Full name: Stuart Elliott
DOB: 23 July 1978 (age 35)
POB: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Clubs: Glentoran, Motherwell, Hull City, Doncaster Rovers, Grimsby Town, Hamilton Academical, Stirling Albion
International caps : 36 (four goals)
Born into the troubles of Belfast in the late 70s, religion was all around Elliott’s young environment. However, he was not forced down the path of Christianity by an overbearing parent or the pressures of his peers. His mother and father were non-religious types who just wanted their son to respect others. It wouldn’t be until the aspiring footballer was 17 that he decided he wanted to devote his spare time to following the word of God after witnessing a preacher talk about the faith. From that point on God was a huge part of his life. Not your average interest for a professional footballer. Then again, the way Elliott played the game wouldn’t be described a average either.
The 5ft 10in pacey left winger had an almost unnatural leaping ability, which made him a dominant force in the air. A large majority of his goals were scored with his head. Onlookers who shared his belief in religion would remark that he had “angel wings” on his back, allowing him to hang in the air so long and continually jump over taller defenders. This trait, along with excellent positional sense in and around the penalty area, often encouraged managers to play him up front. He would routinely perform in such a role but it was obvious that he was at home pressuring the opposing full-back on the flanks. An ability he had with or without the football.
The attacker arrived at Motherwell in the summer of 2000 after coming through the ranks and becoming a hero to the fans of Glentoran. It was Billy Davies who captured him as he looked to strengthen the squad that had lost out on a place in Europe on the final day of the previous season. His debut came in a disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Dundee in what was the first match of the Ivano Bonetti reign at Dens Park. He started through the centre in a 4-4-2, partnering John Spencer, and had a quiet afternoon by all accounts. The very next match saw another defeat and another first as Martin O’Neill won his Celtic Park managerial debut with a nervy 1-0 win that suggested little indication of a dominant season ahead for the Glasgow club. The slow start Motherwell endured didn’t get any easier with a draw at fellow strugglers Dundee United the subsequent match. Concerns about Davies’s ability to manage the team going forward soon arose. The season before Motherwell had lost only three of their first 16 games before dropping nine of their next 20 and the concern was that the initial magic weaved by the manager had long worn off.
After four games, three defeats, one goal scored and one point registered, Motherwell travelled to Rugby Park for a league meeting with Kilmarnock. It would be here that Elliott registered his first goals for the club. Playing on the left of a 4-3-3 he twice gave Motherwell the lead, only to watch his teammates fail to hold onto the advantage as the hosts came back to win 3-2. The team did bounce back with four points from their next two games, but three consecutive league defeats to Hibs, Rangers and Hearts saw them second bottom of the table three points ahead of Dundee United.
Then, all of a sudden, things began to click. The next match saw St Johnstone travel to Fir Park. Elliott and Spencer terrorised the away defence en route to a 4-0 win with Elliott adding another double to his early season tally (though the first goal is debated and the records state an Darren Dods OG). It started a run of five games without defeat, which included Elliott spoiling the debut of Claudio Canigga in an away trip at Dundee. The stands were almost full as the locals came out in force to see a player who once scored the equalising goal in a World Cup semi-final. Dundee even made a special attempt to showcase the new player by letting the other 21 players enter the field before announcing the inclusion of their new starting striker. It whipped the hysteria up further, only for it all to be deflated inside five minutes as Elliott struck twice and Motherwell held on for a 2-1 win. Davies’s side were finally up and running and not even the league leaders could derail them; Celtic and Motherwell sharing six goals in a thrilling Fir Park draw. Elliott then produced the winner in a 2-1 home win over United before he assisted his team in taking three points from Dunfermline despite trailing the match for 76 minutes.
The problem was that because of the dreadful start to the season and the now inconceivable notion that Dundee United could overtake them at the bottom of the table – Motherwell had opened a 16 point gap that remained even after the run was finally ended by a 2-1 defeat at home to Kilmarnock – the league season was all but done in mid-November. Their form remained strong with a draw at Aberdeen and win over St Mirren, but four defeats in six games ended any wild hope of an unlikely charge at Europe. Elliott’s form also dipped slightly as he was in and out of the side with Davies still not entirely sure where to place the winger/forward. With Lee McCulloch in the squad, he already had a left sided attacker equable capable on the wing or up front.
Having spent most of the winter period coming off the bench, Elliott finally forced his way back into the team only to endure a miserable defeat to United in the Scottish Cup. Four points from the next five games following the exit confirmed their place in the bottom six as Elliott’s goal in a 1-0 win over St Johnstone wasn’t enough to lift them into the elite section of the SPL split. All that was left to look forward to was the future and Elliott did his best to provide some hope with a double in each of the last two games.
The positive feeling did not last long into the new campaign. Motherwell exceeded the ineptitude which characterised the beginning of the previous year with no wins in their first seven matches that left them fighting with St Johnstone at the bottom of the table. Things finally came to a head in late September before a league meeting with Hearts when Davies was relieved of his duties. He then had to watch on bitterly as his players, incapable of performing until that point, showed the required motivation to run over Hearts for a 2-0 win. Elliott grabbed the second goal.
Eric Black was Davies’s replacement but it did not prompt an immediate rise up the table. Six games without a win at the turn of the year left them second bottom, albeit with a five point cushion over St Johnstone. From there things finally began to improve with four wins from the next six games that lifted them above struggling Hibs – a run which coincided with the emergence of a young James McFadden. It was enough to pacify any relegation fears but not even to gloss over a dismal season. Hibs soon got their act together and passed Motherwell in the league table, leaving the Lanarkshire club second bottom once again. Things then got worse when the club was placed into administration. Eric Black was one of the casualties as the squad and coaching staff was trimmed to reduce costs, with Terry Butcher coming in as the new gaffer. The one consolation was that the Fir Park fans got to enjoy their club ensuring their top flight status by officially relegating St Johnstone. Paul Hartley took the lead at Fir Park, but Elliott’s 70th minute equaliser sent the visitors down with four games still to be played.
For the second season in succession he had finished as the team’s top goalscorer, but it was here that the relationship ended. Elliott was unsure of his future with the club in serious financial peril and he prayed to God for guidance on his next move. The big man upstairs must have answered the call because the very next day the player was informed that Hull City had bid £230,000 for his services and that the offer had been accepted. The specific denomination of Elliott’s faith has only three churches in the world. One is in Belfast, another is in Lanarkshire and the third is in Hull. Elliott took this as a sign and agreed to a deal despite the Yorkshire club languishing in the fourth tier of English football.
Motherwell fans may have fond memories of Elliott, but at the KC Stadium he is unanimously revered. Things got off to an excellent started when he scored on his debut against Southend, though this was to become an undoubted high point in a difficult start to his first season. Elliott himself battled with injuries and saw the manager that signed him, Jan Molby, sacked just a couple of months in. Peter Taylor was the replacement and the former Leicester manager was initially unsure of where to play Elliott. His shifting around the attack mirrored that of his time at Motherwell, spending periods up front, on the left or coming off the bench. Still he bagged a respectable 12 goals over the course of the year.
Taylor steadied the team and they finished in 13th place. Then things began to take off. Elliott took up permanent residence on the left wing in a 4-4-2/4-2-4 hybrid that tore many an opponent apart. Elliott netted 14, every member of the front four hit double figures and Hull City returned to the third tier for the first time in eight years.
If a winger hitting double figures was impressive enough, Elliott took it to new levels the next season when he blasted in an amazing 29 goals, most of which came from midfield. He netted an incredible 15 in the first 13 games and scored an astounding 30 yard volley against Brentford that had pundits across Sky Sports cooing over the strike. His importance to the team was noted when a fractured cheekbone, caused by Sam Sodje’s elbow, forced him to miss two months after the new year. While he was out, Hull’s form suffered and there was a fear they’d miss out on the successive promotions, something which had looked inevitable prior to the injury. Goals in successive wins following his return put things back on track. A few weeks later he scored in a 2-0 away win at Bradford that all but sealed their passage to the Championship.
It was at this point, in the 2005-06 season that his career momentum stalled. Playing at a higher level on a struggling side was always going to be a strain on his ability to perform, but another factor outwith his control denied him the chance to excel in England’s second tier. First came continuous injury problems that wrote off a lot of 05-06 (though he still scored seven goals from left midfield) then Elliott developed and ultimately suffered from a rare form of asthma that had the breathing problems associated with the condition exacerbated by exercise. It meant he often had to skip training sessions and could not be the reliable attacker that he had been under Taylor for new manager Phil Parkinson. He did, however, collect one more cherished football memory as a member of the Northern Ireland side that famously defeated England at Windsor Park in a World Cup qualifier.
Elliott hung around until 2008 as Hull stuck in the Championship, but his game time gradually reduced and he left on a free transfer that summer. He turned down offers from Darlington and Southend because he wanted to stay close to his church and ended up signing with Doncaster. It was a miserable time in which he made few appearances and scored zero goals. Halfway through the second season of his two-year deal he was allowed to return to Lanarkshire and sign with Hamilton Academical. The club had been promoted from the First Division at the beginning of the previous campaign and were fighting once more for their top flight lives. The team would avoid relegation that season but Elliott didn’t make much of an impression and he decided to call it a day on his football career in the summer.
Where is he now? He is a pastor at the Living Hope Christian Church in Hull and often speaks about his religious views and his experiences dealing with this in professional football.
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