdeau, for whom things went from bad to worse. He failed to hold a shot from Hinds five minutes later, allowing Paul Sheerin to pounce and steer in the rebound.
Motherwell threw everything at Aberdeen in an attempt to rescue the situation in the second half. McFadden reduced the deficit with eight minutes left, sending Kjaer the wrong way with a penalty after Kevin McNaughton's handball.
McFadden, who is being courted by a clutch of English clubs, made a tearful bow to the Fir Park crowd at the end – perhaps in the knowledge that he, unlike his team, is assured of a higher platform next season.
Clarkson 16, McFadden pen 84
Hinds 19, Deloumeaux 28, Sheerin 34
Half-time: 1-3 Attendance: 4,731