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By ESPN Staff
Jan 4, 2008

Football figures gather for O'Donnell funeral

The world of football united in grief today at the funeral of Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell.

More than 500 mourners turned out to say farewell to the father of four who died after collapsing during a match last Saturday.

Hundreds more fans lined the streets outside St Mary's Church in Hamilton in tribute to the former Scotland, Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday star.

A guard of honour was formed by the Motherwell youth team for the arrival at the church of the player's grieving widow, Eileen, and their four children, who each carried a single rose.

O'Donnell, 35, collapsed towards the end of his club's 5-3 victory over Dundee United at Fir Park. A post-mortem examination later revealed he had suffered heart failure.

His Motherwell team-mates arrived an hour before the start of the service, led by manager Mark McGhee.

The entire Dundee United squad also attended the funeral.

Mourners began arriving a full two hours early for the Requiem Mass, which started at midday.

Celtic captain Stephen McManus was among the early arrivals and was later joined by the rest of the Hoops team, along with manager Gordon Strachan and club chairman John Reid, the former Home Secretary.

Rangers captain Barry Ferguson and the club's assistant manager, Ally McCoist, were also present, along with former players John Greig and Sandy Jardine.

Everton's James McFadden, a former Motherwell player who dedicated his New Year's Day goal to O'Donnell, was also there.

The scores of mourners from the world of football also included ex-Scotland captain Gary McAllister and former Scotland manager Craig Brown.

Former England international Terry Butcher, who signed O'Donnell when he was manager of Motherwell, was also present.

Mourners also came from the world of politics.

Former First Minister Jack McConnell, the MSP for Motherwell, was there, along with former MSP John Swinburne, a director of Motherwell.

Two of O'Donnell's nephews, both footballers, were among the family mourners - David Clarkson, who plays for Motherwell and was on the pitch when his uncle collapsed, and Stephen O'Donnell, who plays for St Mirren.

Outside the church, floral tributes lined the walls.

One said: 'The best Beat The Goalie ever.'

Another from former Celtic player John Collins and his wife, Susan, paid tribute to: 'A great man and a great team-mate who will be sadly missed.'

There were also floral tributes from the Lisbon Lions, European football chiefs Uefa and many football clubs, including Dundee United.

Among the hundreds of fans who gathered to hear the service relayed on loudspeakers was Derek Moore, 33, a Motherwell fan for 25 years, from Carfin, Motherwell.

He said: 'When Motherwell won the Scottish Cup in 1991 and he scored one of the goals, it was one of the greatest days of my life as a Motherwell fan.

'He was just a perfect gentleman, an absolute gentleman, and I'm here to pay my respects for his family.'

During the service, O'Donnell's former Motherwell team-mate Chris McCart read a tribute to the man he first met when he was a 16-year-old going through the ranks at Fir Park.

McCart, now youth development officer at Motherwell, said: 'Phil O'Donnell, family man, wonderful footballer, inspirational captain, role model, a great human being, and of course Uncle Phil.

'These are just a few of the tributes paid to Phil over the last week. His passing has left a great void in all our lives.'

McCart spoke warmly of O'Donnell's football career from his Motherwell debut in 1990 when he received a harsh lesson from St Mirren forward Kenny McDowall.

McCart said: 'Tommy McLean (then Motherwell manager) told him to toughen up if he wanted to make it as a professional.

'Move forward to May and he sticks his head where boots were flying to score in the Cup final. Lesson learned, Tommy.'

McCart spoke of O'Donnell's pride in playing for Celtic and stopping Rangers winning 10 league titles in a row. He also spoke of the only real disappointment in O'Donnell's life, when injuries blighted his time at Sheffield Wednesday.

But he also spoke of O'Donnell's pleasure on returning to Motherwell, where he captained the club.

McCart said: 'He was an inspiration to the young players.'

McCart revealed that despite O'Donnell's success in football, his real love was his family.

He said: 'His wife and four kids meant more to Phil than anything he achieved in his football career. His family was, quite simply, his world.'