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.
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.
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.
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.
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.