East Fife v East Stirlingshire, 30 April 2016

Another Saturday, another East Fife game I’d been really looking forward to. This time it was “getting the trophy day”, but before that, 90 minutes of something approaching football.

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Some fancy pre-match pyrotechnics

The match itself was, predictably, about as flat as a flat thing. One point it was good to get clarification on was in the third minute, where referee David Munro confirmed that attempting to brawl with someone you’ve just fouled is in fact only worth a yellow card. Shire’s John Fraser was the incomprehensibly lucky recipient of the yellow, and set the tone for his team-mates’ slightly petulant display. Mr Fraser didn’t see a great deal more of the game, coming off 8 minutes before half time.

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Some first half action, with East Fife’s Kyle Wilkie on the ball.

A fairly insipid first 45 minutes ended scoreless, with the season-high 1,360 crowd at Bayiew a little underwhelmed. I was perversely quite pleased when, only 6 minutes into the second half, Shire took the lead with Michael McMullin firing a lovely left-footed free kick past Liam Kelly in the Fife goal. Shire’s opener provided the proverbial rocket for the home side, and captain Kevin Smith bundled in an equaliser two minutes later.

While East Fife did their best to find a winner, the main highlights of the second half were the opportunities to give three important players in the black and gold a decent send-off. Firstly, club stalwart and occasional free-kick scorer Stevie Campbell was given an excellent ovation before his switch to the UAE’s top tier, as he was replaced by Declan O’Kane. Jamie Insall, who had provided some vital goals since arriving on loan from Hibernian in November, was next to receive the crowd’s appreciation, being replaced by Jordan Austin.

Finally, Nathan Austin came off, to cap off an outstanding season and to return to Falkirk, who had signed the striker in January and loaned him back to Methil. The local boy (though originally from Hertfordshire) done good might even have a crack at the Premiership next season should his new side see their way through the Championship play-0ffs. His replacement, Paul McManus, ensured his own little bit of history in receiving his second league winners’ medal, having been part of the Fife’s 3rd Division title winning side in 2008.

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East Fife captain Kevin Smith lifts the League 2 trophy

Full time arrived, and the anti-climactic game against the league’s bottom team was soon forgotten. After some set-up and a colourful array of pyrotechnics, the trophy was in Kevin Smith’s mitts. And then, the fans were given the club’s permission to invade the pitch – not something that happens at most football games.

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The traditional end of season pitch invasion

How Gary Naysmith fills his squad over the summer, particularly filling the rather large hole left by the departure of Nathan Austin, will keep every East Fife fan interested prior to restarting life in League 1 – in the meantime, however, soaking up a rather unexpected title win in the late April sunshine did the business quite nicely.

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The family unit, on the reasonably fancy trophy-awarding plinth thing.

East Fife 1-1 East Stirlingshire (Smith; McMullin)

Clyde v East Fife, 16 April 2016

After yesterday’s love letter of sorts to East Fife, today was the real business. A win for East Fife in Cumbernauld would guarantee the League 2 title, promotion back to League 1 and general unencumbered happiness in the Methil ranks.

This was my second trip to Cumbernauld, the first being a frustrating 1-0 play-off semi final first leg defeat in 2014. Today would bring no more goals for East Fife, but a whole lot more pleasure.

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Some first half action from a sunny Cumbernauld

The 90 minutes were filled with tension and the odd excitable outburst from my good self. While East Fife had arguably the better chances in the game, with Kevin Smith getting the ball caught under his feet as East Fife broke midway through the first half, Clyde perhaps circulated the ball better than the Methil men. Clyde’s five yellow cards also (rightly) suggested that they were the less well-disciplined of the two sides. The home side’s two enormous centre-halves (who were both yellow card recipients) were able to stifle Nathan Austin’s aerial threat in particular – the wonderfully gangly striker only really able to bring his skills to the fore when the ball went into his feet.

To Gary Naysmith’s credit, with 15 minutes to go and the scores still level at 0-0, he threw on Jamie Insall to give Austin some support and to seek a winning goal. As the Fife fans furiously checked Livescore on their phones (other football apps are available),  and other results fell beautifully in East Fife’s favour, there were some slightly premature chants of “Champione” going up from the sizeable away support. Both sides still sought the winner, but about 30 seconds before Colin Steven blew for full time, suddenly all 554 of the East Fife fans in Cumbernauld knew the draw would be enough.

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Post-match celebrations at Broadwood

When the final whistle arrived, the relief and joy were glorious – I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a 0-0 draw more. East Fife’s exemplary finish to the season had brought another moment to add to those I listed in yesterday’s post. As my wife said on the way back to the car, Cumbernauld would, strangely, be another of those places that would hold meaning for me for the rest of my football-supporting life.

As an aside, there has to be an honourable mention for Podge. An East Fife fan who I’ve never not seen at a game I’ve been to (and who my grandad always asks after), he was for some reason singled out by one of the overly-enthusiastic Clyde stewards when there was a small and well-mannered pitch invasion on the final whistle. The steward did his best to lie on Podge, but Podge escaped, drew the applause of the crowd, then fell on his arse – to be fair to him, he wasn’t the first person to slip on Clyde’s artificial surface. Quite frankly, it was a hilarious way to finish an outstanding afternoon in North Lanarkshire.

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Well, quite

Clyde 0-0 East Fife; East Fife win League SPFL League 2

Thoughts on Supporting a Small Team in Scotland

I’m sometimes asked, and it tends to be by people who profess love of a football club several hundred miles from their place of residence, why I support East Fife. And in a way I can see exactly why that question is asked. East Fife play in a tiny (1,980 capacity) and very cold stadium at the more neglected end of Fife, away from any good quality transport connections with the rest of Scotland. They currently reside in League 2, the lowest of Scotland’s four professional (and semi-professional) divisions. East Fife are a part-time team and have been throughout the time I’ve supported them. But, and I’ve said this to a great many people recently, as far as I’m concerned nothing, nothing beats an East Fife goal.

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New Bayview looking rather good on a December 2012 evening

Clearly part of the joy in supporting a small team is that success happens so rarely. You are faced with potentially years (or decades if you’re a Shire supporter) of your team scrapping towards the lower end of the Scottish Professional Football League with nothing to show for it.

So when that moment of success does come, it is genuinely a beautiful thing. I have experienced three such moments in my quarter of a century supporting my local team.

The first was in 1996. While I wasn’t there to witness the very moment in person, under Steve Archibald’s exemplary management East Fife were promoted to the second tier of Scottish football. A 2-2 draw away to Clyde (having been 2 down) was enough to seal the deal and leave East Fife second to Stirling Albion. The less said about the following (1996-97) season – Archibald’s subsequent departure, his replacement Jimmy Bone being largely awful and a record of P36 W2 – the better.

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East Fife’s only home win (v Falkirk) in 1996-97 (photo courtesy of East Fife FC)

Round 2 came in East Fife’s centenary year, 2003. Now in the Third Division, East Fife were locked in a three-way tussle with Greenock Morton and Albion Rovers for the two promotion places. As East Fife sat in second prior to the last game of the 2002-03 season, a win in that game against Queen’s Park would suffice to guarantee promotion.
As I was to discover, 89 minutes wanting a goal while watching largely insipid football is horrendous. But when that goal comes, my god. The moment is incredible. Especially when it involves East Fife.

As we threw men forward looking for that goal, the ball broke to Gordon Love (one of several Gordons in the East Fife squad). His flick through found that season’s top scorer and general East Fife hero Kenny Deuchar. His subsequent dink over the QP goalkeeper sent everyone mad. I elbowed a good friend of mine in the face (accidentally) while celebrating. The moment was just that good, as was going on the pitch at the end of the game and shaking hands with various Fife players. Only promotion had been achieved (Morton took the title), but promotion of itself was more than sufficient.

THAT Kenny Deuchar goal

The third came in 2008. East Fife’s trip up a league in 2003 only lasted one season. After a few years mooching about in the lower half of the Third Division, the arrival of new chairman Willie Gray and some of his money saw a glut of good lower league pros arrive at Bayview in 2007. By the middle of March 2008, we were in the position where a win at East Stirlingshire’s wonderfully rickety old ground, the much-missed Firs Park, would be enough to win the league.

Did East Fife hold up their end of the bargain? Of course they did. A crowd of 864 (mostly Fife fans) crammed into the ageing enclosure overlooking Falkirk Central Retail Park to witness a 3-0 victory. The league was won – East Fife being the first side in Britain to win a league title that season. The game where the trophy was handed over, a 2-1 procession against Arbroath, was just as good, and for the first time in my life I saw an East Fife captain (Steven Tweed) lift a trophy.

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Myself, my brother and my dad (left to right) with the Third Division trophy, suitably ribboned up.

So what inspired this post? It so happens that East Fife are on another of those wonderfully rare runs. 7 points clear at the top of League 2 (the former Third Division – having been relegated in 2014), a win away at Clyde tomorrow will be enough to get us another league title and promotion. Indeed, one win from the last three games will be enough.

That’s why I support a small team. Because through all the Kevin Steele corners, the horrific long ball football and the Arctic conditions at New Bayview in any month of the year, when success comes, it is to be absolutely savoured. The rest of the time, the gallows humour and the occasionally hilarious outbursts of Fife fans is enough to get us through. I can’t wait for tomorrow, but win lose or draw, I know an East Fife goal is the only one I will celebrate with my heart, my head and any other organs you might care to mention.