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Motherwell still driven by legendary men of steel

THE word 'legend' is often used rather loosely in footballing circles.

Tom Hateley in action for Motherwell in Europe. Picture: EPA
Tom Hateley in action for Motherwell in Europe. Picture: EPA

When Tom Hateley is asked about the positions held by Keith Lasley and Stevie Hammell within the folklore of Fir Park, though, it is the only word that will do.

Fresh from signing new two-year contracts over the summer, of course, the stories of these two grizzled, old veterans are still evolving.

The next chapter is to be written against the Icelandic club Stjarnan in the first leg of Motherwell's Europa League second qualifying round fixture tomorrow evening. How Hateley dreams of it serving as the prelude to his two old friends leading the club and its followers into the most wonderful of adventures in the group stages and taking their careers to a fresh, uncharted high.

This latest sojourn marks the Lanarkshire club's sixth European campaign in seven seasons with Hammell and Lasley, both in their second spells at the club, the only members of the playing staff to have been present since that run began in September 2008 with defeat to AS Nancy in the UEFA Cup.

Statistics, if not trophies, will form a large part of their legacies. Hammell notched up his 500th competitive appearance for the club towards the end of last season. Lasley seems a relative rookie by comparison with a piffling 383 outings on his record.

What Hateley remembers more than any amount of numbers, though, is the men they are. What he remembers most is the way they turned the Motherwell dressing-room into somewhere warm and welcoming and a joy to spend your working life in. Stuart McCall, the club's manager, is rightly given great credit for bringing continued success against the backdrop of players leaving like snow off a dyke and ever-reducing amounts of money being available to replace them.

He has, without question, nurtured a great team spirit, but Hateley points out that he walked into an environment that was already happy and harmonious.

When the Englishman arrived at Motherwell as an untested teenager in 2009, Hammell and Lasley were having their own troubles under the somewhat unpredictable Jim Gannon. That did not stop them from bringing him into the heart of the squad and he knows just how important they will be as McCall attempts to steer his men towards a little piece of history in Europe.

"Las and Hammy are top blokes and they are the biggest reason why everyone enjoys going into training and being in each other's company at Motherwell," said Hateley, now playing for the Polish side Slask Wroclaw after leaving Fir Park for Tranmere Rovers last year. "They are two legends of the club. They deserve that status. Just look at the number of games both of them have played.

"I can't speak highly enough of them, both as footballers and as men. Hammy has been involved with the Scotland squad in the past, of course, but this is a club that both him and Las have been part of for many, many years and getting into the group stage of a UEFA competition at this stage in their careers would probably be the cherry on the cake for them.

"I was only 19 when I joined Motherwell and they helped me bed in really well. You might not think that is particularly young, but I had never played games in a big league and those guys just had an aura around them. Sometimes, a new lad can come into a dressing room and be left sitting in the corner on their phone. It can be like the first day at school almost. It can certainly be tense and awkward at a new club.

"That is not something Las or Hammy would ever allow to happen.

"They drag you into the conversations and make sure you feel involved and welcome. They will probably ask you to make a few cups of tea for them, but you don't mind doing that as a new addition because it helps make you feel part of things. They are similar to the manager, Stuart McCall, in that they have a laugh and a joke and still set the right example when there is work to be done.

"I have my fingers crossed for all of them in Europe this year."

While Hammell does have one full international cap to show for his career, Lasley has never been granted such an accolade despite being a hugely consistent performer in the top flight of Scottish football.

"I don't think he has received the recognition he deserves, but that is just the way football goes sometimes," commented Hateley. "Las is captain now and I am sure everyone you speak to at Fir Park would agree that is fully deserved. He is the kind of player that fans of other clubs love to hate because he puts himself around, makes tackles and covers an unbelievable amount of ground."

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