Phil O'Donnell PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 November 2008 06:48

Phil O'Donnell in action against Dundee United

Phillip "Phil" O'Donnell

Born: 25 March 1972, Bellshill, Scotland

Died: 29 December 2007, Wishaw, Scotland

Age: 35

Cause of death: Heart attack

Notable because: Esteemed captain of Scottish Football team Motherwell, who died on the pitch during a game.


Phil O'Donnell was a Scottish football player. O'Donnell played for Motherwell, Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday over the course of his career.

He was born on 25 March 1972 in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, a few miles away from Motherwell’s Fir Park ground. O'Donnell began his career with his local team, making his first team debut in the 1990–91 season against St Mirren, and soon a regular first team player. He won a Scottish Cup winner's medal after scoring with a diving header in a 4–3 victory over Dundee United in the final that year. Ally McCoist commentating on the match describing him as being "brave as a lion". That result earned Motherwell entry to European competition for the first time and O'Donnell became the club's youngest player in Europe, playing a tie against Polish side GKS Katowice. He won the Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year Award in 1992 and 1994, and he earned one cap for the Scotland national football team, playing for 15 minutes as a substitute against Switzerland on 8 September 1993, replacing David Bowman. This form made him a target for bigger clubs and he signed for Celtic in September 1994. The fee of £1.75m is the highest Motherwell have received for a player.

O'Donnell scored two goals in his debut for Celtic against Partick Thistle, and went on to win another Scottish Cup in 1995. He also earned his sole league winner's medal with the club in 1998, but injuries proved to be a major concern and his appearances for the club were limited. In 1999 O'Donnell was among a number of players who failed to agree terms on a new contract with Celtic chairman Fergus McCann, and instead signed for Sheffield Wednesday. He made his debut against Everton on 11 September 1999, but injuries continued to curtail his career and he played just one match during his first season (when the club were relegated from the Premier League). He went on to play just 20 times in four years for Sheffield Wednesday and was given a free transfer at the time of their relegation to Division Two in 2003.

O'Donnell returned to Scotland where former club Motherwell offered him the chance to train with them again. The Fir Park outfit re-signed him in January 2004, allowing him the chance to appear alongside his nephew, David Clarkson and earning him the club nickname, "Uncle Phil". He was also the uncle of St Mirren midfielder Stephen O'Donnell and Brian Dempsie who had also played for Motherwell. In his second spell at Motherwell he appeared in another cup final, this time being on the losing side as Rangers won the 2005 Scottish League Cup 5–1. The following season he replaced Scott Leitch as club captain.

On 29 December 2007, O'Donnell collapsed during a game against Dundee United just as he was about to be substituted. He was treated on the pitch for about five minutes by the Motherwell and Dundee United club doctors before being taken by ambulance to Wishaw General Hospital. However, he was pronounced dead at 17.18 hours. He was 35 years of age, married and had four children.

A postmortem examination was carried out on 1 January 2008 and it was revealed O'Donnell died of left ventricular failure. His funeral was on 4 January, at St Mary's church in Hamilton.

The Phil O'Donnell Stand

Former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell, MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw, was among those to pay tribute. He hailed the midfielder as a "great professional." He said, "as captain he helped transform Motherwell this season. Phil will be sadly missed by his family and by football fans but he will be mourned by the whole community."

The player was described as a "perfect gentleman" by former Scotland coach Craig Brown. He said: "It's very, very sad news, I just can't get over it. You would not get a more ideal role model for a young footballer than Phil O'Donnell. I think in his first spell at Motherwell he was probably the best box-to-box midfield player – maybe not just in Scotland but in the UK."

Motherwell and other fans laid flowers, scarves, strips and other mementos at the gates of Fir Park. The club's scheduled SPL game against Hibs at Easter Road the following Wednesday was postponed along with the club's home game with Celtic the following Sunday out of respect. Scottish Premier League chairman Lex Gold said: "We understand from Phil's family that they would appreciate it if the Motherwell v Celtic game scheduled for 6 January 2008 could be postponed. Both clubs are happy to meet the request and we have called the game off." On 31 December the SPL postponed the Celtic v Rangers fixture scheduled for 2 January 2008 following a request by O'Donnell's former club Celtic, which was agreed by Rangers.

Players in 30 December's English Premier League matches between Derby County and Blackburn Rovers, and Manchester City and Liverpool F.C., wore black bands in his honour. Sheffield Wednesday's matches at Hull City and at home to Preston North End were preceded by a minutes applause as a mark of respect to their former player, with the Hillsborough flags flying at half mast. All English Premiership ties in the New Year programme were preceded with either a minute of applause or silence in O'Donnell's memory. Everton and Scottish striker James McFadden, who played with O'Donnell at Motherwell, dedicated his goal to O'Donnell in Everton's 2–0 win at Middlesbrough by pointing solemnly to his black armband and then towards the sky.

Thousands of tributes from around the world have been posted on the internet. has received hundreds of written tributes from fans as far as Korea and Ukraine, as well as many emotional messages from Sevilla F.C., comparing O'Donnell's death to the similar tragedy of Antonio Puerta earlier in the season. Sevilla F.C. director of football Ramon Rodríguez Monchi said, "This is terrible news. Right now, my thoughts are with Phil's family and everybody at Motherwell. Unfortunately, with the death of Phil O'Donnell, Motherwell have suffered a similar tragedy to ours. Antonio Puerta died at the beginning of the season and I know how terrible the whole experience is. Sevilla will be available to help in any way that we are able, to heal the pain and sadness of this tragic loss."

Motherwell announced the Main Stand at Fir Park will be renamed The Phil O'Donnell Stand as a permanent tributeand Phil's team-mates payed their own personal tribute by having his signature embroidered on their strips for the remainder of the 2007/08 season.

On 25 May 2008 a benefit match was held at Celtic Park in memory of O'Donnell with the proceeds going to various charities. The match was between a Celtic F.C. side drawn from their 1998 title winning squad and a Motherwell F.C. side drawn from their 1991 Scottish Cup win. Other players such as David Clarkson and James McFadden played in the game. Henrik Larsson described the match as "a sad occasion but at the same time it's a kind of celebration for everything." The match finished 5-1, in front of 60,000


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