ON the side of the stand named in his honour, there is a light within the Phil O’Donnell memorial that serves as a reminder of the presence that the former Motherwell captain had on the club during his life, a presence that is still felt to this day. Ten years on from his tragic and untimely death on the Fir Park pitch, the memory of the man is a light that never goes out within the walls of the Lanarkshire club, and within the hearts of those who knew him.

The memories of that fateful day when he collapsed as he was substituted, just as he was handing the captain’s armband to Stephen Craigan, are still so vivid in the minds of all of those present that it is barely conceivable that they took place exactly a decade ago today.

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“It is so strange to think it was so long ago that we lost Phil,” said Craigan, as he paused to reflect on that harrowing evening, and the legacy left by his former teammate.

“Sometimes something will take you by surprise and make you think about all of the things that have taken place in your life since then, and that’s when it can seem like a long time ago. Seeing Phil’s son, Luc, carrying out the trophy at the League Cup final just there for instance and seeing how old he is now to how he was then.

“But I’m in the club practically every day, and there are constant reminders of him everywhere. There isn’t a day goes by I don’t think of him, and the memories of the day he passed away will always seem fresh, and that probably goes for everyone who was there.”

From the stands, the one thing that sticks in the mind most is the silence that rippled across the ground moments after O’Donnell hit the turf, as the realisation that something serious had befallen the Motherwell skipper took hold of the 5000 or so people present in an instant. It was an eerie silence, and in some strange way, was unique among any other I have ever heard at a football ground before or since. There was none of the background noise you might associate with a minute’s silence, for instance, no shouts from those drifting through the turnstiles who are unaware of what is going on. Everyone inside the ground knew in that moment that something definitely wasn’t right, if not aware of the full extent of the seriousness of the situation.

“My first memory is always seeing the number 10 go up on the boards,” Craigan recalled.

“I looked at Phil and he looked a little bit lost. I told him that it was his number that was up, and as he handed me the armband, he said ‘I’m not doing too well.’ That was it, and then he was down.

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“I tried to help him and then Lee Wilkie was down trying to help him too as I was frantically shouting for the medical staff to come on, who were there in seconds.

“I knew that Phil was obviously unwell, but we had just played at Ibrox on Boxing Day and then had this game in quick succession, so I was hoping that it perhaps just taken it out of him.

“The rest of the game was played in a very subdued atmosphere, and to be honest, we just wanted to get off the pitch to see if he was ok.”

The sight of O’Donnell’s nephew, David Clarkson – who had scored a sublime hat-trick that day against Dundee United - scampering up the tunnel behind his uncle’s stretcher as he was substituted moments later, hardly helped to ease the sense of trepidation that had taken hold of the ground.

After the final whistle, rumours spread among the fans filtering out into the Lanarkshire darkness that O’Donnell had suffered a seizure, and while that news was hardly great, it was welcomed in that his prospects of recovery at least appeared good. This version of events was accepted readily, perhaps because everyone who heard it simply wanted to believe it.

Inside the Motherwell dressing room, though, the awful truth was revealing itself.

“It was only when we saw the medical staff that we became aware of the full seriousness off the situation,” Craigan said. “You could see it in their faces. There was just disbelief.

“Your immediate thoughts were for his family. Everyone outside of the club obviously thought of him as a footballer first, but for those of us who knew him, we knew that was very much secondary to his family life.

“He would always be telling us about running about to take his kids here and there after training or what have you, and we all knew how much he loved that. So, first and foremost, it was them that were uppermost in your mind.

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“None of us were interested in playing football, or perhaps registered straight away that we had just lost the heart and soul of the dressing room, because that’s what he was. It wasn’t about us, you just felt for his family.”

In the days that followed, it wasn’t just the club or the town who shared in the deep shock and sadness of what had occurred, but the entire country, it seemed. Messages came in from all over the world, in fact, as football united behind this little club from Lanarkshire.

As those days turned into weeks, the story of O’Donnell as a man away from the field emerged, only serving to add to the feeling of injustice over such a life being extinguished so early. Things that the likes of Craigan were all too aware of, but football fans rarely see or care about. He had a wife, Eileen. A young family. It all seemed so unfair.

Gradually, of course, life went on. The news cameras moved on from outside what was then simply called the Main Stand. For the fans, it was undoubtedly tragic and a shock to the system. But while they would always hold affection for someone they had followed from his first goal for Motherwell as an 18-year-old in the Scottish Cup final – the moment that the ‘Brave as a Lion’ legend that adorns the massive tribute tile inside the Fir Park tunnel was born – they would soon be able to move on with their day-to-day lives.

For his teammates, like Craigan, that would of course prove much more difficult. And for his family, well, it doesn’t bare thinking about.

“As it turned out, it was a few weeks before we played again,” said Craigan.

“It was a Scottish Cup game at Hearts, and there was a huge Motherwell crowd through for it.

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“We were two down at half-time, and we just said in the dressing room that we had to go out and do something, put on some kind of a show for Phil and his family. We managed to turn it around and got a 2-2 draw.

“The reception David [Clarkson] got was magnificent, and we knew that we had to keep an eye on him.

“He just loved being in the same dressing room as his uncle, and his mum probably felt secure in that she had her brother there to take him under his wing in the infancy of his career.

“That had all changed, and we all had to step up to help fill that void. But he handled himself tremendously.”

The subsequent high-profile matches between Motherwell and Celtic, the team he supported as a boy and won the league title with in 1998, have been a fitting way to remember Phil, from the tribute game in 2008, to the Scottish Cup final of 2011 and through to November’s League cup final.

And Craigan, as manager of Motherwell’s under-20s, makes sure that a mark of respect is continually paid to a legend of the club, but first and foremost, a good friend and a fine family man.

“Even with the under-20s, we don’t use the number 10,” he said.

“Phil’s memory has always been kept alive here, and it always will be, no matter how much time goes by.”