It is almost 20 years to the day since Stevie Hammell took his first pensive steps through the main entrance at Motherwell’s Fir Park Stadium. He had no idea of the ups and downs, the tragedies and triumphs, and the love affair with the club that lay ahead of him.

For Hammell, the end of his playing career is now near, and he may already have faced the final curtain.

The 35-year-old will hang up his boots at the end of January after over 500 appearances for the Fir Park club to take up the Academy Director role vacated by former teammate Scott Leitch just prior to Christmas.

The match against Hamilton last Saturday, barring an injury crisis, is likely to be his last before stepping out of the spotlight and into the backroom team. He admits that the transition will be bittersweet.

“It’s strange, the emotions are mixed,” said Hammell. “I think if I was 40 years old and retiring then it would still be a sad day.

“It’s going to be a wrench to stop playing. I love it, I can’t hide that. I come to training every day and enjoy it, it’s never been a chore for me or a grind. I’ve never struggled to come in, I still love it and I will miss it.

“But I’m also really excited about the new opportunity that the club have given me, and I’m really looking forward to getting started on that.

“It’s a great honour. I spoke to the chairman, I spoke to Alan Burrows, the manager spoke to me and Scott Leitch spoke to me, and they all really recommended that it was the perfect fit for me.

“It maybe came a little bit earlier than what I would have expected, but in football, nothing is ever perfectly timed.

“I feel I could play for longer, but an opportunity like this is something I’ve been preparing for for a number of years, it’s not something that’s just luckily landed on my lap.

“It excites me, and I believe I can go in and do a really good job.”

The term legend is one that is routinely overused in football, but in the eyes of the Motherwell support, and any impartial observer, there is no doubt that Hammell fits the description for the Lanarkshire club.

He is the post-war record holder for appearances, and has turned out in European competition for the club too on more occasions than any other player. He has witnessed the incredible highs, such as cup finals and second-place finishes in the league, to the lows of relegation battles and the unspeakable personal tragedies such as the untimely deaths of friends and teammates.

Through it all, he has been the model of consistency, both on the park and away from it, where his unassuming professionalism marked him out as a player who would be forever remembered by the Fir Park faithful.

“I don’t consider myself a legend,” he said. “I’m not that kind of person. When you grow older as a player you want to be remembered when you leave the club. A lot of people think they will be but are forgotten about after a couple of years. When your time is up you just hope you’ve done as much as you can to be remembered.

“I’ve had a few highs. Making my debut is something I’ll never forget. I’ve played in Europe more than anyone for this club, I’ve made more appearances post-war for this club than anyone else and I’ve made my full debut for Scotland.

“These are all dreams as a kid and I’ve managed to fulfil them here at this club. It’s such an amazing place for me and I hold a lot of love for it. As cheesy as that sounds, I do.

“I think it’s maybe 20 years to the day since I joined here, so it’s a lot of time considering I’m still relatively young. All of these things put together as well as the people you meet and the relationship you build with fans, the way the fans have treated me is something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

“We’ve been through a few lows too and it’s difficult talking about them. Administration is the obvious one, and I’ve sadly seen friends pass away.

“Administration was awful, seeing boys who lose their jobs and have never really recovered, but lessons have been learned and the club is stronger.”

So, what does he remember of those heady days when he may not have known it, but he was absorbing the lessons that he will now pass on to those making their own tentative first steps in their Motherwell careers?

“It was such a different place,” he said. “I was 15, and coming in and walking into that away dressing room, I was like ‘wow’. It was an experience.

“People who come through the YTS, they talk about ‘The Away’, that away dressing room and the atmosphere in there, especially back in the day. The stories and the stuff that went on on a daily basis, but it set you in good stead.

“It was a steep learning curve and lessons were harshly learned, but they brought you on and there was always a real togetherness in there. It was all a part of building your character and giving you the tools required to go on and make it as a professional.

“When I was young I had options to go to a few teams, but John Park was in charge of me as a young boy, and Alex McLeish was the manager.

“Alex came to my house and said; ‘Listen, you’ve got offers here and there, but in terms of going into the first-team, Motherwell is the place where if you show what you can do, you will get there quicker.’

“That’s the message now that I’m going to be passing on to these young boys. This is the place you want to send your kids, see them develop, and get them into the first-team as quickly as possible, because that’s what this club is all about.”

And having come through the club himself and knowing what it takes to succeed there, who better than Hammell to encourage the next generation?

“I’ve been involved in the academy for a number of years now and know all the good points and the boys coming through,” he said.

“I need to bridge that gap from the boys coming in full time and slowly get them ready physically, mentally, tactically and in terms of technique.

“You see boys playing at 16-years-old at other clubs and these boys are ready to go. We need to get ours in the first team.

“We’ve got a good group in the academy now that I know well and have worked with for a number of years and it’s about how many we can get in the first team.

“The club can’t continually spend money and pull players from other teams. The lifeblood of the club is the academy.”

And as Hammell knows only too well after forging his bond with the Motherwell supporters as part of the exciting crop that came through post-administration, along with the likes of James McFadden and Stephen Pearson, there is nothing the punters like to see more than one of their own in the claret and amber.

“As a fan of the club when you see a young boy making his debut then there is no better feeling, and the world is the oyster for some of these boys,” Hammell added.

“It’s all there for them. We’ve got the tools here if they go and apply themselves well.

“As a young boy you don’t really know until you’ve been given that chance. I felt when I was given the chance I was ready and I took it.” That, he certainly did.