Alex Horsburgh explains why Cowdenbeath have particular cause to be grateful for the intervention of the motor car
There’s an old Scottish saying “it takes a long spoon to sup with a Fifer”. Meaning people from the ancient kingdom of Fife, once the stomping ground of Robert the Bruce, are hard to know, suspicious to the point of paranoia.
In football terms, Fife is enjoying a renaissance with two clubs (Dunfermline and Raith) in the Premier League together for the first time, while East Fife moved up to the First Division last season. Supporters of the kingdom’s fourth league club, however, are capable of providing evidence for the old Fife myth about surly serfs. Cowdenbeath, birthplace of Jim Baxter, Rangers’ vice-chairman Donald Finlay QC and the scientist who invented beta blockers, has become something of a theme park for English groundhoppers who regularly converge on the former mining town to see the ‘Blue Brazil’ (the locals’ tragi-comic nickname for Cowden). We have learned to spot our visitors, often from our fan club in Ireland (the Corn Beefies) or Yeovil and the West Midlands (the Cowden Brummies) from a hundred yards away by the plastic bags flapping behind them, repositories for anything with Cowdenbeath’s name on it.
Sassenach pilgrims notwithstanding, Cowden have now been the worst supported league team in the UK for the last three years; despite a promising start to 1996-97 attendances average only around 260. The local press have called for the club to drop admission fees in a bid to prise punters way from betting and drinking on Saturday afternoons, but to no avail: it seems that the Cowden board are pinning their hopes on the Old Firm both having a dramatic slump to coincide with the Blue Brazil marching to the top of the Third Division.
Cowden’s heyday was way back in the 1920s when the team was made up almost entirely of local miners but support only began to drift away seriously in the mid 70s when the club slumped to the lower reaches of the old Second Division. There was a blip on the graph of mediocrity in 1992 when the club were promoted to a higher league for the first time in twenty years, only to sack the manager, ex-international, John Brownlie, and replace him with a former player who had no management experience. We were relegated by New Year the following season, conceding 100 goals in the process.
That might have been Cowdenbeath’s final heartbeat had club chairman and former champion stock car driver, Gordon McDougall, not reintroduced motor sports to Central Park after a five years absence. Cars had been raced at Cowdenbeath over a thirty year period from the mid 1950s, often drawing near 10,000 crowds. The local business community was delighted to see them back but the dwindling numbers of Cowden fans who faced the oil and overall brigade revving up outside the turnstiles at 4.45 on Saturdays were not so sure.
Football groundhoppers are tolerated, some even welcomed, but these super-anoraks with their air horns, ‘BPH Racing’ caps and Capris are a different matter. Football is now very much second on the bill to the evening meetings – a situation summed up during a cup tie with Falkirk when wee forward Scott Brough disappeared headlong into a Monster Truck tyre as he attempted to keep the ball in play. The final straw for many fans still peeved with McDougall for booting John Brownlie out, came when the Alex Menzies Stand, built by the club after vandals set the old one alight in 1992 and named after a famous Blue Brazil player, was re-christened ‘Racewall View’ for stock car purposes.
It doesn’t seem likely that our chairman will be bought out. Elton John once told a Scottish radio station that Cowdenbeath were his favourite Scottish team because (surprise, surprise) he liked the name but the chances of his throwing a loose million into the Cowden coffers are about as slim as his recording another number one hit with Kiki Dee. Not even the gift, several years ago, of a natty Cowden Admiral shirt (blue, with a black and white stripe down the front and white ‘piping’ on the sleeves – emphatically not a design classic) could tempt Reg onto the board.
McDougall says there is no cash for players, thus we have a squad so young that they need to be told not to talk to strangers on their way home from training, and one wonders just how much longer a team with two Premiership sides on its doorstep can survive on 200 odd fivers every fortnight.
Cowdenbeath are just about keeping afloat at the moment, but the combined effect of basement football, the Bosman ruling and local disenchantment with a club whose stadium was built to hold crowds of 25,000 (which it did last v Rangers in the 1940s) mean there is a very real possibility that a famous old Scottish football name may soon disappear into the cloud of fumes from a V8 engine.
From WSC 117 November 1996. What was happening this month