THE expectation that sits on any player’s shoulders going into a Scottish Cup final as he carries the dreams of thousands of supporters out with him onto the Hampden pitch is a burden in itself, but what is it like to carry the hopes of an entire town?

Rarely can a team have gone into the Scottish game’s showpiece event with so much riding on their success as the Motherwell side of 1991. Amid the gloomy backdrop of looming redundancies in the area from the impending closure of the Ravenscraig steelworks emerged a beacon of light for the worried residents of the Lanarkshire town in the form of Tommy McLean’s side.

The unfancied outfit of dogged professionals and promising youngsters, sprinkled with the magic-dust of Davie Cooper and Phil O’Donnell, had navigated a path to the final, knocking out holders Aberdeen on their own patch and Celtic in a semi-final replay along the way.

And as Chris McCart, a young central defender at the time, explains, the men who walked out at the national stadium in claret and amber that overcast May afternoon were fully aware this was more than just a football match for so many people.

“The Ravenscraig was the heartbeat of the town, and in fact, Lanarkshire at the time,” McCart said. “It was the major employer in the area, and wherever you went you seemed to always be passing Ravenscraig because it was just so huge.

“It had a devastating impact on those families and the entire area when the announcement it was to close came about.

“Our manager, Tommy McLean, always made us aware who were playing for, and the circumstances they were going through. We had an understanding of it, but unless you are actually going through it yourself, that reality is obviously very different.

“It was when we got to the cup final really that it hit home. There was a bit of gloom in the town, and the cup run took people’s minds off it. Whether that was for a day, or for a moment, it did that.

“Motherwell as a town and as an area really got behind the team in a massive way, and I think they really played a huge part in us winning it, because there were over 30,000 Motherwell fans at the game. It was incredible.

“When we came out for the warm-up there was a cheer, which had never happened to us before. Even when you played Celtic or Rangers at home, you weren’t getting that.

“So, we fully understood how special and important an occasion it was.”

The rest, to paraphrase, is Motherwell history. One of the most enthralling cup finals of all-time ended with Tommy McLean’s side beating his brother Jim’s Dundee United by four goals to three after extra-time.

From a disallowed goal, Motherwell goalkeeper Ally Maxwell playing on despite having cracked ribs and a ruptured spleen, a last-minute equaliser for United through to Stevie Kirk’s eventual winner, it was a game that will forever live in the memory of anyone there.

For those who weren’t, and for those with the constitution to go through it all again, the chance to revisit not only that epic final but the whole run comes tonight as the ‘Steelmen’ documentary is aired on BBC Alba.

The programme is a wonderful window into the famous triumph, but it is also a poignant social document of the backdrop of gloom and uncertainty that hung over the town at the time like a pall.

For McCart, as a player, he is looking forward to seeing the whole experience through the eyes of a supporter.

“The game had everything, and we went through the whole gamut of emotions,” he said. “I can only imagine what it was like for the fans to watch.

“As we got towards the end it was in my head that another late sucker-punch was possible.

“The heroics of Ally Maxwell were incredible. There was last-ditch defending from the team, we dug in, and then Ally produces a ridiculous save from Maurice Malpas. It was utterly heroic.

“When the whistle blew it was just relief. You had been through every emotion on that day.

“When you win a cup final for the first time, you don’t really know what to do. Walking up those stairs as a winner was something else.

“To be honest, it was probably two or three days later before it sunk in. The following day was incredible, but a lot of it is a blur.

He continued: “We went back to Fir Park and it was an incredible scene. It was the first time Motherwell had won the cup since 1952, and with everything that was happening with Ravenscraig it was just amazing.

“People just let their emotions out. People were crying, people were laughing and shaking their heads and hugging each other.

“There was a magnificent reaction to winning it, and a real community reaction. The grass at Fir Park was flooded and the stands were packed, and we certainly felt like heroes in that moment.

“The groundsman Andy Russell used to have an Alsatian there, but he must have been carried away with it all too.”

*Steelmen is produced by purpleTV for BBC ALBA. It will air on Friday 18 January at 9pm, and be available for 30 days thereafter on BBC iPlayer.